When Enough is Too Much

You’ve heard the expression, when it rains, it pours? Some of that seems to be going on here this week.

I ordered the new Elecraft KH1 on October 20th and am expecting to receive it any day now. Then yesterday I saw where a fellow was offering for sale an Elecraft K1. Four bands with the internal auto-tuner and backlit display option. The price was right and I jumped on it because I built a K1 about 20 years ago and have continuously kicked my own hind quarters (which isn’t easy to do!) for having sold it long ago. To be able to again own a fully tricked out K1 in great condition was too good to pass on, so I didn’t. Check is in the mail.

Then last night I was texting with a friend about our meeting at the Ft. Wayne hamfest today. He mentioned that he is thinking about selling his KX2. When I asked him what he would replace it with he said he was looking for another Icom IC-705 to add to his collection. Hmmm. I’ve always wanted a KX2 but was never patient enough to wait the 16 weeks it takes to get one fresh from the factory. And as it turns out, I have a 705 gathering dust in the closet. Now we’re kicking around the notion of an equipment exchange.

If we did that my shack would suddenly include a K2 I built in 1999, the K1, KX3, KX2, and the KH1. That’s a LOT of Elecraft wizardry right there and that makes me wonder when enough is too much?

Signs, Symbols, & Other Wonders

55F with rain in the Heartland this morning. Knowing what was coming we worked outside all day yesterday. Raking leaves and power washing the pergola over the patio. Taking advantage of the warm temps and sunny skies while we could. I’m guessing yesterday might be the last really nice day of the year, though I never bet against warm weather. Most of our weather surprises these days tend to be spells of unusually warm weather when it’s supposed to be otherwise. The point being that we got a lot done yesterday and were exhausted by the end of the day. So much so that taking today “off” will be well deserved. Not that there aren’t always more chores requiring attention, but today’s leisure has been earned and we won’t feel at all bad about a little loafing on this Friday.

I spoke with a tech at ICOM’s service center in Michigan yesterday about the display problem with my IC-7610 and made plans to send it to them for repair, but not until after the CQ WW Contest (CW). Despite the fact that it’s a display issue and the serial number of my transceiver is in the group that ICOM agreed to replace all displays at no cost, mine might end up costing $500. The problem I’m experiencing (a single column of dead pixels) isn’t the same problem experienced by many owners (retention & washed out display) so they will have to inspect it first. If they determine it’s not covered under the free replacement policy then the new screen with labor and shipping will add up to about five-hundred bucks. I don’t have much choice, it needs to be fixed in case I ever want to sell or trade it.

Can I tell you a secret? Sometimes I think about selling the 7610, the 9700, and even the 705 and using those funds to buy a new K4D transceiver. I have a much loved K2 that I built (#524) in 1999, a factory assembled KX3, and a new KH1 ordered on October 20th that could show up on the doorstep any day now. The K4D would be a welcome addition to my shack and put me back on a path that I assumed I’d always traverse many years ago. There would still be that closet full of QRP transceivers of questionable lineage, but ignoring those, I would be an Elecraft guy again. It’s just a notion I kick around in my head during the still of the night and will likely never come to pass…

I’m a contrarian by nature so it should come as no surprise that I’m one of the few who has reservations about the FCC action to remove symbol rate restrictions on our HF bands. Everywhere I look all I see are joyful expressions of how this will fix so much of what has been holding the amateur radio service back from achieving its full potential. Good grief, just typing those words feels like a boatload of malarkey. I understand the issue, and can smell what its proponents are shoveling, but I have doubts. In fact, I predict that no stunning new technology will emerge from this action, but that a large increase in interference complaints from HF enthusiasts will be noted. And of course hams will blame ARRL for all this, even though they begged for it, because that’s how hams roll. Blaming Newington for everything that goes wrong – or right – is our standard operating procedure. Mark these words…

I’m off podcasts again. These once were a staple during my drive time, but they were slowly edged out by audio books. Being retired I no longer commute to and from work, but I still spend almost an hour a day walking with air pods stuck in my head. I’m always listening to choice selections from Audible. The latest few books in my library have been the Bernie Taupin biography, Scattershot, the post-World War II scientist expose, Operation Paperclip, and at the moment I’m halfway though the latest Grey Man novel, Burner. Queued up next is the just released UFO: The Inside Story of the US Government’s Search for Alien Life Here—and Out There. Who’s got time to listen to podcasts?

The Worked All States Triple Play Award plaque arrived yesterday and is already on the wall. Working and confirming all 50 states, each using CW, Phone, and Digital was an accomplishment I wouldn’t have thought possible when I was a Novice. A more seasoned operator wouldn’t see it as a difficult achievement, but I found obtaining 150 confirmations via LoTW was no easy task. I was “stuck” at 149 for nearly two years needing a single Phone confirmation from anyone worked in Utah. I decided if and when that ever showed up I would order the plaque, not just the paper certificate, as I felt that was deserved.

Going to California

Made up my mind to make a new start
Going to California with an aching in my heart
Someone told me there’s a girl out there
With love in her eyes and flowers in her hair

Not long after I was born one of my Dad’s brothers moved from Muncie, Indiana to Southern California. This would have been around 1961. He got a better job making more money and told all his brothers and sisters he could get them all jobs too. Over the next few years all of them moved out there. Except for my Dad. We stayed put. That set us on a course for making that long annual trek in a station wagon without air-conditioning and only an AM radio to spend our vacations with our now west coast relatives. The first few trips were made on the Mother Road, Route 66. Three long days on the road out there, three long days back home.

I’m not sure how we survived it. I remember on one trip we overheated on the two-hundred mile stretch from Needles to San Bernardino. A truck driver stopped, gave us water for the radiator, and told us to go back to Needles get a hotel for the day and wait to make the final run after it was dark, and cooler. We did. I spent the day in the hotel pool while Mom and Dad slept. We always stayed with Dad’s relatives when we were there. Hotel money was saved for the journey itself, not the destination. My aunts and uncles (and so many cousins) had all settled around Riverside and Orange. We visited Knotts Berry Farm and Disneyland in Anaheim before there was a ‘World’ in Orlando. These were especially good times for me and I remember making that trip four times. My parents repeated that journey without me a couple more times as I had started to work in my teen years and didn’t want to go with them.

I’m telling you all that because I always saw California as a special place. A land of beauty and adventure. A place where my Uncle could pull fresh lemons off the trees in his backyard. Given all the magic that place conjured in my head it’s surprising I never moved there. Years later, in the 1990’s I worked in the San Francisco Bay Area for six months and got my fill of traffic jams and overpopulation. Fortunately, my client footed the bill for everything so I never had to complain about the high cost of living there. Perhaps because of my frequent musings about my time spent in a charming land, my youngest son and his wife decided to vacation in Northern California a few years ago and they came back with nightmare stories of panhandlers, drug addicts, and mounds of discarded needles in the streets of San Francisco. They won’t ever go back, I probably won’t either.

Like smoke escaping a blown capacitor the magic fled California decades ago.

But when I got my Novice license (1977) it was still a beguiling location to me and the occasional CW contact with any 6-call would give me more joy than working rare DX. That my radio signal was traversing thousands of miles at the touch of the key was special in a way that’s difficult to dissect. It took us three long days of driving to get to California and here my HW-16 was doing it almost instantly. I’d touch the key and imagine my RF speeding down Route 66.

How could I not see that as magic?

These days a 6-call doesn’t mean what it once did, but I still give deference to them. Like an indelible stamp on my soul, working a station in California is still special for me to this very day. If I see a pile of strong signals from all around the world while working the FT modes I tend to always call those in California first. I know things have changed. A lot. But somewhere deep in my long ago California will always be that enchanted place where we once traveled as a family and it’s where my radio signals follow a similar path on almost a daily basis.

It’s still magic, to me…

On Injured List

The main display on my IC-7610 has developed a problem. A single column of dead pixels running from the top to the bottom about in the center of the display has appeared. It has no impact on the operation of the equipment, but it’s an annoying distraction and, given ICOM’s problems with this particular display, has me concerned it could worsen. Right now I’m trying to get in touch with someone to have them tell me where it needs to be shipped for repair. While the unit is long out of warranty, ICOM has been providing no-cost replacements for displays on 7610’s with certain serial numbers and mine falls in that group.

I guess we will see if the company lives up to that promise.

Because it still functions, I wouldn’t ship it back to the factory until after the upcoming CQ WWDX CW contest. That’s going to be my last best chance of the year to closeout my DX Marathon entry for 2023. Last year I managed to work 123 entities and went into 2023 with high hopes of working at least 150. I never came close as the summer episodes took me off the air for months and now here I sit, a week before Thanksgiving, with only 96 entities worked this year.

At this point I’d be happy with a hundred and look to 2024 for better results.

That cause was helped a little yesterday when I worked TX7L on 10 CW. I was beginning to think I might miss them too, but I got lucky. I understand they are just past the halfway point in their operation so there should be a few more opportunities to get them on other bands and modes though that won’t help me in the 2023 Marathon. I’m going to need a handful of “new” entities in the CQ WW DX contest just to get to a hundred, with maybe a few extra “just in case” entries and then the 7610 will be headed somewhere for repair.

With the main transceiver on the injured list for a month or two, I’ll have to move the IC-705 up in the rotation. I’m a grizzled enough QRPer that I look forward to that low-power challenge and the transceiver is a delight to use, especially with a decent antenna. I used to have an IC-7300 as a backup, but I got rid of it a year or so ago and haven’t looked back.

This temporary juggling of equipment has me thinking that I need to get busy selling off a lot of excess gear that has been idle in the garage for far too long. I hate selling equipment…

Assorted Candies

The SKCC Weekend Sprint (WES) was this weekend. I joined the fun at the opening bell and quickly made 13 contacts. I started to think a 50 or even a 100 Q sprint might be in the offing, but I went for a second cup of coffee at that point and never came back. It was what it was and I need to remember to submit my paltry results.

I did manage to work the Botswana operation (A25R) on 12, 15, and 17 meters using FT8 in F/H mode this weekend. I was hearing them well on 20 meters too, but they weren’t having anything to do with my RF there. That’s an ATNO for me so happy dance all around as those are becoming tougher to find, work, and confirm.

Having been an enthusiastic user of Twitter, back in the before time, and who abandoned it earlier this year, I admit to some curiosity about the new-ish Bluesky social service. So when an invitation code arrived this weekend I signed up and took it for a spin. It looks exactly like the old Twitter. That may be one of its charms? I haven’t found many hams there just yet, and may never. There are so many social media options these days that the herd has been split into many smaller chunks. If you have an account look for me @ke9v.bsky.social

+ Will Saturn’s rings really ‘disappear’ by 2025? An astronomer explains

Lara Parker Dies: ‘Dark Shadows’ Scene-Stealing, Spell-Casting Witch Angelique Was 84 – RIP. Notable passing for me since we rewatched the entire original Dark Shadows series a year ago. I had watched much of it during its original run when I was still a kid in grade school, rushing home daily to catch up with the assorted creepiness. Watching it again as an adult I admit it was definitely campy, but an original masterpiece in its own way. ‘Angelique’ was the witch who turned Barnabas Collins into a vampire during an alternate timeline so her place in DS history is forever secure.

I have concluded my hunt for POTA. Whether forever or just for the season has yet to be determined.

At 1849 UTC Nov 11 SpaceX launched the Transporter-9 mission carrying over 100 satellites from many different companies and countries to orbit. Details at planet4589.org/latest.html via Jonathan McDowell

Imagine a high school student whose passion for science is ignited during a summer program and goes on to become a groundbreaking scientist. That’s the kind of transformational journey that the Summer Science Program (SSP) has been fostering for decades. To support this important work, 1969 program alumnus and a founder of Qualcomm — Franklin Antonio — donated $200 million in his will, Antonio passed away in May of 2022.

$200+ Million Bequest Will Support Science Research For High Schoolers

DIY Laptop

In preparation for retirement (has it been nearly two years already?) I purchased a new MacBook Air and a new Mac mini. Both with the (then) new M1 silicon. I had put off purchasing new computers for about as long as I could and I figured I might as well do it while still gainfully employed. At the same time, I also purchased a new ThinkPad from Lenovo on the somewhat dubious notion that I needed a Windows machine. If for no other reason than to upgrade firmware on my ham radio equipment, but also with consideration for Windows apps like N1MM+ and VarAC and a few other platform dependent applications. I chose a ThinkPad because I had been impressed with my work related laptop and thought that hardware would hold up nicely. It has, but I haven’t found nearly as much use for it as expected.

With plans to make a deep dive into the world of GNU Radio, I’ve been kicking around the idea of installing Linux on the ThinkPad and co-opting it for new development work. Having been a Linux user since the pre-1.0 kernel days, I was somewhat keen to make that move. Not that I had abandoned Linux, I have a dozen machines here still running some variant of the operating system, though no longer as my daily driver, and the thought of a return to the OS of my youth on a full-time basis has me buzzing a bit. Having survived that awkward period when I was a red hot Linux evangelist expecting total world domination like a born-again believer expects imminent rapture, I eventually grew out of that embarrassing period and came to peace with other operating systems, mostly on the Mac. Along that journey I used various distributions of Linux beginning with Slackware and then SUSE, RedHat, Debian, Fedora, Gentoo, and eventually Ubuntu where I have happily remained for many years.

After noodling around with all this for a bit I came up with an alternate crazy notion – yet another computer?

Let’s say I keep the ThinkPad for its intended purpose, the seldom used Windows option. I buy another machine that becomes my new Linux box and daily work machine. But what hardware and what distribution? While kicking that around a bit I became enamored with the Framework 16 – a do it yourself, upgradeable laptop. Check this out:

While not yet a fully baked plan, I am considering pre-ordering this laptop and making it my new Linux machine to use for exploration and development of various SDR components and software in 2024. Oh, I’ve similarly kicked around which distribution I might pair it with and have been focused on Arch Linux, a lightweight distribution that has my interest right now. It’s modern, minimal, and updated frequently enough to be useful for the kind of work I intend for it.

This comes with a small risk. The Framework folks have already tested the hardware for compatibility with Fedora and Ubuntu. Still, that risk is minimal and at worst I have to re-install a different distribution. If this all seems fairly crazy it just might be. I admit to having come up with this quickly and more research is definitely required before I pull the trigger and place an order.

You’re bound to have a few thoughts on this idea — let me know with a comment. Thanks!

Morning Coffee Notes

Feels cooler this morning. It’s 52F, downright balmy for November, but 15-25 mph gusts made my walk chilly. I like to at least think I’m not wasting my time walking everyday. It comprises the bulk of my daily physical activity and I always feel better after it’s done. Since retiring I’ve become more concerned about senior health issues and have been looking for other ways to make good health choices. I’m especially motivated after I read articles like this:

America is a rapidly aging nation. By 2034, there will be an estimated 77 million Americans aged 65 years or older, up from 52 million in 2018. For the first time in the country’s history, older adults will outnumber children.

While today’s seniors enjoy longer, more independent lives, most are living with multiple chronic health conditions. Nearly 80% of older adults have two or more ongoing health problems and almost all take a prescription drug, with nearly 40% regularly using five different medications. Older individuals may also be dealing with emotional, cognitive and nutritional issues, as well as physical limitations. The combination adds up to a complicated health picture requiring specialized medical care.

A new model of senior-focused care for an aging population

Soon after posting a few QRP related things yesterday I saw that NM0S Electronics is bringing back the popular NorCal 40 series “B”. An all new kit that overcomes the component issues that eventually snuffed the original series “A” transceiver kit. Originally designed by Wayne Burdick, N6KR the NorCal 40 was a hugely popular kit.

Then there was this from the SOTA reflector:

Hi Sota Friends, in a few Days Markus DL6YYM (Bamatech) will offer his TP-III Special Edition 2023. We all know that the TP-III Paddle ist a absolut fantastic CW Paddle for Portable Akivity. I think the Paddle can order in a few days in the web shop.

73 Michael DC8YZ


QRP Stuff

I jumped into the Spartan Sprint last night with high hopes. I was using the IC-7610 at five watts into the old CHA MPAS Lite antenna mounted vertically on the ground and with one 31-foot radial. There was much confusion (on my part) about the event start time having just changed the clocks over the weekend. Not hearing a single soul I gave up for an hour and went back to watching the Indiana Pacers game. They won, by the way, 152-111 over the Spurs, tying their own record for points scored in a half and a game. It was an entertaining three-point shooting contest.

Back in the shack a little later, I finally heard a few stations calling “CQ SP” but conditions on 40 meters weren’t good and 20 meters was dead to me. I ended up working three stations though it felt like cheating. Two of them were less than ten miles from me! I did work John, K4BAI down in Georgia, who always sports a big signal. And that was it. Three contacts using a “tubby” transmitter. I need to send my report and soapbox to Richard, KI6SN and hope for better luck in the December Spartan Sprint.

My new KH1 could be arriving soon. I ordered it online the same day it was announced at Pacificon (October 20th) and according to the shipping status information on the Elecraft web site orders placed that day are expected to ship in 4-6 weeks so I should be advancing in the queue. I’ve kept an eye on the mailing list that discusses that new hardware and Wayne, N6KR recently posted that the internal logging feature with date/time/freq/mode stamps in a human-readable text format using 32k of onboard memory will be ready by December. My understanding of this feature is that you take it to field, make contacts, then come home and download the file which can be read by a human and then typed into the main station log. If that works well then field logging will become an historical artifact for me…

New (to me) blogs of note. I recently worked W6CSN while he was activating K-7889 Presidio of SF National Historic Site. I looked him up on QRZ and noticed the link to his blog. It’s in the feed reader now. And there’s Copasetic Flow, another new addition to my feed reader. And while not new, the QRP world rejoices whenever Jim, W1PID posts photos and applesauce about his latest outdoor adventure. The pictures are worth at least a thousand words, probably more.

Four Horsemen

Life has been slowly returning to normal and that has resulted in a little more time for ham radio. I have been finding time each day to spend in the radio shack and that has worked out pretty well as I continue to plug away at the basic DXCC Challenge by filling needed slots on all bands and modes. I’ve continued to chase POTA and SOTA stations almost daily, and I still hope to level-up my SKCC membership with a few hundred new contacts between now and the end of the year to earn Senator level.

That one needs the most work, but the November WES is coming up this weekend.

The bottom line is that I’ve been busy on the air lately and that’s been a good thing. It’s been fun and keeps me plodding toward my HF goals. Plus, it reduces the available quiet time — the last thing I want or need this year.

POTA award for working 500 unique reference areas

I recently processed some documentation so I could apply for a few new things and as a result DXCC certificates for both 20 and 15 meters arrived from Newington. I’m anxious to get those framed and on the wall along with the others. That Triple Play Award plaque I ordered a month ago still hasn’t arrived. I need to follow-up and find out where that is in the process. It may sound like a lot of paperwork when actually the entire process was done online, click-click, credit card. All of my ARRL awards have been from LoTW confirmations as I made a clean break from paper years ago. That meant starting from scratch, but it simplifies the application process as there’s no longer a need for card checking, etc.

The point of all this recent ham radio busy “work” is that there are many goals I want to accomplish and life is short. Having been a ham for such a long time most of these should have been completed ages ago. The time for chasing DX for me was decades ago when band conditions were so much better. Now I’m taking advantage of a decent solar cycle to get what I didn’t get before. I’m trying to finish as many of these as possible as several other high-priority (bucket list) goals will soon change my focus from HF to much higher frequencies…

I can hear hoofbeats of the four horses of the gray hair apocalypse approaching.

Periodical Problems

The Zero Bias editorial in the September 2023 edition of CQ Magazine includes a frequent admission that things aren’t all peachy in the magazine publishing world. Editor Rich Moseson, W2VU is a straight shooter and I’d say ‘fair and balanced’ in his view of our hobby. He begins by detailing the recent moves made by ARRL with regard to membership dues, the cost to print and distribute QST Magazine, and the digital alternative. Lest you think he’s gloating over that sad situation, he points out that CQ Magazine has also been seriously impacted by the disruptions in that industry and acknowledges the publication hasn’t been able to properly service its readers since before the pandemic. That’s particularly interesting because the edition of CQ Magazine I was reading was a free digital download from their web site. I haven’t been a paid subscriber for several years due to the very problems he detailed.

Moseson described how the pandemic hurt his business, but it’s obvious the magazine publishing industry was in a lot of trouble pre-pandemic. Especially for a niche market like amateur radio and even more so when there aren’t alternate streams of income. CQ Magazine strictly sells books and a magazine subscription whereas the folks in Newington at least have member dues to back them up. The problem is, while ARRL has for decades touted membership as being so much more than just QST, and I agree that it is, the magazine showing up in the mailbox each and every month is what attracted so many members for so many years and this couldn’t be a secret.

While there are problems with the rapidly rising cost of paper, printing, and postage, a more formidable challenge is that reading habits have changed rapidly too. I’m tempted to call this generation of hams non-readers who are less literate than those of another era, but that wouldn’t be fair. People simply don’t read like they used to and this has hurt the entire publishing industry. Count me as one of those. I used to devour each edition of QST from cover to cover as soon as it arrived. These days I tend to catch up on that reading months later unless there is some pressing matter or a review that I’m anxious to learn about. While days in the 21st century contain the same number of hours as they did in the 20th century, we seem to suffer from a time deficit and reading a hobby magazine has moved far down the list of things to do with whatever “free” time can be found.

I admit this even as a big fan of QST — I firmly believe it’s the best amateur radio publication available. I’ve no complaints about the articles which I still find to be interesting, educational, and just the right mix of technical and informational. If I were to complain it would be about the silly “staged” cover shots intended to fool people about our hobby. It doesn’t work. Putting photos of minority groups enjoying ham radio on the cover is intended to send a message of diversity, but we remain a hobby of mostly old white men. ARRL would better serve the hobby by making actual changes that make amateur radio more inclusive. Ours could be such a large and marvelous international tent…

The periodical publishing problems will continue to strain ARRL resources unless something is discovered that has yet to be discovered by that entire industry. I stopped buying general magazines off the newsstand when they hit seven bucks and now some are more than ten dollars for a single copy. These publishers can shout into my face about their rising costs and how they are losing money, but I’m not paying that much for a throwaway magazine. ARRL members who don’t consider the other services the League provides will react the same way to the increased cost of receiving a printed copy of QST in postal mail. It’s a death spiral for ARRL membership and the disruption this will cause over the coming decade will be Titanic in its scope and reach.

I don’t believe ham radio can survive in the US without ARRL and radio hams who frequently cheer its demise aren’t clear thinkers. US government officials who regulate the airwaves were bought and sold long ago and the commercialization of every femtometer of RF bandwidth is coveted by someone with eventual plans to take it. At a minimum, ARRL serves as a speed bump against this kind of encroachment.

And don’t kid yourself, ARDC isn’t going to replace the ARRL and fix everything, that level of naïveté isn’t encouraging for any future vision for amateur radio…

Unable to offer any solid advice for how all this can be repaired and ARRL restored to its former glory, I’ll end this with a comment about CQ Magazine. I want them to succeed. We need a vibrant, independent voice for amateur radio and CQ has provided that since its founding in 1945. The hobby needs it to thrive, but the challenges are many and the habits of its potential readers continue to evolve. People who work at CQ and at ARRL would probably appreciate your suggestions and feedback on how they can improve the situation, though I will tell you, if the best you have is for “all content to be free” and unencumbered by any kind of restrictive license, you might keep that to yourself.

No one who sells magazines for a living will hear that.