More CW Practice

CW

Merry Christmas!

Today I landed upon a video by KJ4YZI Eric of HamRadioConcepts (https://youtu.be/Jls-PiR-dBI) entitled “How I learned Morse code fast and easy”. I found the title suspect because CW is neither fast nor easy, but he did help me a lot with this simple video.

He learned with the help of an Android app called Morse CT that allows him to practice by tapping the alphabet and numbers on his phone.

It never occurred to me that I could tap on my phone screen to learn sending. I have been so slow going because the Koch method is tedious and very hard in the beginning. I was thinking I needed to bring my key to work, and practice using it in the off hours. I started researching practice code oscillators to connect with my key, and that was looking prohibitively pricey for the purpose. There simply isn’t a prebuilt little box that hooks up to your key and outputs to headphones for private CW practice.

So seeing Eric’s video, I looked for an iOS equivalent app, and found Morse-it by Pacolabs. Now I can say, within a day I know how to send CW at around 12wpm. The app tests different aspects of CW: Tap out a series of random letters, or listen to CW and translate. Within an hour I was hitting spot-on in the composition. But half a day and I’m still about 25% on the copying from listening.

There’s truth to the comments in the video: You need to learn by listening.

That’s the hard part. Before today, while learning via the Koch Method, I was at around 10 letters of the alphabet listening at 17wpm. This little app was a boost of encouragement by helping me to learn the full alphabet in a short period of time, but I still cannot read as quickly as I need to… not even close. I can now talk to people, albeit slowly, but copying them will still be a challenge.

So I can say that CW is neither fast nor easy. But using Eric’s method is a great boost in just slogging through the Koch Method. At least now I can actually reply to people, even if I don’t understand their full message yet.

What is this transmission?

Digital, SSB

I checked in to W6VVR Vaca Valley Radio Club net this evening and they said post-net they’d be hopping on to 7.190MHz. Quickly set up my bugcatcher for 40m and listened, but nothing heard, except for a QSO in progress on 7.192 from Arizona to Los Angeles.

So I thought I’d tune around on the new Extra sections of 7.075-7.100MHz (Hawaii and Alaska can use this for voice, but we mainlanders can’t.) Was expecting CW and perhaps some blurty digital sounds.

Instead I found this:

What is this? I imagine it’s a digital mode (somewhat like Olivia) but I’ve never heard anything like it. Makes me think of a harmonic alien transmission.

Passed the Amateur Extra exam

Radio Club

It took a while of studying, and a HamCram at the end, but I got my Extra class ticket this afternoon with W6SF Stockton Delta Amateur Radio Club. I missed one out of the 50-question exam.

I highly recommend taking your amateur license exam with SDARC. They don’t follow all those outdated 1980’s ways of doing ham things (i.e. physically mailing a big stack of paper to the VEC), but file with the VEC/FCC electronically. The VE assures me I’ll see the FCC database update in 3 days; instead of weeks with other examiners.

This is the last level of amateur radio licensing. Now I have no excuses… I need to just focus on actual radio practice and experimenting with all the different things that have opened up at this level.

I will have the ARRL Band Plan on hand at all times till I memorize it, and can now pretty much transmit on all available FCC amateur bands without worrying if I’m in the wrong operator allocation.

N6KZW Paul was there, not in a VE role, but helping out. He asked me, “What are you going to do in ham radio?” I said, “Just get out there and reach people.” I actually don’t know what I want to do next… There’s still so much to learn, and to even get working (e.g. my HF antenna mounting, digital, learn CW…). What will I do in ham radio? My problem is I want to do it all, with never the time or finances to follow each path in depth. This constraint drives selectiveness and getting creative.

This was a huge rush for me, and I’d personally like to thank W6SXA Mark for study tips earlier this month; NZ6Q John for leading the HamCram and the Club (he’s got ideas and is moving the whole ham community!); K6AAN Mike for being a VE and reigniting some interest in homebrew DMR repeaters, N6KZW Paul for always being a warm helpful jokester, N6TCE Bob and N6ZDH Dan for doing a bunch of legwork and setup for the exam.

Now to get on the air.

APRS iGate

Digital

Last night I set up an Automatic Packet Reporting System (APRS) iGate to listen on 144.390 MHz for packets and report them to APRS Internet Service (APRS-IS). This is like a listening station that will improve my area APRS coverage.

My receive-only APRS station on https://aprs.fi

This can be done relatively inexpensively with a Raspberry Pi (~$35), a RTL-SDR receiver (~$26), and some opensource linux software available online.

The latest RTL-SDR v3 is a capable little Software Defined Radio (SDR) receiver that can even receive to HF frequencies. For much cheaper than a standalone HF receiver, you can get the kit that includes a whip dipole, extension SMA cables, and mounting hardware. I lengthened the whips to 2m resonance (~19 inches each side).

Using software in linux: rtl_fm and direwolf, one is able to listen for APRS traffic on 144.390 MHz, decode it, and with the Raspberry Pi  connected to the Internet, can send what it hears to the main APRS servers for visibility on aprs.fi.

Note one guy here sharing his heart rate and blood oxygen levels while on the road.

Now that this is up, I can monitor the firehose of digital packet information that is constantly on the frequency, and relay some close-by transmissions to the rest of the world.

Special thanks goes to my friend briandef (who is studying and may soon become a ham) for his insight and pre-struggle with SDR opensource software to help me debug out how to cleanly set up the RTL-SDR dongle.