Rag Chewing

Back when I was a kid, I never got into many long conversations on the radio. Maybe it was because I was a kid and really didn’t have that much to say to older hams. Maybe it was because I had a lousy fist (although I thought it was at least decent). Whatever the reason, it was pretty much RST-QTH-name, maybe followed by a recounting of the weather and rig, then QRT.

Now, however, I find myself having much longer QSOs. Today, for example, I only made two contacts, but each of them lasted 45 minutes. Both were very enjoyable.

The first was with a guy in Connecticut. Turns out that not only was he using a Vibroplex, he had a collection of ten of them. I had to tip my hat to him on that–learning how to use a bug has got to be one of the hardest things to do.

The second was with a guy in Springfield, MO. We didn’t discuss anything in particular, but we managed to waste 45 minutes doing it.

Hams, in general, are interesting people. They’re “doers.” Those that are immersed in the hobby are doing lots of interesting things, such as bouncing signals off the moon or satellites. Those that aren’t quite so rabid, often have interesting jobs or are involved in other interesting pursuits.

So, my advice is to get to know the person you’re having a QSO with. Get the formalities out of the way quickly, then ask them about their job, their communities, or their other hobbies. You’ll have a lot more fun and get a lot more out of the hobby if you do.

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By the way, why do we call having long conversations “rag chewing” anyway? Anyone know?

Merry Christmas!

Today, I spent a lot of time on 20m CW, making eight contacts in about 3 hours of operating time. What can I say? I like to rag chew.

My first contact this morning was with Patrick, NY2PO. Guess what he does for a living? Yep, he’s a New York City police officer.

One of my contacts this afternoon was with Esther, KA4IFF, who happens to be one of the founders of FISTS. She is FISTS #11! She had a great fist, too, especially for someone who is 86 years old.

My shortest contact of the day was with VE6CCC. I heard him calling CQ, and he was kind of weak, but I’d never worked anyone with a suffix containing the same character three times, so I called him. Unfortunately, the conditions only got worse and we were unable to continue the QSO.

PET PEEVE: Operators who spell out the word “WATTS” instead of using the abbreviation “W”.

Frustrating

Operating 20m this morning was a bit frustrating. The band was open, but it didn’t seem if anyone was operating!

I worked a station in the Azores and one in New Mexico, both coming in with good signals and giving me a good report. I also heard and Swedish station working a German. But other than that, the band was really quiet. If only more people had their radios turned on!

K0W – Celebrating the Dairy Cow

I just worked a great special events station: K0W – celebrating the dairy cow. Right now, he’s on 20m CW at 14.055. The special callsign application notes that the call is good through the end of the year, so if you’re reading this before Jan. 1, 2003, you may still have a chance to catch him. I tried doing a Google search on K0W, but I don’t think there’s a website.

IC-735 Mailing List

Got an Icom IC-735 Transceiver?

Then you should join the IC-735 mailing list. It’s a pretty low traffic group, but it seems to be a good one. It has a high signal/noise ratio, as they say.

I’d also love to hear from you directly about your experiences with the rig. E-mail me or look for me on 20m CW.

Getting So Much Better All the Time

Monday evening, I installed a phone plug on the keyer in place of the header that was on there. This turned out to be more of a job than I’d anticipated. For some reason, I had a heck of a time unsoldering and removing the header. Once that was done, installing the phone plug wasn’t so hard. Took me about an hour and a half from start to finish.

I’m getting better with the keyer, too. I’ve been running it at 15 words per minute, and that’s starting to seem pretty slow. I can copy at least 17-18 wpm, but didn’t want to try to send too fast just yet. Next time, though, I think I’ll crank up the speed a little.

While I am making fewer keying mistakes, there are still times when i just lose it. By that I mean, my concentration flies out the window, and I get all out of sync. When that happens, I stop, take a breath, and then start over again. Fortunately, all of the operators I’ve worked so far have been very accomodating.

Heathkit Keyer on the Air

Thursday, I took the Heathkit keyer apart, spread out the schematic and began poking around. It looked to me like everything was working the way it should, so I buttoned it all back up, built a cable to connect it to my IC-735, and voila it keyed the rig perfectly.

My only guess as to why it didn’t work right before is that I had the positive and negative contacts swapped. If you’re keying the transmitter with a straight key, swapping them doesn’t matter–the key is only a mechanical switch after all, and the current doesn’t care which way it flows through a switch. But the output of the keyer is a transistor, and current flows only one way through a transistor, so you have to connect it properly.

Instead of using the capacitive paddles built into the keyer, I’ve opted to use the Bencher paddle. I played around with the sensitivity adjustment for the capacitive paddles, but I just couldn’t find a setting that wasn’t too sensitive. As a result, I was getting a lot of phantom dits.

The problem with using the mechanical paddles is that instead of using a stereo phone plug, Heathkit decided to use a small header. This is, of course, a lot less standard than a phone plug, and the local Radio Shack did not have the proper connector. To use the keyer today, I had to use some clip leads and Mickey Mouse it. I hope that Purchase Radio will have what I need, but if not I may have to modify the keyer to accept a phone plug.

The good news is that I made eight contacts today using the paddle/keyer combo. I asked the operators on the other end to be a little patient, and fortunately for me, they were, for the most part. I think I got better along the way, although during the last contact, I got tired and began to lose concentration and started making a lot of mistakes. All in all, though, I think I’ll like using the keyer once I get proficient with it.

Heathkit Keyer

I have a Heathkit keyer that I bought and built nearly 20 years ago. It’s actually a pretty cool device. It’s processor-controlled and has a number of memories. The unique thing about this keyer is that it comes with built-in “”paddles.”” They’re not mechanically operated, but rather switch capacitively.

As I mentioned earlier, the output doesn’t seem to be working properly. When you touch the paddles, the output switches, but it latches up into an always on state.

I dug out the schematics and opened the case, but this thing was not designed for easy troubleshooting. The voltage regulator, for example, mounts to the base, and the leads poke up through the PC board where they connect to a header. To troubleshoot the board, you have to disconnect the voltage regulator, and once you do that, you have to figure out another way to power the board. I guess I’ll just connect 5V directly to that connector, bypassing the regulator altogether.

Vacation….and another thought on Bluetooth

I just spent a couple of days down in Miami Beach. I didn’t take any of my handhelds, although I’m thinking that maybe I should have. We were on the 10th floor of our hotel, so I could have done pretty well on VHF. Maybe next time.

On the flight home, I happened to be flipping through one of the in-flight magazines and noticed that Plantronics is now producing a wireless headset for cell phones, the M1500. It has a range of up to 30 feet and its rechargeable battery provides 2.5 hours of talk time, 60 hours of standby time. The headset fits neatly over the ear, and it comes with an adapter that plugs into the headset jack of a cell phone.

I’m going to contact Plantronics about adapting this for amateur radio use. There’s two ways to go: get them to sell me just the headset and build an adapter or get them to also design and build an adapter. In addition to the audio output, the adapter would also have to have a push-to-talk output. Also, I would have to design and build cables for the different rigs currently on the market. That might be kind of a hassle, as they all seem to use different connectors.

Even so, I think this would be a very cool amateur radio accessory.

20m CW

Saturday, I worked 20m CW for a while. I had an interesting QSO with a guy in Mineral Wells, WV. I heard him calling CQ, and to be honest, his fist really sucked. Even so–being the good FISTS member that I am–I called him and we began the QSO. Well, after the first exchange, he came back, and not only was his fist excellent, he was sending somewhat faster as well.

As it turned out, he was using a straight key for his first transmission, and since he learned to send CW using a keyer, he was really bad at using a straight key. The reason he was trying the straight key–a $200+ model no less–is that he wanted to take part in Straight Key Night, held every New Year’s Eve. That’s quite a switch, as most hams learn to send using a straight key and have the reverse problem of learning how to use a keyer.

After another exchange, I told him to go ahead and use the straight key, and we struggled through another exchange or two before calling it quits. I do hope he sticks with and masters the straight key. As I said, he had an excellent fist with the keyer, and probably could develop one with the key as well. I’ll be looking for him again next time I get on 20m.

That QSO prompted me to try out my new paddle. I built a cable for the paddle that lets me use it as a sideswiper, and even connected it to the rig. I was so bad with it, though, that I went back to the straight key. I’ll have to hook the paddle up to my audio oscillator and practice for a while before getting on the air again.

I also note that my old Heathkit keyer has an input for an external paddle, so I might try hooking it up to the Heathkit. Unfortunately, I have a problem with the Heathkit in that the output doesn’t seem to be switching correctly. I’ll have to dig out the schematics and see if I can figure out what’s wrong with it. In the meantime, though, it does work great for code practice.