Morse Code Meets Cell Phones

On weblogs.oreilly.com, Brian McConnell proposes that cell phone manufacturers include Morse Code capability into the next generation of cell phones. McConnell notes a lot of advantages to using Morse Code instead of the small keyboards that most cell phones now have:

  • The telephone would have a fairly large pressure sensitive panel on its back side, big enough that you would not have to look at the phone to locate it.
  • When carrying the phone at your side, you could send messages with one hand by tapping on the back of the phone.
  • You can program the phone to perform different functions, depending on what character you tap in.

Unfortunately, I think he’s being a bit too optimistic about how easy it will be for cell phones to receive the messages sent. He says,

Receiving messages is less of an issue, since they’ll arrive as text messages. The sending telephone will convert the tapped dots and dashes into alphanumeric messages to be sent via SMS or IP.

I have doubts, however, that the manufacturers will be able to build in a decoder able to accurately read the poor CW that most users will send. As anyone who has played with the MFJ code readers or other similar devices will tell you, the code being sent has to be pretty good for the reader to have any chance of deciphering it. I doubt that the majority of users will develop the fists required to really make good use of this feature.

Oh well, it was an interesting idea before reality set in.

Every Field Day is Different

KB6NU and W8FSA making 20m phone contacts

Dave WB4SBE has posted some FD 2005 pics on pbase. Jay WB8TKL has also posted FD 2005 pictures on his website. If you took some pictures of Field Day, e-mail me the pics or a link to the pics, and I’ll post them here.

At right, W8FSA tries to make 20m phone contacts while I supervise. Photo courtesy Dave New, WB4SBE.

Every Field Day is different. Purely from my own perspective, three years ago, I was really just a spectator. I didn’t come until Sunday morning, and only made a few contacts. Two years ago, after a year of CW practice, I was a more active participant and made quite a few CW contacts. Last year, was my first Field Day as club president and I was quite active, making nearly 150 Qs on 75m phone very early Sunday morning and mentoring at the GOTA station.

This year, I played utility man. I again did quite a bit to encourage the GOTA station participants, but I also got to operate a fair amount in the second CW station that I insisted that we set up and run. And I even made some phone contacts at each of the two phone stations, and I did a short stint at CW station #1. So, actually, I either helped with or operated each of our six stations, except for the VHF/UHF station.

Hot, Hot, HOT!
One distinguishing feature of this year’s Field Day was the heat. Temperatures all three days (including the setup on Friday) was well over 90 degrees. I don’t know how many gallons of water and Gatorade we went through, but our catering crew (George K9TRV and Sam KC8QCZ) did a great job keeping the jugs and coolers full of cold stuff to drink.

Two CW stations mean big points
The biggest difference between this year’s Field Day and last years in terms of operating was that we ran two CW stations instead of just one. Tim KT8K was the anchor of the first station, while Dennis KT8X and Joe KC8VSB were the main men at CW station #2. I operated both stations at one point or another, but spent more time at station #2.

In terms of contacts, the two stations were neck and neck up to the final hour. Then, Tim, who was operating 40m, pulled away. CW station #1 made a touch more than 700 contacts, while CW station #2 made just shy of 700 contact. Combined, both phone stations made more than 400 contacts, but to be fair, they were plagued by interference from the CW stations. We still need to work on this for next year.

Compare these results to last year, where we totalled approximately 600 phone contacts and 500 CW contacts. Very cool.

More bonus points
Not only did we make more contacts, but we also got more bonus points. Unofficially, we scored bonus points for:

  • copying the bulletin! (something we have failed to do the last couple of years),
  • a visit from an elected official (again something we’ve failed to do for several years),
  • a visit from our Emergency Coordinator, Doug Cox N8LZR,
  • having a number of teenagers make contacts,
  • having a public information table,
  • sending a press release to the local newspapers, and
  • holding Field Day in a publicly-accessible location.

Food, glorious food
This year, George K9TRV, joined the RF Cafe staff, bolstering what was already a stellar crew. We dined like kings over the weekend (well, kings of the amateur radio world at any rate). The menu included:

  • Sam’s sausages for lunch Saturday,
  • barbequed pork, beef brisket and roasted corn for dinner, and
  • eggs, sausages, bacon, pancakes, and bagels for breakfast Sunday.

If anyone ran out of energy for scoring points, they could definitely NOT blame it on a lack of food.

Bringing former members back into the fold
One of the ideas we had was to invite former ARROW members to Field Day. We didn’t do as well as I’d have liked with this, but we did manage to attract a couple of former members to the site, and one even renewed his membership.

As for other visitors to the site, if you count the elected officials, the newspaper reporter, and a group of my friends who came out to the site after their weekly lunch, we had quite a good turnout. I don’t know if they learned much about ham radio, but I tried to do a good job of explaining what ham radio and Field Day is all about and showing them the various stations.

We also had a lot of family members come out to the site, especially for dinner on Saturday. We put out a message on our mailling list, specifically inviting spouses and children to come. Next year, we might want to think about some activities especially for families.

Thanks!
Below are the folks that deserve special thanks for their role in making this Field Day a real success (in alphabetical order by callsign suffix):

  • Mark KD8AOM
  • Bruce KD8APB
  • Mark W8FSA
  • Jim N8GNQ
  • Chuck K9HBI
  • Clay W8JNZ
  • Tim KT8K
  • Glenda N8KPL
  • Sam KC8QCZ
  • Al KC8RNQ
  • Dave WB4SBE
  • Jeff W8SGZ
  • Jay WB8TKL
  • Dave KC8TQB
  • George K9TRV
  • Dik KC8UXT
  • Joe KC8VSB
  • Steve WB8WSF
  • Tom WB8COX
  • Dennis KT8X
  • Roger W8ZRF

Thanks to all who participated and to all the spouses who put up with us all weekend.

Tips for Passing the CW Test

Don’t wait for the CW test to be eliminated to upgrade. It’s really not that tough, and you can do it. On the SolidCpyCW mailing list, Greg O’Brien, NE1OB, a Volunteer Examiner, offered the following tips:

  • Things to remember:
    • The format of the code sent is an exchange in a typical QSO.
    • After VVV VVV, the test will begin with callsign de callsign.
    • It will end with callsign de callsign plus appropriate prosigns. So, you will have two chances to get the callsigns correctly.
    • Usually one callsign will contain a “/”, for instance k1pid/7 or ne1ob/m.
    • Each exam will contain all 40 characters(A-Z, 0-9 ‘/’, ‘?’, ‘.’, ‘,’) and prosigns (‘AR’, ‘SK’, and sometimes ‘BT’).
    • You need 25 characters in a row BUT numbers and punctuation and prosigns count as two characters.
    • Spaces do not count.
  • Other elements commonly included in the QSO exchange:
    • rig (so know the common manufacturers, including Icom, Yaesu, and Kenwood),
    • power (this is where the digits are used so it probably wont be 100),
    • type of antenna (dipole, loop, vee, yagi etc.),
    • antenna height (digits here),
    • QTH (Don’t count on the state matching the town, and the comma will probably be between the city and state),
    • caller and called ham’s names.
  • The above elements plus the callsigns will be the basis of the 10 questions. When you answer the questions, enter the answer exactly like it was sent. If “California” was sent, don’t write “CA” or “Calif” as the answer.
  • Things to study before the exam:
    • Practice numbers and punctuation and prosigns to death. They count double, you cannot usually figure them out from context, and you probably spent more time on the letters.
    • Practice callsigns – callsigns are hard. They contain numbers and ‘/’. They come at the beginning of the transmission and if you have trouble with them, it may wreck you confidence for a while.
    • Learn the common manufacturers and models.
    • Review the common antenna types.
  • Key advice for the exam:
    • Relax. Take a deep breath. Shake it out. Just imagine you are in your normal practice environment. (I know that it’s easier to say then do .)
    • There will be a one minute warm-up before the 5 minute transmission. Make sure the volume is comfortable for you. Copy the warm-up to get loose.
    • When you miss a character, just leave a space or an underline. Don’t try to replay it in your mind. You can fill it in later.
    • At the end of the code sending, you will have time to review your copy and fill in those blanks you left. Use all your puzzle solving skills.
    • Do your best on the 10 questions even if you think there is no way.
  • Remember, the VEs want you to pass.

Greg also notes, “for a detailed look at a sample exam and more tips see the AC6V website.”

An Aussie Ham Radio Blog

I got an e-mail this morning from Gordon, VK2DJG:

I went looking for real-honest-to-goodness ham radio blogs some time back. Yours was one of the few that I could find. In the belief that “the more the merrier” is the way to go, I’ve added a radio blog to my blogging corral.

You can find his blog at http://blog.vk2djg.net. Pretty cool.

Field Day Preparations

I’ve been so busy with Field Day preparations, that I haven’t had much time to blog. Here’s some of the things I’ve done so far:

  • installed logging software on my laptop,
  • installed the logging software on another laptop,
  • checked out the keying cable with my IC-746PRO,
  • built a satellite antenna for WB8COX, so that he could devote his time to fixing the repeater,
  • e-mailed all the Ann Arbor city council to invite them out to the site,
  • e-mailed the Ann Arbor police, fire, and emergency management people to invite them out to the site,
  • e-mailed the Ann Arbor Township board to invite them out to the site,
  • recruited a public information officer (PIO) for ARROW, who sent out a press release that’s going to result in an article on our Field Day operation, and
  • a bunch of other little stuff.

It’s really shaping up to be a great Field Day. I think we’re going to have a lot of fun AND make a lot of contacts.

Sevick Articles Online

Jerry Sevick, W2FMI, is the author of the amateur radio classic, Understanding, Building, and Using Baluns and Ununs and the more engineering-oriented, Transmission Line Transformers. He’s done more to take the black magic out of baluns than anyone in ham radio, and I was pleased to hear him speak at this year’s Dayton.

He recently published a series of articles on the topic in the trade magazine High Frequency Electronics. They’re all online and all worth reading:

There’s lot of other good stuff on the High Frequency Electronics website, too. The editor, Gary Breed, K9AY, is a well-known amateur radio operator, and there’s lots of good stuff there for guys like us, even though it’s really aimed at RF engineers.

A Modest Proposal for an Amateur Radio Nonprofit Corporation

Last week, I attended the Michigan Nonprofit Association Super Conference, and now I have lots more crazy ideas. I assume that the ARRL is a 501c3 nonprofit corporation, and that we could do many things under that umbrella. Even so, what’s to stop us here in Michigan from forming another 501c3 nonprofit to serve as an advocacy group for amateur radio here in Michigan? I can see this nonprofit doing a lot of things namely:

  • the “brother club” program,
  • providing leadership training for club officers and other interested parties,
  • conducting amateur radio classes for groups such as the Power Squadron and Red Cross.

These are only a few ideas; the possibilities are endless. Basically, I see this group as a framework for doing things that are outside of the capabilities of a single club.

I really need to start organizing. If you’d be interested in working with me on this project, please send me an e-mail.

The spirit of cooperation

Today, I attended the Michigan Nonprofit Association conference. At lunch, I happened to sit with someone from the Washtenaw Red Cross.

We got to talking a little bit about the history of ARROW and the Red Cross, and I gave her the short story about our little disagreement five or six years ago. It was all news to her. She also told me that the person who was Director of Emergency Services at that time is no longer with them.

That, couple with a recent mention of a reconciliation between ARROW and the Red Cross has emboldened me. After Field Day, I’m going to call and talk to them about how ARROW and the Red Cross can begin to work together again.

I’m not getting my hopes up that they’ll offer us space for a club station just yet, though. The first steps may be us teaching a class for them or perhaps participating in some kind of emergency exercise. Still, I’m going to be positive about this development.

The Bugaboo of Packaging

One of the things that’s kind of a pain about homebrewing is packaging something you’ve built. If you’re like me, you don’t really enjoy the mechanical work that’s involved in choosing an enclosure and designing and building panels.

Well, it turns out that it may not be so bad after all. While reading a recent issue of Electronic Design, I saw an ad for frontpanelexpress.com.

They produce prototype panels and small quantity lots. These are probably too expensive for the average amateur radio homebrewer, but they do offer free software, with which you can “design your front panels in minutes.” I haven’t tried the software yet, but it’s a small download (about 3 Mbytes) and seems to have all the features you’d need. With it you can:

  • define the dimensions and material for the front panel,
  • pick and place elements from a large library, and
  • manipulate these elements to get exactly the design you want.

The panels cost $200-300 for a single unit, so you’re probably not going to have them build it for you, but the software will let you play around with the design before you actually cut any metal. That should help you produce a more professional-looking panel.

Another resource
Another resource is the Bud Enclosure Design Tips Handbook. Bud, of course, has manufactured enclosures forever, and if anyone has tips to offer it would be them.

Unfortunately, it looks as though you actually have to order the paper publication. I searched around their website, but could not find an electronic version of the tips handbook.

MTV Comes to Ham Radio

I’m not sure how many people this music video is going to win over to ham radio, but it’s certainly amusing. Does anyone else think it’s funny that this video was produced by a Danish contest club?