Inflection Point

Hello there. Yes, there is still life at this blog, although whether it is intelligent is still indeterminate. I feel awfully guilty about the lack of content for the blog in the last year, but I've been in a horrible time crunch since getting Etherkit off the ground. When it comes to making the choice between moving your small business forward so you can feed your family or writing a vanity blog post, I'm sure you know which will win pretty much every time. I have no intention for the blog to fade away, so I hope that you all will keep me in the feed reader so that when the time crunch eases up a bit, I can get back to blogging more often and can share some interesting stuff with you.

Anyway, on to the main point. For a fair bit of time now, I've had a vague impression that something was going a bit sour in the online QRP/homebrewer community. It never really surfaced consciously all that often, but I distinctly recall there being a general aura of discontent around my feelings about the state of the community. It has dawned on me that even though we have more communication channels available to us than ever before, we are becoming increasingly insular and fragmented, even within our own little sub-hobby. I don't think it's a coincidence that this has happened while our choices of online communication channels has exploded.

I'm going to attempt to put some substance to this impression, with the hope that if I'm right about it, that maybe I've planted a seed for a way forward in one of my readers. This is probably going to come across as a bit of an Airing of Grievances, but that is not the point of this post at all. I will give you supporting data for my point of view, but I also intend to take a critical look at myself as well, as I'm sure that I've also made plenty of my own mistakes.

I believe that I got my first wake-up call a few months ago, when I learned that one of the most esteemed members of our group, Wes W7ZOI was hanging it up on his online amateur radio technical activities. Not only that, but whatever his motivation for withdrawing, it was also strong enough to make him pull all of his previous content off the web. This hit me like a punch in the gut. Wes has always been a most gracious virtual Elmer to many of us out here. He always seemed eager to pass on his enormous breadth of knowedge to those who asked for help. I have no knowledge of what transpired to change his mind about our community. The only public clue seems to be this quotation left behind on what's left of his technical web page:

I often say that when you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind; it may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarcely, in your thoughts, advanced to the stage of science, whatever the matter may be.

Whatever the catalyst was, Wes seems to be leaving us based on some negative experience. I can't begin to tell you how much this troubles me. People like Wes are an extremely rare treasure in any community, not to mention one as small as ours. I can't draw any firm conclusions based on the very limited information that we have, but it is not a good statement on the health of our community when such a luminary finds it worthwhile to withdraw, instead of continuing to engage.

The next data point I present is a blog post from John AE5X, published earlier this month. It's a succinct entry, so I suggest that you click over and read it for yourself. In the case that you don't, the Cliff's Notes version of the post is a reflection on the changes in the QRP community in the last decade. Some of the relevant ideas that I'd like to point out are:

QRP-L was alive with real content. People were talking about the latest kit they built and what they were doing with it. The QRP contests and events were well attended, providing further topics for discussion on QRP-L. Norcal 40A’s, SST’s, great rigs from Small Wonder Labs and Oak Hills Research could be heard, worked and talked about.

There was diversity among QRPers too – the hang-a-wire-in-a-tree gang and the QRP DXers all rubbed shoulders on QRP-L. As a result, all QRPers were exposed to various aspects of the 5-watt realm.


On the negative side, QRP-L is little more than a small circle of the same dozen people making 90% of the posts that occur there with the real meat of QRP technical discussion taking place on a specific rig’s dedicated YahooGroup. Ditto for the operational aspects of QRP: SOTA and IOTA have their own forums, leaving QRP-L relegated to sharing space in the dusty bins with newsgroups.


I am more thankful than I can describe at the exposure I received to ideas, techniques and equipment on the old QRP-L. That doesn’t happen anymore with the real brain power having been sucked away to specific forums.

John hits the nail on the head. I started being active in QRP a bit more a decade ago, right at the same time about which John is writing. And my memory is exactly the same as his. There was an excitement, vitality, and cross-pollination that made QRP-L nearly indispensable to both the QRP operator and the QRP homebrewer. QRP-L was pretty much the only game in town, at least on the online frontier. Today, it's a pale shadow of its former self. Nothing new is happening. Hardly any new blood is joining (or if they are, they are not speaking up). At least that was my last impression of it, because I rarely even look at it any more. I'm still subscribed to QRP-L (and a handful of other listservs), but I admit that I hardly even open up the Mailing List folder in my mail application any more. The amount of worthwhile content just doesn't seem worth it any more in exchange for the time spent sifting through the flame wars, pissing contests, and endlessly regurgitated arguments.

I don't mean to pick on QRP-L, but I think it's very illustrative of the issues we face. Almost all of the best and brightest has left, for one reason or another. And yes, people have been bemoaning the death of QRP-L for years. I bring it up because I think it's a leading indicator of the state of our online community. One of the most important statements in John's post is where he identifies the brain drain to all of the tiny little niche forums in our already-small sub-hobby. The QRP-L exodus happened in earnest years ago, but I think we are now starting to see the second order effects of this phenomena. We have scores of Yahoo Groups, forums, and social networks for our specific little area of interest within QRP or homebrewing or for our favorite rigs or vendors, but we don't come together under the larger banner of QRP any longer, in any way. I suspect that this gets us a bit locked in to our little corners of the 'net. I don't know about you, but I'm finding myself having an increasingly harder time managing all of my different communities of interest. Which tends to make me just throw my hands up and ignore large swathes of those communities at times.

This brings us to the new kid on the block: social media. The big dogs on the block are of course Facebook and Twitter, with smaller networks like Google+ also getting some play in the ham communities. I've never used Facebook for a variety of reasons, but I've been on Twitter for a few years now and did dabble in Google+ for a bit, so I can speak from experience on those two. The nice thing about the social media networks is that you do break free from that self-imposed ghetto mentioned above. Once you get a well established network, you tend to have connections to all kinds of different hams.

But that blessing can also be a curse. The reason for this is the different expectations that different hams tend to have with each other on these networks. A fair number of people expect that if you have a Twitter account with ham radio as your primary focus, you should only talk about ham radio. Likewise, I found that a number of hams on Google+ did not like it if you posted anything non-ham related to all of your "circles" ("circles" are your self-defined groupings for the people in your network). It's a fair point of view, but it isn't the one that I have subscribed to. I am person with different interests and I just don't have it in me to manage different social media accounts for each of my interests. Nor do I expect others to curate their output to cater to my desires.

The problem is that as much as I try to be tolerant of the diversity of other people's interests and ideas on the social networks, I'm not always successful. Admittedly, I unfollowed a few dozen Twitter accounts (not all hams, but definitely some) right after the last election due to either incessant gloating or whining. Probably not my finest moment, but I guess election fatigue got to me. On the flip side, while I don't think I have been a flaming partisan most of the time, I didn't leave my feed politics-free either. I have no doubt that I have annoyed my share of followers and drove them away due to my politics (especially since I'm a devotee of a political ideal that is not very popular).

My point in bringing this up is not to whine, but to contrast the social networks with the "old-school" communities such as QRP-L and web forums. It seems that you have two different extremes, neither of which lend themselves very well to the type of online QRP community which would be nice to have (at least in my view): knowledgeable, open, free-flowing, fun, and mostly on-topic but not on lockdown.

One other point I'd like to bring up that applies to all of us, regardless of what communication medium we use, is our etiquette. I'm sorry, I'm not trying to be a nanny, I know we're all grown adults. But I would also bet that the majority of us are on the left side of the bell curve when it comes to emotional intelligence (me included), which means that we are more apt to give and receive offense at times when we should not. For example, in my "career" in the QRP world, I can think of at least three different times when I've deeply offended very prominent people in the QRP world. And I can say that each time that I was notified of this offense, I was completely taken by surprise. Without getting into details, I've done and said some incredibly boneheaded things. Not because I was trying to troll the QRP stars, but just because I didn't think through the consequences of my words or actions, or didn't clearly enough communicate my intentions. Likewise, I've been wounded by the words of others, who meant no harm, but I didn't realize that until later. (We'll leave aside the issue of the intentional jerk, for whom this essay would mean nothing anyway)

All of this butthurt really damages our relations and breaks down the community, perhaps more than anything else. Again, I'm not trying to be your mommy, but I do ask that you sleep on the stridently-worded rebuttal to the post which offends you, or that you forgive the newbie question that might seem stupid or obvious. I don't know for certain, but there's a decent chance that something like this is what caused a number of our best QRPers to leave the online QRP world. Let's not shoot ourselves in the foot any longer, eh?

If, after I depart this vale, you ever remember me and have thought to please my ghost, forgive some sinner and wink your eye at some homely girl.

—H.L. Mencken

Why have I rambled on for so long about all of this? I'd like to see some of that old magic recaptured. When I designed the Willamette DC transceiver and organized the group build on the now-defunct listserv, I had one of the best experiences of my ham career. I'd love to do something like that again. But I don't know where or how. I'm pretty sure that the current QRP-L would not be the place, and definitely not on a web forum like or I have the capacity to host my own forum (I could even stick it under my Etherkit forums), but it would be too insulated, as mentioned above. I have some ideas for some simpler group project builds that I'm itching to get out there, but I'm honestly at a loss of where to present them. I'd love to reach a wide audience of QRPers. Where would that be?

So if you're still around, you're probably thinking "wrap it up already!" OK, I appreciate that you had the fortitude to stick around to the end of this diatribe, so I'll get to the point. I think I've outlined an issue that needs to be addressed, but I don't have a solution. But I think I may know some elements that will be part of the solution. We need some common meeting ground like that has the same "melting pot" formula of the old QRP-L. With the withdrawal of some of our sharpest minds (and the loss of others as silent keys), we seem to be a bit adrift of leadership. The old guard is departing. Not that we need people trying to take charge and give orders. But we do need new thought leaders and innovators; people to inspire by example and by word.

I am quite fond of QRPARCI and all that they do for our community (especially QQ and FDIM), but I think it could also use a bit of a kick in the pants. A rejuvenation effort brought about via ARCI could be very effective, if done correctly. I'd hate to see it get stagnant and not take advantage of the great resource that it has: it's large number of QRPer members.

Hopefully I've given you some serious ideas to chew on, and with any luck, just might inspire one or two of you to make a positive change to help our community. I'm not one who will be any good in trying to rally others to a QRP renewal, but I hope that I can at least reach out to one who is.

Now on a much lighter note, my next blog post will be back to my normal fare! I'll give you a peek at the little group project idea that I've been working on. Who knows, maybe we can get this going somehow.

13 thoughts on “Inflection Point”

  1. 1. I long ago learned this wisdom in the early days of the BBS systems from a guy who went by the moniker 'Dinosaur': neither be easily offended nor easily offend others.

    2. The world is constantly changing and evolving. It will never be what it was at some previous time. Adapt or get eft behind.

    3. Although I am not a QRPer, I recognize the described symptoms. I've seen them both online and at brick and mortar institutions. People do not socialize or gather information the same way anymore. Clubs are generally shrinking and dying all over the place (not just a radio phenominum). Adaptation is warranted.

  2. Jason, let me elabotate a bit further on a couple of points that I probably

    should have mentioned in my own posting on this topic:

    My post was inspired mainly by QRP ARCI. Every year, they vote on who (if

    anyone) is inducted into the QRP Hall of Fame based on nominations from

    members in the QRP community. The HoF acknowledges "above & beyond"

    achievements in QRP. For 2012, I nominated Dan Walker WG5G who is the only

    person ever to make DXCC Honor Roll with 5 watts. He's not the latest to do

    it - he's the only one ever to do it. Not only did they not induct Dan -

    they didn't induct anyone at all.

    This is absolutely bizarre to me. Martin Jun is in the HoF for selling 2nd

    -rate QRP products through MFJ, others are there for organizing QRP events

    and writing articles for various magazines. Most of the HoF members deserve

    to be there and I don't mean to take anything from them...but for a

    solitary QRPer to work 340 countries and not be in the HoF?!?!? If QRP ARCI

    was about promoting QRP to the unwashed masses, WG5G ought to be in the

    headlines for all the change-of-opinion his accomplishment could cause

    among non- (or beginning) QRPers.

    Their decision not to induct him speaks volumes to me about their

    priorities and the retrograde motion of the QRP community as a whole, made

    most visible by their actions and the blather on QRP-L.

    Regarding Twitter, Facebook, YahooGroups, QRP-L, etc, etc....
    I agree with you about each forum having its own personality and

    expectations of its members. They each have their own "feel" and their own

    definitions of what's topical and what's not.

    But you forgot to mention blogs...

    I started mine because I didn't want to be beholding to anyone else's

    definition of what should be posted. I like QRP, QRO, DXing, CW, radio

    history and photography. That particular combination of topics doesn't fit

    any forum - it's uniquely mine.

    Blogs - for better or worse - let the writer decide what's topical. As a

    result, the readers for whom your blog appeals will find you. Those who

    don't agree with your choices of postings will click elsewhere and that's

    exactly as it should be.

  3. John's point about WG5G simply heaps coals onto the heads of those in charge of ARCI. His accomplishments are well-known to anyone with even a passing interest in QRP. Choosing to elect no one to the HoF when past years have produced more than a few weak selections does call the whole notion of a QRP HoF into question. Perhaps it's become a tight circle without the ability to look outside the usual suspects?

    To Jason's larger point I can only add that there has indeed been atrophy in the level of interest that QRP once enjoyed. I blame it on the myriad of YahooGroups and the little fiefdoms that have grown around them - these have fragmented the larger community and watered QRP-L down to being the soapbox for exactly 12 QRPers.

    Having a special group that hovers around (beats to death) a single product or mode seems like a good idea - until you have a 1000 of them. Of course, my general disdain for these groups may cause me to miss the bigger picture.

    Bottom line -- there is something wrong in Whoville and what it will take to fix it will likely be blog fodder for a long time.

  4. Jason, as a new ham, 18 months, and an even newer QRPer, 2 weeks, I can only imagine the thrill of working with others to build and design kits and share such valuable experiences and information. I hope to experience those things at some point during my involvement in amateur radio.

    At this point I don't know enough to contribute much and concentrate on not being a burden to others but sometimes, as you know, I can't resist. 🙂

    My thanks go out to you and others in the community who are trying to keep the spirit alive so us "n00bs" can experience the essence of ham radio and QRP.

  5. Chip:
    I certainly have no problem with the world changing. A static world is a dying world. I probably didn't make it clear enough in my post, but I'm not really looking for a return to the "good old days". But it would be nice to find a new way to capture that old magic. I think you are spot on that this is a larger phenomena in the United States, so I guess I can take some solace that it's not just us crusty old hams who are having this problem.

    I'm a bit gobsmacked by your revelation about WG5G. That seems like such a slam-dunk, no-brainer that I'm not even sure what to say about it.
    Regarding blogs, I pretty much agree with you. I think the ham blogosphere is one of the better areas of our online presence. But blogs still don't really address the community aspects that made the 2000-era QRP-L so productive. Like I said, I don't really have an answer, and maybe there isn't one. But hopefully there is something.

    I don't want to jump to any conclusions about ARCI, but I really cannot fathom the reasoning of declining WG5G. Perhaps it's just "inside baseball"...I don't know.
    Regarding the 1000 specialized groups, I could be wrong in my recollection, but I think the impetus for a lot of them getting started was complaints on QRP-L about too many "off topic" posts. I think a lot of that stuff got pushed out on purpose. And don't get me started on the heavy-handed moderation. Even today, the QRP-L moderator won't even identify himself publicly. It's kind of a hot mess.

    I'm really glad to get a glimpse of your view of ham radio as a newbie. Your point of view (as a new ham) may be the most important in this discussion. I've been licensed long enough to probably qualify as a dinosaur now, so the infusion of fresh ideas would be most welcomed here. Keep engaging us old farts, but don't be afraid to speak your own mind if you see something that looks wonky. 🙂

  6. Good day Jason,

    Well stated and quite insightful as are the comments of the others who have chosen to speak up.

    I dropped QRP-L some time ago as I did several YAHOO groups. They were becoming too narrowly focused and any comment which fell outside of the moderators very narrow point of view was quickly squashed, the poster admonished in public, and put on notice.

    Mailing lists and YAHOO groups or reflectors or whatever it is you want to call them have a very long history. In their earlier incarnations they where simply gathering places for the like minded and any and all topics where discussed. Then those with narrow interests started to make noise - "I don't have time to sort through 10, 20, or more posts on anything off topic!" Those lists quickly become very narrow with only a handful of posters and the number of members fell.

    What started as gathering places for those of like mind slowly became way stations for the narrow minded with little tolerance for anything other than their limited vision would allow. Very sad really.

    There are a few shining lights however. I am still impressed by the DIY and experimenter desire of many in the UK and other parts of the world. I think that here in North America we have become too stodgy, less DIY. The Maker movement holds some hope but it seems that other parts of the world where there first and attract the most numbers.

    I like the GQRP mailing list. You don't have to be a member of the GQRP but membership is inexpensive, the magazine makes for a rather nice read and overall is very DIY and hands on.

    I like to follow Point number 1 that Chip G. posted - neither be easily offended nor easily offend others and I would like to add "praise in public but admonish in private".

    cheers, Graham ve3gtc

  7. in the two dozen or so years of my online life, the decline/fragmentation of the QRP community you describe is a sad but familiar sight to me. It's unfortunate when it happens, but something that I think is rooted in human nature.

  8. The fracturing of groups into niche-specific entities happens across all facets of life dating back to the time of recorded history. One example might be the early Christian church. The history of the church is well documented, so, I will fast forward to 2012. My friend’s church has splintered 5 times in the past 12 years. That is: dissatisfied members of the congregation became enlightened that they “know the truth”, depart and start a new church. Often these are driven by a member who wants to become pastor, but the opportunity to become pastor might not exist in the main seed church. Ego-driven power struggles, lack of sufficience/satisfaction + cooperation and also the new Trinity called me, myself and I seem to be common themes.

    More on-topic: photography forums offer a closer example to QRP. The wise, experienced photographers are leaving due to the crazies, the tension, ego posturing and number of individuals who hijack and exert their influence despite their lack of accurate knowledge, experience, a sense of history and perspective. The parallel between photography and QRP resound.

    A refined view might be: why would any sane Elmer spend hours in front of a computer monitor dealing with crazies and malcontent when there is better stuff to do especially given their limited time? As our experts age, they begin to look at what time they have left and how they wish to spend it.
    The Internet affords many people the power to draw a following like never before. Few QRP enthusiasts add truly innovative content.

    Many offer passion, some tips, photographs of their builds and entertainment, but really just leverage the work and ideas of others repackaged as their own. Trolling some lists are the “good old boys” – they might be experts, but attack others who don’t conform with their ideals and who might steal some of their profits as they also sell kits or components and 1 of their motivations is self-marketing.

    Another thing is before asking a question, "new people" fail to “Google it” and do a little research on their own. Yes, we need be tolerant of newbie questions but 10000 posts like what camera should I buy” or "what’s the best kit? fatigue/bore and dishearten some of the older members on a list.

    Most human relationship problems fall under control and respect, Being kind, open, respectful and generous take work.
    My guess is that things will worsen. Lamenting about the old days of QRP list servers might be a great mane for a new Yahoo group? Splinter on.

    Finally, it’s rare for 1 negative event that drives away people – that’s an exaggeration. Usually a series of events leads someone to conclude: Why bother? I don’t need this. So long!

  9. Thanks again for all of the insightful comments, I enjoy getting them.

    I agree with you that engaging the Maker/DIY movement is possibly our best way forward. I specifically mentioned them in my presentations at FDIM and Pacificon, which hopefully helped to expose some new people to this culture.

    Yeah, I'm sure we're no different than a lot of other narrow interest groups.

    >Trolling some lists are the “good old boys” – they might be experts, but attack others who don’t conform with their ideals and who might steal some of their profits as they also sell kits or components and 1 of their motivations is self-marketing.

    Ah yes, I've been a target of this fairly recently.

    >Another thing is before asking a question, "new people" fail to “Google it” and do a little research on their own. Yes, we need be tolerant of newbie questions but 10000 posts like what camera should I buy” or "what’s the best kit? fatigue/bore and dishearten some of the older members on a list.

    That all-too-common situation is a fine line. In defense of these types of questions, "Googling" is a good first start and I suspect most of these folks actually do that. But what they are looking for is that touch of human input from more experienced hobbyists. I think that's perfectly understandable. Those kind of questions are subjective and asking opinions is reasonable. What I don't care for is the purely fact-based questions that people are too lazy to look up, like "what's the formula for cutting a 1/2 wave dipole?"

  10. I think there may be also an element of newbie fatigue. I have been on various QRP lists and have read EMRFD, but I'm never going to have the understanding of it that the professional EEs do (or even dedicated non-EE hobbyists) So I ask dumb questions. And I know there are a whole lot of hams out there even more ignorant than I am and they ask dumb questions. Someone who is a professional and is looking for scientific results must get really tired of those of us in the poor-solder-joint crowd.

    Any forum (in the general sense) with a few smart people in it will eventually degrade into the dumb people bickering. Even live-person clubs do that. The real brains end up meeting on their own and the club gets run by the dummies who have political aspirations.

    That being said, the beauty of the internet is the memory of the thing. We have the same erosion of groups that has always happened. But we now have the possibility of keeping the good parts before the dweebs took over.

    (How's that for a positive outlook!)

    I call as my witnesses Small Wonder Labs and Dan Tayloe and everyone else who has tried to serve the masses with technical support.

  11. Hello Jason:

    I just recently stumbled upon your website in search of practical Si5351 info. Well done, OM. Please keep up the great work and posts when you have time.

    I was surprised, however, that I may have discovered a kindred spirit regarding the state of QRP and ham "homebrewing." If you allow, I'd like to share my viewpoint from this chair.

    The reason I got into QRP was they were the only group involved in rolling their own equipment. Building my station was and remains the thing for me, although I haven't built as much as I'd like. Your comments, now 2-1/2 years further along the timeline, are still valid, IMHO. My experiences have been very similar.

    In fact, I was a member of the QRP-L list for over a dozen years starting in the mid-90's. The reason I'm not a member of that list now, is because I was banned for merely mentioning the word "eBay." I wasn't posting a "for sale" ad or anything, I just referenced eBay in a post. I also never cared for the near-Gestapo tactics of the "unknown moderator" that I witnessed and perpetrated upon other members of that list.

    I think part of the problem that you've described very eloquently, is there are those in the QRP/homebrewing community that have taken it upon themselves to be in part policemen and in part the only "fountain of correct knowledge." They consider themselves among the brightest stars in the QRP/homebrewing firmament, hobnobbing with other QRP "Illuminati," and woe be to us mere mortals if we cross them.

    They obviously are not. They are bullies. And nothing more.

    So, for now, I'm a member of just a few lists, and I usually lurk instead of post, as some of the "Illuminati" are also members of the lists. IMHO, it's better to keep a wide berth and proceed on my own with my education, or do as W7ZOI has apparently decided to do, as it's certainly not worth the aggravation. It's too bad, as I believe that drives folks away and denies all of us the ability to "stand on the shoulders of giants."

    Anyway, thanks for the time reading my post, and thanks for being an oasis in the morass. I would be one of those interested in a builder's forum as you described. If it hasn't been already, perhaps we should start one.

    I'm looking forward to further posts here, as your time permits.


  12. Thanks Russ,

    It buoys my spirits to receive comments like this. Carry on and please write or comment any time!


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