Most hams have probably never seen one of these SB-500 two meter transverters. No, I don’t have one, but I did have one back in the day. In the early 70’s the 2 meter ham band was still mostly AM (Johnson and Gonset radios come to mind – and of course the Heatkit lunchbox) but FM was on the rise (usually with converted low band land mobile radios). A few weak-signal fans were using CW. Pretty much nobody was using SSB, though, and when Heathkit introduced the SB-500 it did not create a firestorm of interest. It took in a signal from a ten meter (28MHz) transmitter and heterodyned it up to 2 meters (144 MHz), retaining whatever modulation was present.  Then it transmitted the new signal. Anyone with a ten meter SSB transmitter could rig  one of these to generate a two meter SSB signal. It was a turnkey setup if you had the SB-401 transmitter with which it was designed to mate. Like most, I wasn’t excited about it but approved of the idea in general.

That changed for me when Amsat-Oscar 6 was launched in 1972. This satellite, built by amateur radio enthusiasts, was in a low earth orbit similar to the weather satellites. One of the things it could do was to take in a span of spectrum (100KHz, I think) in the two meter band and translate the whole chunk down to ten meters and retransmit that span, including whatever signals were there. Thus, a whole group of people could be simultaneously using the system and each could be involved in his/her own conversation. That looked like fun! The satellite’s power budget was extremely limited, though. Only efficient modes of operation were permitted. This meant CW or SSB; I was equipped for neither on two meters.

I was using the Heathkit SB-301/401 on HF, though, so the SB-500 was a perfect solution. I managed to pick an SB-500 locally and after some work had it operational. I rigged omnidirectional antennas for the uplink and downlink frequencies and began listening. The satellite had an orbital period of around 110 minutes and an overhead pass lasted maybe 20 minutes. The inclination was such that I could usually hear two consecutive passes (three if the middle one was directly overhead).  I used both CW and SSB and had many enjoyable contacts through Oscar 6.

While Oscar 6 was still operational, Oscar 7 was launched. It had new capabilities but still had the 2 meter/10 meter translator so my setup worked well with both satellites. I had a lot of fun with both. I shut down my “ground station” when I relocated and never got set up for satellite work again but kept up with happenings. Eventually the batteries on Oscar 6 failed so we were down to one satellite. Around 1980 Oscar 7 also went silent due to a battery failure. Nearly 20 years later, someone noticed that it was back up! A shorted battery had put it out of commission but when the battery eventually rotted away it left an open circuit and the solar panels could again power the system. There is no storage, of course, so when the satellite is in Earth’s shadow it shuts down but most of the time it is up and fully operational despite being over 40 years old!

Clearly, I need to rig something to listen for the 10 meter downlink. I suspect that when I have done so, I will get the bug to relive my experiences all those decades ago and actually use it. The good news is that it will be much easier to set up a 2 meter SSB/CW rig these days.



This arrived recently. Background: the first shortwave receiver I ever owned was a 1952 Hallicrafters S-38C. It was about ten years old at the time (as was I). Dunno what happened to it. Every five or ten years I wonder whether I should try to obtain one for old time’s sake. This time I did. Looks great, but (of course, for $20) doesn’t work. Into the project pile it goes – maybe with a little extra priority. Come to think of it, I think I paid $15 for the first one, and it worked…

The next receiver was a Heathkit GR-64 in 1968 or so. Bad mistake; I haven’t felt any nostalgia for that one. I built it to be the receiver in my first Novice station. It wasn’t a very good performer in that application (though it was better than the S-38). I was seduced by the features and glossy appearance but I soon realized that I should have selected the HR-10 instead for ham use. I don’t think I’ll be looking for a GR-64 to cherish.

When I got my General class I picked up an Eico 753 SSB/CW transceiver. It was better, but not well respected in the ham community. Then a few other transceivers until I got my next separate receiver. This one was designed for amateur use and was loosely modeled after the very highly respected Collins 75-S series receivers. It was a Heathkit SB-301 and worked alongside its companion SB-401 transmitter for several years until both were replaced by the Collins S-line (75S-1, 32S-1) it emulated. I don’t remember what happened to the S line, but that was the last tube receiver or transmitter that I owned. I could easily see me grabbing a set of Heathkit twins or an S-line again just to enjoy having them around.

Automated small-batch brewing appliances have been around for a little while. The first to hit production was probably the Picobrew Zymatic, which makes 2.5 gallon all-grain batches using conventional ingredients and sells for about $2000.  The next to reach production will probably be its little brother, the Picobrew Pico, whose Kickstarter campaign was extremely successful. The first production units, originally predicted for March shipment, should be going out fairly soon. Given that their first Kickstarter project resulted in the Zymatic, a product that has been delivered in decent quantities (well over a thousand),  it seems likely that the Pico will come through. That one is half the price (and half the production quantity) of the Zymatic. It is much smaller, too. The big difference is that, although it is an all-grain system using “normal” ingredients, they can’t be loaded directly into the machine. Ingredient packs must be acquired from the vendor. They have acquired the rights to a fair number of popular craft brews and their in house brewers, who  have created a large library of recipes for the Zymatic, are busily converting those to Pico packs as well. They are also aggressively pursuing independent homebrewers for their recipe development program. It appears the Pico owners will have no trouble obtaining recipe packs that will please them – but this one isn’t going to be nearly as attractive to homebrewers as the Zymatic. They (we) like to use the ingredients we already have on hand (and generally buy in quantity to control costs). It should be a pretty cool item for a non-brewing craft beer drinker, though.

The Brewie is a riskier proposition; it isn’t yet in production and the company can’t point to a previously successful brewing appliance as Picobrew can. Pre-orders are $1600. If successful, it will do 5 gallon batches, and you can use your own ingredients.  I don’t feel very confident about that one.

The next contender’s Kickstarter project just went hot today. The Artbrew will be about the same price as the Pico (though adventurous Kickstarter supporters can snag one for $490). Same capacity as the Pico, too – but with the ability to use your own ingredients. It seems to be one to watch. There’s no history to look at, but the price seems right for what it offers. If successful, it will offer features not available in the Pico, such as internal chilling to fermentation temperatures, as well as maintaining proper temperatures during fermentation. That last bit is important, especially for casual or careless users, as poor management of fermentation temps is a frequent cause of poor homebrews. It is more of a crossover machine, probably directed primarily toward the craft beer crowd yet offering homebrewers the option of using their own recipes and ingredients.




Newsflash: neither of my entries in the AHA national homebrew competition made it to the final round.

It was an extremely mild and pleasant winter here, but also a very busy one. Between relocating the office, Dad’s broken hip, and reverting to a solo practice in which I do everything myself, I haven’t been inspired to write here. There are developments, though.

The brewstand described in the previous post has arrived and is nearly ready for action. The burners amd gas manifold are installed; just have to mount the pilots and thermocouples now. Then I will be able to do normal 5/10 gallon brews in the garage again. Parts one and two of my build article are posted on . Part three will be the final installment after the project is complete.

I have been using a Picobrew Zymatic in the office for indoor 2.5/3.5 gallon all-grain brews. With 15 batches under my belt on that setup, I’m ready to review it when writing time permits. It is a great little system and I plan to use it whenever weather or time don’t permit full, outside brew days.

Current favorite brews: a clone of Pliny the Elder IIPA, a clone of grapefruit sculpin IPA, my house pale ale, my house vanilla porter, and a clone of Yeti RIS. I know, I need to get more of my own recipes into the rotation when time permits – but the clones are so darn good and I only have five taps!

I’m going to make a real effort to post something here biweekly so folks don’t get the impression that it is an abandoned page. I plan to describe a typical Zymatic brewday. I also want to write a little about some new toys, such as the digital refractometer and the pH meter.  Of course, I’ll have to write about the first brewday on the big rig whenever that is complete. I thought I was going to finish building that this weekend, but there’s a lot of paperwork that will need to be done today instead.




Got the panel built. I made a few changes from the initally proposed layout, mostly for cosmetic reasons (and, speaking of cosmetics, I WILL be cleaning up some of those rough edges at some point!). I changed to illuminated rocker switches for the pumps and main power to simplify the panel. I changed the chiller output temperature display to a (mostly wasted) PID to reduce panel space usage and to match the PIDs that are actually being used as PIDs. The panel is reasonably uncluttered and should look OK once the lettering arrives and is applied. The bottom panel is a little busier than I had in mind but all of the inputs and outputs are required so it is what it is.


Here’s the front of the panel with a legend of device functions:

panel1 with legend

Now the holdup is the new stand. I expected it weeks ago but haven’t yet received a firm shipping date (just a series of “next week” predictions).

layout testlayout test WITH FUNCTIONS

Phase one is the construction of this control panel to operate the three burners, heat exchanger, and two pumps that will be installed. Three Mypin PID modules will operate the burners via Honeywell solenoid valves. The Inkbird at the bottom is being used only as a display device. I plan to have the panel cut, the devices mounted, and the wiring completed over the next two weekends


Note: I see that I set up the new URL as a redirect so the browser still displays the old blog name. I’ll switch it to a mirror so it shows the new domain name when I’m in a really good mood and time permits.

The great LX850 experiment is complete. I kept the mount significantly longer than usual, which should be interpreted as a hint that I liked it. It performed as expected every time I used it over a period of 2 1/2 years. I captured plenty of images. Now it’s time to move on. In this case, it is really time to move over.  I don’t want to commit to any particular astronomy activities. I’ll put one of the other mounts in the observatory and do some casual DSLR work as time and interest permit, but probably nothing worth writing about. Instead, I’ll be using this blog space to talk about homebrewing because that is what interests me now. I may preserve the astronomy posts in one blog and transfer the brewing posts into a separate blog, or I may leave them combined here. The new URL is but for now that just takes you here.



It’s time to begin the final stage of renovations to my home brewery. I’ll be switching to a one tier brewstand with all temperature-controlled burners and a stainless steel mash tun instead of the modified beverage cooler. I’ll be using the same stainless steel boil kettle and HLT/HERMS that I’ve been using. It won’t make better beer, and it won’t make beer faster, but the intent is to make the process more enjoyable and, perhaps, more consistent..  The plan is to do the first brew mid- or late November.



Brewed my standard American pale ale today (a tamer version of Sierra Nevada pale ale). I always keep some of this around but I was a little careless and ran out this week. Now I won’t have any available for a few weeks. I wanted to make a larger batch but since I was testing the new heat exchanger I decided it would be more prudent to keep it down to a 5 gallon batch in case there were any complications.  The new heat exchanger worked great – the 1/2″ tubing permitted much better flow and the system responds much more quickly.

I’ve been using only welded keg fittings until now but I installed these weldless fittings myself and they are perfectly sealed. I won’t hesitate to drill any needed future holes in the kegs. I’ll need at least two in the near future; one in the boil kettle for a whirlpool inlet and one in the hot liquor tank for a thermowell. Please ignore the soot on the keggle; I had tried to soup up the HLT burner and got the orifice too large. After a couple of brews the keg looked like this so I went back down to a smaller orifice. It provides more heat amd no more soot. I just haven’t cleaned the old soot off yet.


I ordered the ingredients for my next brew today. It will be a clone of Ballast Point’s grapefruit sculpin. I’m not an IPA fan generally, but that one is wonderful.


It isn’t pretty, but it made three batches this weekend. I wanted to see how it would do before drilling additional holes in the hot liquor tank to mount and connect to a better heat exchanger inside. The primary reason for HERMS is the temperature control it provides to the mash without the risk of scorching it by direct heating. I can’t point to any science that proves that recirculated wort is better in any way, but it certainly looks prettier – nice and clear. I enjoyed both features this weekend. An indirect effect is that since there is a pump already there, it makes sense to use it to transfer fluids between vessels. That means that there’s no need for a three tier gravity feed brewstand.

On a side note, I’ve been tuning up the old propane burners (changing regulators and orifices) in an effort to reduce heating time. It used to take a long time to heat up the mash strike water, and even longer to bring the end result to a boil. The good news is that I have substantially reduced heating times on both burners. The bad news is that propane usage is way up. I burned 19 pounds of propane this weekend doing three batches. I used to use about 4 pounds per batch.  The new burners should be much more efficient due to the greater surface area. Better yet, they can easily be rigged to run on natural gas (MUCH less expensive than propane – and no trips to the refillng station).