Zen and the Art of Radiotelegraphy

One thing that’s so amusing about Morse Code is that the more people claim that it’s dead, the more people there are that rise up to defend and promote it. Note that I said “defend and promote it,” not actually use it.

Having said that, let me point out my discovery of a new tome on our ancient art, Zen and the Art of Radiotelegraphy by Carlo Consoli, IK0YGJ. This book is available in the original Italian and in an English translation.

Consoli takes a different tack than other authors. Instead of concentrating on the mechanics of learning and using Morse Code, he spends a good deal of time talking about the psychology of learning this skill. To succeed in learning Morse Code, Consoli advises that we need to change our approach to learning:

When learning CW, therefore, we must establish a new component in our self-image and, when doing so, we need to be relaxed. Always practice during the same time of day and in a place where you can experience positive feelings of comfort and pleasure. When we make a mistake we are always ready to blame ourselves. This is the way we learnt from our environment during childhood, often accepting any fault as our own error or weakness.

This potentially destructive mechanism can be used to build a positive self-image, rather than demolish it. A mistake must be considered a signal, pointing us in the right direction. If you fail, let your mistake pass away, with no blame or irritation. Learn CW in a relaxed mood, enjoy the pleasure of learning something new, repeat your exercises every day and be confident in the self-programming abilities of your self-image. Just a few minutes a day: you can take care of your “more serious” stuff later on.

Consoli also has some interesting things to say about getting faster. He agrees with me that it’s essential to abandon pencil and paper and start copying in one’s head. We also agree that at this point, you need to start using a paddle instead of a straight key.

He has analyzed the situation a lot more than I have, though. When asked about how I learned to copy in my head, all I can do is to relate my own experience. One day, I just went cold turkey. I put down the pencil and paper and never copied letter-by-letter ever again.

Consoli, however, says that what operators need to do is to program themselves to copy in their heads. He counsels operators to practice relaxation and visualization exercises. Visualize yourself as a high-speed operator, and maybe one day you will be one.

That seems to have worked for him. He is a member of the Very High Speed Club (VHSC), First Class Operator’s Club (FOC), and has been clocked at copying over 70 wpm.

Will it work for you? Well, if you haven’t been as successful as you’d like with other methods to improve your code speed, then Consoli’s methods are certainly worth a try.

Bell Labs Journal Now Online

“Innovation” is a word often thrown around these days. Back in the old days, you couldn’t find an organization more innovative than Bell Labs. They could certainly afford it, though. They had a monopoly on the telephone system!

At any rate, all of the issues of the Bell Labs Journal from 1922 to 1983 are now online. Within the pages of these journals you’ll find papers on:

  • the invention of the transistor in 1947 and subsequent advances in related solid-state device and circuit technology.
  • Shannon’s paper, “A Mathematical Theory of Communication,” that was published over 60 years ago and gave birth to Information Theory.
  • the charge-coupled device (CCD), a technology that transforms patterns of light into useful digital information, is the basis for many forms of modern digital imaging.
  • cellular telephone service, the concept that multiple lower-power transmitters could be spread throughout a region employing automatic call handoff and frequency reuse that changed the face of communications.

Overall, it’s pretty cool stuff.

Fritzing: The Latest in Electronics from Those Wacky Germans

According to the website Fritzing.Org:

Fritzing is an open-source initiative to support designers, artists, researchers and hobbyists to take the step from physical prototyping to actual product. We are creating this software in the spirit of Processing and Arduino, developing a tool that allows users to document their Arduino and other electronic-based prototypes, and to create a PCBlayout for manufacturing.

Despite the wacky name, this looks like very cool software. Just avoid using the phrase, “I’m fritzing around with this circuit.” Someone’s going to have to develop a module for Manhattan-style layout, though.

Watch this video:



A Busy Ham Radio Weekend

It was a busy ham radio weekend at KB6NU/WA2HOM.

Saturday, I didn’t get down to the museum until after noon. As usual, I went scouting around for special event stations. I bagged three of them:

  • K2G (Babylon, NY). K2G was taking part in the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of Coast Guard Auxiliary. According to the ARRL website, there were at least a dozen on the air, but I only worked this one and heard another in PA. A number of them were supposed to be operating CW, but I didn’t hear any of them.
  • W3S (somewhere in MD). This station was operating from a Boy Scout camp. I didn’t get its exact location as they were kind of weak.
  • WB8REI (Tiffin, OH). This was a Halloween operation of the Seneca County Amateur Radio Experimenters (SCARE). The certificate will look nice next to our QSL card from N0F (Frankenstein, MO), a station we worked last Halloween.

I was hoping to work N1P, Number One Pumpkin, the special event station at the Franklin County Pumpkin Festival, but I guess the skip was too short.

Saturday night, I prepared for the hamfest this morning. Several hams in the area have donated equipment and other stuff for us to sell to help finance our operations at the Hands-On Museum. I was going through the stuff when I found a Bunnel #9 key (see below).

This is a very cool key. I don’t think it’s worth all that much—many thousands were made during WWII by several different manufacturers—but it does have a nice action, and I like it. Unfortunately, it’s missing the knob. Anyone know where I can get a knob for this key? After playing with the key for a while, I packed up all the stuff I was taking in the morning, and loaded up my Freestyle.

Sunday morning, I got up at 5:30am. I ate breakfast, showered, and hopped in the car at about 6:30. I had to drive about an hour to get to the hamfest, and I wanted to get there with plenty of time because I never got a confirmation that the organizers had received my check, and I wanted to get that all straightened out—if it needed straightening—before the hamfest started. Fortunately, there was no problem, and I got set up quickly.

The TS-820 station (including antenna tuner, bandscope display, speaker, etc.) went very quickly. I was asking $600 for it. Around 8:20 am, a guy came over and offered me $500 for it, and when I turned down that offer, $550. I decided to take that. He counted out 28 $20 bills and told me to keep the change.

Jim, K8ELR, had given me a box of 12 rolls of leadless solder to sell to the EAE Sales guy. He said that he would only buy five or six rolls at $7-8/roll, but to get with him later as he was still setting up. I did go over there later and offered him the whole box for $40, which he accepted. (I hope that was OK, Jim!)

I sold about $200 worth of books. In fact, I’m almost down to a single box of them. I’ll be a little sad when they’re all gone. I might have to start looking for electronics books or buying books from Ann Arbor library sale to re-sell at hamfests.

I packed up about 10:30, then cruised the aisles a little. Didn’t see anything I wanted, so I hopped into the car and got back by noon. That ended my weekend in ham radio. I ate a little lunch, took a nap, and then my XYL and I went to a movie.

General Stoner’s 24-Hour Circuits

Major General Frank E. Stoner

Major General Frank E. Stoner, Chief of the Army Communication Service of the Signal Corps. Photo courtesy of the Missouri State Archives

IEEE-USA’s Today’s Engineer has a very interesting story on Gen. Frank Stoner, Chief of the U.S. Army Communication Service during World War II. He set up two communications networks that operated around the clock and proved crucial to the war effort. One of the networks spanned the North Atlantic and used long-wave radio to mitigate the interference caused by the aurora borealis. The second, called ACAN (Army Command and Administrative Net), operated near the equator and used shortwave frequencies.

One interesting factoid is that ACAN had a capacity of 100,000,000 words per day. In 1945, the network carried about 50,000,000 words per day. Today’s communications networks, of course, carry billions times more data than this network.

After the war, Stoner became the United Nations’ Chief Communications Engineer and set up a radio network to broadcast news of the UN. At one point, Stoner enlisted the help of amateur radio operators to keep the network on the air:

In May of the following year, the United Nations broadcasting network that Frank Stoner had set in place with such care and foresight was at risk of going silent. For economic reasons, the United States Congress was considering reducing the funding for the State Department channels used to send programs abroad, channels which had been made available to the United Nations. With resourcefulness and ingenuity, Frank Stoner turned to the world’s amateur radio operators to relay the news of the Parliament of the World to the people of the world. Not only was there an elegant grass-roots symbolism in having amateur radio operators serving as a direct link between the United Nations and the people, it would also enable the United Nations to maintain communications in the face of possible interference — whether political interference or from natural causes — in the existing commercial systems. K2UN, with its networks of ham operators, went on the air on 17 May 1948.

Does anyone know if Stoner himself was a ham? I Googled him, but couldn’t really find anything that said one way or the other.

I’d also be interested in more information on the K2UN operations. Googling turned up an article from the August 9, 1947 issue of the New Yorker titled “Cooperative Hams,” but you have to be a subscriber to view the article.

Think the Ham Bands are Safe? Read This.

The October 2010 issue of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineer’s (IEEE) Spectrum has an article titled, “The Great Radio Spectrum Famine.” The culprit, of course, is the wireless Internet. As more and more people buy smartphones, they demand more and more bandwidth.

The article states:

Regulators have few options to head off the coming bandwidth crisis. They can’t realistically expect to reduce demand. Nor can they expand the overall supply. That leaves the daunting chore of squeezing today’s users into narrower slices of the radio spectrum, thereby eking out more space for other things. That’s sometimes possible, but it’s not easy. To reengineer existing radio systems—or their users—is a bit like trying to overhaul a car’s engine while it’s barreling down the highway.

Policymakers, at least in private, sometimes hold out hope for a fourth option: that some game-changing technical breakthrough will save the day at the 11th hour. But nothing now on the drawing board suggests that technology alone can get us out of this predicament.

It goes on to target the swath of spectrum that’s currently the most coveted:

Every application of radio works best within a certain range of frequencies, and mobile broadband is no exception. Its sweet spot is relatively narrow, roughly in the range of 300 to 3500 megahertz. That’s because radio waves that are much above 3500 MHz (shorter than about 9 centimeters) do not penetrate well into buildings or through rugged terrain, leading to frustrating dead spots. Lower frequencies are better in this regard, but they require awkwardly large antennas for efficient transmission; 300 MHz is roughly the lowest frequency compatible with a reasonably efficient antenna that’s small enough to fit in a handheld device.

While the article doesn’t mention amateur radio in particular, read between the lines. No service is sacred. At the very least, this should make you think about joining the ARRL if you’re not already a member, and if you are, supporting the spectrum-defense activities a little more solidly.

Contest S-Meter Does it All

If you’ve ever unsure about what report to send during a contest, then the Digital Wonder Do-It-All S-Meter is for you.

According to the press release by the Idaho Potato Contest Group, this device is the “first of it’s [sic] kind. Simplifies the modern Ham Shack! It will improve your operation skills. Compatible with most radios , Collins, Drake, Yaesu, Icom, Kenwood, Ten-Tec.”

I love that wood-tone case, too. Don’t you?

Random Links

Here are some more links to websites that ham radio ops will find amusing and/or useful:

  • Climbing a really tall tower. Ever wonder what it’s like to climb a tower nearly 1,800 feet tall? Watch this video.
  • Software for people who build things. Although some of the software on this site is fairly old, it also has an amazingly huge collection of hints and kinks on a wide variety of topics. For example, there is a great tip on how to estimate a tap or drill size.
  • Social networking for hams. Although most hams seem to be anti-social, not all of us are. This is a website for those that aren’t.
  • QRQ CW Info, Ops, and Tips. More social networking, but for hams that like to work CW at high speeds. Most of these guys go a lot faster than I can, but I’m hoping to learn something from them.

NIST, NTIA Seek Collaborators for Emergency Communications Demo Network

From the 10/13/10 issue of the NIST Tech Beat:

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) are seeking partners in the telecommunications industry to help create a demonstration broadband communications network for the nation’s emergency services agencies.

The demonstration network, currently being developed by the joint NIST-NTIA Public Safety Communications Research (PSCR) program, will provide a common site for manufacturers, carriers, and public safety agencies to test and evaluate advanced broadband communications equipment and software tailored specifically to the needs of emergency first responders. The network will use a portion of the 700 megahertz (MHz) radio frequency spectrum freed up by last year’s transition of U.S. broadcast television from analog to digital technologies (see NIST Tech Beat, Dec. 15, 2009).

Alcatel-Lucent is the first vendor of public safety broadband equipment to formally join the PSCR demonstration network project, signing a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with NIST and NTIA in September, 2010. The two agencies hope that other companies will follow suit, creating a truly multi-vendor environment for testing and evaluating the demonstration network, as well as the eventual building of the system. Partners may participate in many ways, such as donating equipment, providing access to infrastructure or supporting tests.

Alcaltel-Lucent has supplied the demonstration network with Long Term Evolution (LTE) Bandclass 14 equipment. LTE is the technology chosen by the public safety community to be used in the 700 MHz band (Bandclass 14) allocated to it by the Federal Communications Commission.

Vendors and other telecommunications companies wishing to become CRADA partners on the demonstration network project may contact Dereck Orr at (303) 497-5400, dereck.orr@nist.gov, or Jeff Bratcher at (303) 497-4610, jbratcher@its.bldrdoc.gov, for information.

The PSCR program is a partnership of the NIST Law Enforcement Standards Office and the NTIA’s Institute for Telecommunication Sciences. PSCR provides objective technical support—research, development, testing and evaluation—in order to foster nationwide public safety communications interoperability. More information is available on the PSCR Web site.

I Hit the Jackpot!

Yesterday, I hit the jackpot, QSL-wise. I received four cards from stations whose callsigns spell words. I was expecting the cards from W4JAM, W5CUB, and W0MAN, but the card from AB0TO was a bonus. I hadn’t yet gotten around to sending him my QSL. He noted that he’d read my QRZ.Com page and wanted to add to my collection. Thanks, Dave! My card will be in the mail shortly.