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.

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 They don’t follow all those outdated 1980’s ways of doing ham things (i.e. physically mailing a big stack of paper to the VEC), but file with the VEC/FCC electronically.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.

SDARC Meeting 11/9

Antennas, Radio Club

Met with the club members of Stockton Delta Amateur Radio Club (SDARC) this evening at a classroom in the Bear Creek Community Church. The club elected (or re-elected, rather) the club board for 2018, and discussed upcoming club events.

Then W6SXA Mark gave a presentation and demo of the Rigexpert AA-600 antenna analyzer. He reviewed other types of analyzers with their pros and cons, and settled upon the one he got, the AA-600.

W6SXA/Mark presents on the AA-600 antenna analyzer.

This is a sensitive piece of equipment that can scan from 0.1 to 600 MHz (all the favorite ham bands) and even interface with your computer to produce very accurate SWR, reactance, capacitance, return loss, and TDR (Time Domain Reflectometer) graphs, among other functions.

Mark then demonstrated the tuning of a 440MHz antenna he constructed, as well as a 2m wire vertical he made for demo at Elmer University.

A good antenna analyzer helps greatly with getting the most out of your antenna setup, significantly reducing the time required to adjust an antenna. It’s one of those tools where once you try it, you wonder how you did anything before you used it. While the AA-600 is pricey (at around ~$600), Mark assures us that it is well worth it and he doesn’t regret the price he paid one bit.

Learning Morse Code

CW

I’ve found that learning CW is hindered by my preconceptions I’ve had about Morse code. When initially starting on the Koch Method using HamMorse, I would turn the sound I heard into a mental picture of dots and dashes, then I’d do an internal lookup of what that picture in my mind was against the alphabet.

As you can imagine, this takes way too long, and takes too much concentration to effectively work in real-time CW translation.

After many hours of trying and listening, I realize now what others have said all along about Morse: Just relax, and let the sounds come in on their own. The sounds need to reflexively become letters with little mental effort; Don’t try to visualize dots and dashes. Just listen, practice, and let the sounds become letter representations in your mind.

The above sound file says: CQ CQ CQ DE KF6UJS KF6UJS KF6UJS PSE K

That is what my CW general call to the world would be if I wanted to start a conversation with anyone listening on the frequency. CQ means a general call; DE means “from”; PSE means “please”; K means “go” (i.e. invite to respond).

Got my General!

Radio Club

Passed the General License exam this morning in Granite Bay, California.

General CSCE

Not that you can’t find my address, but I remove it out of habit.

I’d been studying for about a month. But last night I thought to cram for it since there was an available exam going on in the morning about 50 miles north of me. I went through the whole General Exam question pool. I was unsure of so many answers, and not even halfway through all questions, that I thought, “I’m never going to pass this thing.” There’s a bit of math and frequency allocation memorization needed, as well as understanding schematic diagrams and figuring out ohms, picofarads, and millihenries.

But I did power through the studying, referring often back to the reference material. For those interested in studying for any class license, I totally recommend the ARRL series of License Manuals. It’s probably the best way to prep for the exam.

Anyhow, waking too early for a Saturday, I got to the exam location by 8:30am and was greeted by WA6FGI Gary, an Amateur Extra VEC examiner. I showed them an official copy of my FCC Technician license and my ID, and got signed in with forms to fill out. I was then given the multiple-choice answer sheet and a test.

There were about 6-8 other people there also taking an exam, some totally new to ham radio, attempting to get their Tech. I heard one guy unfortunately not pass for General, and another person not pass, though I’m not sure for what class. Many others got congratulations and a hand-shake from the VEC examiners for getting their license (or upgrade).

I got through the exam really quickly, only pausing for 2-3 questions that I was not certain of. When I was done, three Extra class hams looked over my answer sheet and transferred it between each other for triple review. After a few minutes, one of them called me over and congratulated me on passing the General.

Another asked, “Would you like to try for the Extra license?”

I thought about the prospect of that. Buoyed by the recent victory, I told them, “I studied absolutely nothing regarding the Extra license, but sure! I’ll give it a shot!” They seemed pleased that I would try. I overheard several others who had finished and successfully passed their Technician exams decline the chance to try for the next level.

It was a longer test, 50 questions instead of 35 for the General, and significantly harder. I guessed a LOT on this one. After a good long while, I submitted the answer sheet, and several more minutes later, they told me I did not pass for the Extra level.

Well, at least I got a taste of what the next exam will be like. Time to hit the next manual and learn!

Nevertheless, I’m now an Authorized General class amateur radio operator. KF6UJS/AG. I am so thrilled! HF here I come!