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

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.

On the Air

I granted myself the entire day off yesterday. No chores, no yard work, no housework. Not even radio made the cut. It was just family, food, and football. The kids came over along with their kids, and we enjoyed a nice day of rest that was sorely needed. All good things end, however, and this morning we were back in the grind. I took my early morning walk in the chilly 40F air and by the time I got back home it was time for Brenda to go to work while I, being the retired guy, spent the next several hours playing on the radio.

With my SKCC quest having turned to Senator, I spawned a new log to keep track of just those contacts. I worked three qualifying contacts and need 197 more.

I stopped by the POTA spots page to see who was in the field and managed to hunt down seven of them before giving up and making myself a pumpkin spice latte. Break time is important!

During the afternoon I did a lot of listening. Just spinning the dial and eavesdropping on conversations while making note of procedures used. These change from time to time and they probably shouldn’t. Your Novice Accent And What To Do About It remains the seminal work on the basics of CW procedures. I used to believe that so long as both operators understand each other then procedures were for graybeards. But now that I are one, I suddenly see the value.

It’s kinda like how my Dad got smarter the older I got…

I also caught AA7OY on a SOTA adventure in New Mexico this afternoon. He was on 20 meter (CW) and sounding every bit the part of a QRP station on some yonder mountain, which of course he was. I prefer chasing Summits on the Air operators because nearly all of them are using QRP gear. I find that more challenging and perhaps a bit more interesting to review the locations where these folks gain some altitude.

All Shook Up

It comes as little surprise that the Elecraft announcement about the new KH1 portable transceiver would generate a lot of buzz, especially among those with a keen interest in QRP and ultra-portable activity. Email lists dedicated to such things were humming all weekend long as hundreds of enthusiasts chimed in with an abundance of opinions, thoughts, and questions about the new gear.

I always find it amusing when some folks seem to do their level best to convince other folks not to buy the new gear by detailing all the reasons they have for not buying the new gear. I often wonder if it’s an attempt to convince others or themselves to avoid purchase? The reasons given not to order a KH1 included; disagreement on the five bands it covers, it’s size, the layout of the controls, the internal battery used, the fact that the internal auto-tuner isn’t 10:1 and the fact that it only transmits using CW. On that note, this question was posed:

“At $1099 for complete package it’ll no doubt sell well to CW enthusiasts but will this be the last ever CW only transceiver?”

As you might expect, the topic of when the KH1 will actually be available to ship was batted around. A lot. Given that it takes 16-18 weeks for Elecraft to ship a KX2 or a KX3, speculation about shipping dates for the KH1 was all over the place. The consensus was mostly after the first of the year based on a comment about them having only a hundred units at Pacificon that sold out immediately.

There were even a few gripes about how the engineering time spent developing the KH1 should have been spent on getting the long-promised, yet to be delivered, K4HD out the door. It seems you just can’t please everyone…

These are early days and I’m certain additional information, and speculation, will be forthcoming once everyone gets home from the conference. It’s certainly an interesting concept for how to make ham radio even more portable than ever. Wayne Burdick is the right person to champion this idea and Elecraft is the right company to make it a reality. I don’t know when mine will arrive or even what I will do with it when it does. But that hasn’t stopped me from looking forward to it!

Zombie Season

As hard as it is to believe, the spooky season is already upon us. I know that because the 26th annual (1996-2023) Zombie Shuffle takes place on Friday October 27th. Time flies when you’re swatting the undead and here we go again!

Why Do Zombies Shuffle? Because Zombies Don’t Sprint.

The Zombie Shuffle is an annual evening event for QRPers to get on the air, have some fun, and rack up a really big score in spite of what your CW or operating skills may be. It is held the Friday nearest Halloween each year and to avoid the ARRL CW Sweepstakes contest. Afternoon start time to take advantage of the higher bands before nightfall.

The First Zombie Shuffle was held on Oct. 30, 1998 with the launch of the NorCal-20 QRP transceiver kit.

Get the complete rules and a Zombie number (if you need one, they’re good for life) from the official event web site. Good luck, see you in the shuffle!