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.

Being a Ham Means Figuring Things Out

CW, Digital

A setback day today, as I finally received a USB audio cable for my attempts to use fldigi with my mac laptop (one of the few SDR programs that works on macOS). I was so looking forward to CQ’ing on my available bands with CW in an automated sense, but no luck.

The USB audio cable I ordered (manufactured in Greece, no less), doesn’t seem to work. It is quite frustrating to wait forever for the requisite parts only for me to once again face the world of failure and non-support on Apple Mac computers.

The ham software world is very driven by Windows software, something hams really need to change. For the most part, most hams I talk to are using old versions of Windows, and rarely know much about computers– a direct opposite of my life. Had I the desktop software skills, I would totally try to port many of these apps available to the Mac realm.

So today has been a setback on several ham fronts: CW was a hard study today, I found the bands empty when searching, and now my foray into digital modes has been halted by technology.

But, I am not despairing (too much). Part of being a ham is persistence in the face of a problem. Trying different ways and different configurations until you get the setup right and are able to talk to others.

Ham Code Guide

CW, Digital

Spurred by the previous post, I’m using the Koch method for learning Morse code (CW). I’m attaching here a document I made back when I first became a ham in 1999 that is a quick reference for prosigns and Q-Codes. Morse is also there, but I do not recommend CW by sight, has to be reflexive by sound.

A good iOS mobile app for this is Ham Morse by AA9PW.

Here is my reference document: Ham Code Guide by KF6UJS.

Found a Beacon on 2m

Antennas, CW, SSB

I briefly heard someone on 10m single-sideband (SSB) saying goodbye to his QSO friend, and that he was going to tune around on 2m SSB. Although I knew 2m SSB existed, never occurred to me that now that I have an all-mode rig, I could also tune around there instead of being bound only to FM by a handheld radio. I started sweeping from 144.100 MHz and started hearing morse code at right around 144.282 MHz. I switched to CW mode and tuned further to 144.282.23:

I recorded it, and was fascinated. Note, this was received while connected to my 10m dipole antenna that is pretty poorly mounted against a fence 6ft off the ground– not the most optimal setup.

After spending many retries, replaying the recording over and over and referencing my morse code (CW) cheatsheet, I found this to say:

VVV DE KJ6KO/B CM88WS

This is hamspeak for: Testing from KJ6KO beacon, (at grid) CM88ws.

I googled this, and found the site for the KJ6KO beacon at Bald Mtn, some 65 miles away from my location (my grid location is: CM98hb). So neato!

When I got my first radio with rubber ducky antenna, I used to think that 2 meters with 5 watts only had range for a few miles, since the only repeaters I could hit were fairly close by. Little did I know how much the antenna itself, polarization, and antenna placement mattered.

Now that I live in a valley with repeaters on mountains all around, I can see that a 40w beacon 65 miles away comes in loud and clear 559 (in spite of a wrong antenna that is poorly placed). And now with me only transmitting 5w with an elevated low-SWR half-wave vertical antenna and counterpoise, I come in fairly clear hitting a club repeater 50 miles away.

Even on VHF 2m, ham radio is quite amazing. Finding this beacon was a fun journey.