AG1LE challenges developers to come up with better Morse code reader

AG1LE has set up a Kaggle competition whose goal is to build a machine that learns how to decode audio files containing Morse Code. The Kaggle Morse Challenge was approved a couple of days ago.

Kaggle is actually a very interesting website. According to the website, the Kaggle community includes tens of thousands of PhDs from quantitative fields such as computer science, statistics, econometrics, maths and physics, and industries such as insurance, finance, science, and technology. They come from over 100 countries and 200 universities. In addition to the prize money and data, they use Kaggle to meet, learn, network and collaborate with experts from related fields.

According to AG1LE:

During the competition, the participants build a learning system capable of decoding Morse code. To that end, they get development data consisting of 200 .WAV audio files containing short sequences of randomized Morse code. The data labels are provided for a training set so the participants can self-evaluate their systems. To evaluate their progress and compare themselves with others, they can submit their prediction results on-line to get immediate feedback. A real-time leaderboard shows participants their current standing based on their validation set predictions.

I have also provided  sample Python Morse decoder  to make it easier too get started. While this software is purely experimental version it has some features of the FLDIGI Morse decoder   but implemented using Python instead of C++.

You can of course  leverage the experimental multichannel CW decoder I recently implemented on FLDIGI or the standalone version of Bayesian decoder written in C++.  There is also some new tools I posted to Github.

The competition ends on December 27, which seems kind of short to me, but this is only phase 1. If this competition is successful, a more difficult competition will be set up. This second competition will distortions introduced by normal radio paths and hand-sent code, which can also be more difficult to answer.

A short 80m antenna for my lot

Perhaps the biggest thing my station is missing is an 80m antenna. I really don’t have room for a full, half-wavelength dipole, so I’m looking for options. For a while, I used a W3EDP antenna, but to be honest, results were mediocre at best, and since the tuner I used was in the shack, there was always RF in the shack. I took down that antenna when the tree supporting it had to be cut down, and I never put it back up again.

As far as I can see, I have three options:

  • End-fed, half-wave (EFHW) antenna. My EFHW 20m antenna is a decent performer, so I’m thinking that an 80m version could be an option. Googling around, I found a commercial design for $75 and a homebrew design that I could make for a lot less. The schematic of the homebrew matching unit is shown below.80mEFHWT
  • 43-ft. vertical. A couple of days ago, I worked a station in Maine that was using a 43-ft. vertical. I asked him if it worked well for him on 80m, and he was very enthusiastic about its performance. I do have an automatic tuner that I could put very near the base, and one advantage of this antenna is that I could use it on other bands as well. A couple of disadvantages are that  it would cost a fair amount and I’d have to run some radials.
  • Shortened, loaded dipole. Another option is a shortened dipole using loading coils. A design by VK3JEG is only 66-ft. long, about the size of a 40m dipole. Another design by KG0ZZ is a little longer, but resonates on both 40m and 80m. Basically, the loading coil is operating as a trap. More designs can be found by Googling “80m loaded dipole.”

At this point, I’m leaning towards the EFHW, but any of these antennas seem like interesting options. If you’ve had experience with any of these antennas, I’d love to hear from you.

New Amateur Radio Vanity Call Sign Fee Set at $21.40

From the ARRL:

ARLB016 New Amateur Radio Vanity Call Sign Fee Set at $21.40

ARRL Bulletin 16  ARLB016
From ARRL Headquarters
Newington CT  September 4, 2014
To all radio amateurs

ARLB016 New Amateur Radio Vanity Call Sign Fee Set at $21.40

The FCC has adjusted very slightly downward – to $21.40 – its proposed Amateur Service vanity call sign regulatory fee for Fiscal Year 2014. In a June Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM), the Commission said it was planning to hike the current $16.10 vanity fee to $21.60 for the 10-year license term. The FCC released a Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (R&O) in the proceeding on August 29, in which it recalculated the fee to $21.40 for the 10-year license term. The $5.30 increase still represents the largest vanity fee hike in many years.

The new $21.40 fee does not go into effect until 30 days after the R&O is published in The Federal Register.

In the R&O, the FCC said it considered eliminating the regulatory fee for Amateur Radio vanity call sign applications but decided not to do so “at this time,” because it lacks “adequate support to determine whether the cost of recovery and burden on small entities outweighs the collected revenue; or whether eliminating the fee would adversely affect the licensing process.” The Commission said it would reevaluate this issue in the future to determine if it should eliminate other fee categories.

The FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau sets the vanity call sign regulatory fee using projections of new applications and renewals, taking into consideration existing Commission licensee databases, such as the Universal Licensing System (ULS) database.

The FCC reported there were 11,500 “payment units” in FY 2014. The Commission said the vanity program generated an estimated $230,230 in FY 2013 revenue, and it estimated that it would collect nearly $246,100 in FY 2014.

The vanity call sign regulatory fee is payable when applying for a new vanity call sign or when renewing a vanity call sign, although some older vanity call signs are not subject to the regulatory fee.

Cleaning off my desk: “F” is for frequency

I make lots of notes as I Twitter and read my e-mail. I have so many notes about interesting things piled up on my desk, that I really need to start cleaning it up and moving the notes either here to my blog or maybe to Evernote.

Having said that, I’ve written in the past about the need for a study guide for kids. We still need something like this in amateur radio, but there are now books and videos that can teach kids about electronics. One of the books available is The Manga Guide to Electricity.

As far as videos go, Adafruit, has published a number of YouTube videos they call the Circuit Playground. I’ve just watched the video “F is for frequency” (see below). It’s really pretty good, and there is a whole series of them. Adafruit also has a coloring book, E is for Electronics, to go along with the videos. If you have kids, you should check them out.

Amateur radio in the news: Chinese pirate radio, higher towers in Poway (CA), new club in Yorkshire

20140827_AirTrafficControlTowerRising number of pirate radio stations in China poses threat to plane safety
BEIJING – The Chinese authorities are concerned that a growing number of pirate radio stations may disrupt communications between passenger jets and air traffic controllers. The high-power stations are in Beijing and Tianjin municipalities and Hainan, Yunnan and Guangdong provinces, said the South China Morning Post. The authorities last year began cracking down on burgeoning pirate and ham radio operators. China had 2.7 million civil radio stations by the end of last year, according to the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology in a report last year in the Global Times. Ham radio enthusiasts were told to register under new national regulations.

Poway – now a ham-friendly city
Poway, Calif., might become a Mecca for amateur radio operators with regulations approved in early August by the City Council. Antennas up to 65 feet can now be built with only a building permit required. In addition, a compromise was reached on requirements for neighbor notification. Tower builders will be required to apprise neighbors within a 250-foot radius of the tower.

Radio amateurs call on new recruits to tune into the world
As social media takes over, enthusiasts from North Yorkshire are calling for recruits to join a new club using historic communications technology to talk to the world. The first ever Colburn and Richmondshire Amateur Radio club has been set up by friends Colin Lyne, Chris Watkins and Craig Dennis who are desperate to encourage people to get involved to keep the hobby alive.

From my Twitter feed: diode ring mixers, TAPR news, SDR SA

Stefano_NVR's avatarDr. NVR @Stefano_NVR
How a Diode Ring Mixer works | Mixer operation theory and measurement:


ke9v's avatarJeff Davis
Summer 2014 TAPR PSR Journal Available –> #hamradio


EDNcom's @EDNcom
RT @measurementblue: Michael Dunn tries The $11 spectrum analyzer & SDR @EDNcom @EDNMichael


rtlsdrblog's @rtlsdrblog
BeagleBone Black Image File with RTL-SDR + GNU Radio + More…

HR4969 PowerPoint suitable for club presentations

ARRLRecently, the ARRL hosted a webinar on HR 4969, The Amateur Radio Parity Act of 2014. This bill seeks to extend PRB-1 authority over private home owner agreements as it does to municipal ordinances. Larry, WB8R, the Michigan Section Manager,recently sent this PowerPoint presentation that was used at the webinar to people around Michigan, suggesting that they might want to present it at their club meetings.  He writes:


 By now you have heard a fair amount about HR-4969, the Amateur Radio Parity Act of 2014 which is currently in the US House of Representatives.

 This bill is our best chance to gain a seat at the table with Homeowner’s Associations and CC&R’s that preclude amateur operation by restricting antenna structures. This bill would require the FCC to force reasonable accommodation for radio amateurs, much the same as they forced the allowance of the small satellite dishes across the country.

 Many of you have already written letters to your representatives and I thank you for that. The PowerPoint that I have attached here is the background information for the bill that is very suitable for use as a club program to inform your members about this opportunity.

 For any of you that would like to use this in a club program, if you send me a note with the name of the congressperson that your group is represented by, I would be happy to produce a custom letter for you to have your club members sign and I can even forward them to the ARRL for hand delivery in Washington. Right now we are working on gaining co-sponsors and later on we will be running a campaign to convince our congresspersons to vote in favor of this bill.

 And then, hopefully it will be on to the Senate and we will do it all over again.

 None of these things happen quickly and HR-4969 is no exception. And nothing good comes without a lot of work. I appreciate your efforts to help inform the ham population of Michigan and if I can be of specific help to you, all you have to do is to call me.



Please feel free to download it and spread the word.

KC4AAA on the air from the South Pole

In the Amateur Radio Enthusiast LinkedIn group, Joe, W5FJG says:

KC4AAA – Amundsen – Scott South Pole station has begun digital operations. We are up on JT65, PSK-31 and RTTY. We have completed testing and have worked a hand full of stations. We tend to operate now, from 0200 to 0300UTC, as it seems to be the best time for propagation into North America. I have been up around 1500 UTC, working into Europe. Look me up on QRZ and follow KC4AAA on Facebook. We intend to give more info on operating times and freqs. We also operate CW.

No-Code in 1934?

short-wave-radio-jan-1934As a result of sending out a column (nearly) every month to about 350 ham radio club newsletter editors, I get copies of many newsletters from around the country. The following appeared in the August 2014 issue of the Merrymeeting Amateur Radio Association (MARA) Squelch Tales. It originally appeared in the January 1934 issue of the magazine Short Wave Radio. PDFs of Short Wave Radio as well as many more magazines from the early days of radio can be found on the American Radio History website.

A Codeless Amateur License ? No !

ALTHOUGH we doubt if anyone in Government circles is giving the matter any serious thought, there seems to be a lot of noise at the present time about creating a special class of amateur license that will not involve a code test. Considering the numerous and unmatched privileges already enjoyed by the American amateur, it seems to us that any demands for a license class of this kind are ridiculous. Many honest amateurs admit that even the present test is too easy, and is bringing many irresponsible persons on the air. Of course, everyone has to begin some time, so we must forgive the beginner his rotten fist or his hoarse modulation, as long as he stays within band, uses d.c. for plate supply and otherwise conforms to the spirit, as well as the letter, of the Federal Radio Commission regulations.

When you stop to consider that the American amateur is not even required to pay a cent in the way of license fees, that he is permitted to operate absolutely unhampered, and that the Army and the Navy defend him at international conferences while the highly military governments of other nations try to wipe him off the map, we think it is time to stop biting the hand that feeds us, so to speak.

The recent federal economy wave was responsible for a serious reduction in the technical administrative staff of the F.R.C. You can just about imagine the mess that would be created by a lot of unchecked so-called “amateurs” who are willing to jeopardize their own freedom by their unwillingness to learn the code, which, after all, is the real language of radio.

Why do some people consider the code a stumbling -block? It is really very easy to learn, as 10 -year old children and 75 -year old patriarchs have discovered. Besides, a knowledge of the code greatly increases the enjoyment that you can obtain from a short -wave receiver, even if you have no intention of applying for an amateur license.

To many people not familiar with the code, the host of mysterious dots and dashes that sometimes interrupts music are things which should be eliminated by law; but to those with even a slight knowledge of the code, these mysterious interruptions are highly interesting.

Airplane, coastal and naval stations, all transmitting information that really makes sense, may easily provide hours and hours of entertainment, especially when you want to get away from the beaten path.

–R. H.

From my Twitter feed: HackRF, regen, ham scam

michaelossmann's avatarMichael Ossmann @michaelossmann
I’ve launched a new instructional video series: Software Defined Radio with HackRF


AA7EE's avatarDave Richards @AA7EE
New Blog-Post (warning – lots of pictures) – The Sproutie – A General Coverage Regen Receiver with Plug-In Coils


brainwagon's avatarMark VandeWettering @brainwagon
QRZ unmasks an inept (but apparently still successful) Internet scammer. Caveat emptor!…