From my Twitter feed – 11/27/12

Here are three items that showed up in my Twitter feed yesterday:

  1. Morse Code Plays a Role in New Spielberg Movie. Producer Steven Spielberg has used Amateur Radio or Morse code in three of his last four movies: Super 8 (2011), The Adventures of Tin Tin (2011) and Lincoln(2012). Members of the Morse Telegraph Club (MTC) — an association of retired railroad and commercial telegraphers, historians, radio amateurs and others with an interest in the history and traditions of telegraphy and the telegraph industry — played an integral part in the production of Lincoln.
  2. nanoKeyer

    The nanoKeyer is powered by open-source software running on an Arduino Nano.

    nanoKeyer powered by Arduino Nano. The nanoKeyer is an Arduino Nano based CW Contest Keyer Addon. It was designed specifically for use with the K3NG Arduino keyer open-source firmware adding many features and flexibility. The nanoKeyer is suitable as a standalone keyer or for keying the radio via the USB port by using the K1EL Winkeyer protocol from a connected computer and your favoured contest logging software. By means of the K3NG firmware it can be also used as a computerless keyboard keyer by attaching a PS2 keyboard to it.

    Someone tweeted me about this after I Tweeted about building a second WKUSB keyer. I think that if I had known about this before my purchase, I would have gone for this instead of the WKUSB. It not only purports to what the WKUSB does, the software is open-source meaning that you could actually fool around with it if you liked. You can find more information at the Radio Artisan website.

  3. Digispark. Talking about tiny Arduinos, check out this Kickstarter project. It’s amazingly cool. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look as though you can get in on this first production run.

25, 50, and 75 Years Ago in QST

QST publishes a column every month towards the back of the magazine that highlights from issues 25, 50, and 75 years ago. Now that the QST archive is online, it’s really worth taking a look at these articles. Here are a few that were interesting to me this month:

  • October 1937
    • Modernizing the Simple Regenerative Receiver by Vernon Chambers, W1JEQ. This a nicely-designed and built regen using two tubes, a 6K5 pentode and 6C5 triode. I’m going to keep this design in mind if I ever get around to playing with all the tubes I have. As an aside, W1JEQ wrote 87 articles for QST from 1936 through February 1958. This was his third article.
    • Concentrated Directional Antennas for Transmission and Reception by John L. Reinartz, W1QP, and Burton T. Simpson, W8CPC. This article describes two different antennas. The first is a  half-wave loop antenna that the author says works on 2-1/2, 5, 10, and 20m. The second is a square loop antenna called a “signal squirter” for 14 Mc.
  • October 1962
    • In the “New Apparatus” item on page 27, a key made by J. A. Hills, W8FYO, of Dayton, OH is shown under the heading, “New Key Mechanism for Electronic Keyers.” The photo clearly shows a key whose design was adopted by whoever designed the Bencher BY-1 paddle.
    • The Towering Problem by Jay Kay Klein, WA2LII clearly shows that putting up towers have always been a problem for amateur radio operators. This is a humorous take on the problem. What’s notable is that this type of humorous article almost never appears in QST anymore. Amateur radio seems to have lost its sense of humor.
  • October 1987
    • Stalking Those Fugitive Components by Doug DeMaw, W1FB. We often complain about the demise of local parts suppliers, but this article shows that this was a problem 25 years ago as well. W1FB gives some advice that I gave not long ago–stock up on parts, especially when you find a good deal on them, and you won’t have to scrounge around for them when you want them.

Vintage video touts the wonders of telegraphy

Jim Wades, WB8SIW, International President of the Morse Telegraph Club, posted a link to this video on the slowspeedwire Yahoo Group. He writes:

This video is just too good.  Both land line and radiotelegraphers will enjoy this immensely.  Sounders in resonators, early teleprinters, NZ HRO receiver copies, mercury vapor rectifier tubes,  shortwave transmitters, a great view of the Queen Mary’s shipboard radio room.  It’s all here.  Enjoy!

More on American Morse on the amateur radio bands

Previously, I wrote about how some people consider it illegal to use American Morse on the amateur radio bands. Now, however, there seems to be a different interpretation of the rules. Jim, WB8SIW, the president of the Morse Telegraph Club, sent this e-mail to the slowspeedwire mailing list:

Hello Gang:

During the recent Dayton Hamvention, I had the opportunity to speak with an FCC Official who was hosting the FCC forum.  In a private discussion, I brought up the issue of American Morse on the Ham Radio bands.  I outlined my previous discussions with Gary Johnston as well as the argument, which I used to counter Mr. Johnston’s interpretation of the rules.  He agreed entirely with my interpretation of the regulations.

The official with whom I spoke stated unequivocally that American Morse is legal on Amateur Radio frequencies.  The only requirement is that one’s identification must be transmitted using Continental Code (International Morse).  This is also the traditional interpretation applied for decades.

So there you have it.  American Morse is legal on Amateur Radio frequencies.  While this is not an “official” ruling, it proves the point that Mr. Johnston took an extremely restrictive view of the regulations, which was unwarranted.  MTC members wishing to practice the art of American Morse Code on the ham radio frequencies should feel free to do so. Obviously, the general rules of courtesy apply and one should respect the usual “gentleman’s agreements” regarding band plan.

Thank you for your interest in this matter.

Sincerely,
James Wades
International President,
Morse Telegraph Club, Inc.

Now, I just have to learn American Morse. :)

From my Twitter stream – 5/9/12

This is cool. What a great concept. (key lending library) http://t.co/fyNvn1Lt
Heathkit Educational Systems Closes Up Shop: For the second time since 1992, Heathkit Educational Services (HES)…http://t.co/DWsxlgYm
GM8LFB
Solar Alert big time two M class flares plus Aurora alert. http://t.co/4Oekkfov

Scouts can now earn Morse Code interpreter strip

BSA Morse Code Interpreter StripAccording to K2BSA:

The Boy Scouts of America introduced a Morse Code Interpreter Strip for wear on youth and adult uniforms to designate those who are proficient in Morse Code. It denotes their availability for emergency communications and other types of supporting communication for Scouting and the community.

The patch design (shown above) spells out the word M-O-R-S-E in Morse Code.

According to Scouting Magazine:

The Morse Code interpreter strip designates those who are proficient in Morse Code and denotes their availability for emergency communications and other types of  supporting communication for Scouting and the community. Youth and adults may wear this strip if they show their knowledge of Morse Code  by:

  1. Carrying on a five-minute conversation in Morse Code at a speed of at least 5  words per minute.
  2. Copying correctly a two-minute message sent in Morse Code at a minimum of 5 words per minute. Copying means writing the message down as it is received.
  3. Sending a 25 word written document in Morse Code at a minimum of 5 words per minute.

These requirements closely match those of other interpreter strips.

21 Things to Do: Learn Morse Code

21 Things to Do After Getting Your Amateur Radio LicenseBefore you even start reading this chapter, I’ll warn you that I’m a big fan of Morse Code (often referred to as CW, or “continuous wave”). So big, in fact, that it’s safe to say that I use Morse Code to make 95% of my contacts.

I am not, however, one of those guys that thinks you’re not a “real ham” if you didn’t pass some kind of code test. In fact, I think that eliminating the code test was a good thing for ham radio. The code test kept a lot of good people out of the hobby.

Having said that, I think there are lots of good reasons you should learn Morse Code. Please keep an open mind as I list them:

  1. Tradition. Operating CW is an amateur radio tradition. When amateur radio began, CW was the only mode. When you learn and operate CW, you’re following a very long line of hams who have operated CW.
  2. Effectiveness. Talk to a CW operator, and it’s likely that he’ll chew your ear off about how  CW is a more effective mode than voice. While the difference is probably not as much as the CW operator would like you to believe, the difference is real. When conditions are poor, you’ll be able to make CW contacts and not voice contacts.
  3. DXing. That being the case, CW operators have an advantage when it comes to contacting DX stations because their signals will get through when voice signals are unreadable. Also, if you consider that there are more voice operators than CW operators, you’ll have a better chance of contacting a much-wanted DX station because there will be fewer operators trying to contact him using CW than there will be using voice.
  4. Contesting. In most contests, you get more points for a CW contact than you do for a voice contact. Sometimes the bonus is 100%, sometimes only 50%. In either case, doesn’t it make sense to know CW if you want to be a contester? You’ll score more points for the same number of contacts.
  5. Simplicity/Efficiency. The equipment you need to operate CW is a lot simpler than the equipment needed to operate voice modes. And, because CW is more efficient, you can, in general, use a lot less power to make contacts with CW  than you need to make contacts using voice modes. This has spawned a whole sub-group of hams called QRPers, who delight in using very minimal equipment to make contacts.
    Using CW also saves bandwidth. The bandwidth of a CW signal is approximately 200 Hz, while the bandwidth of a single-sideband (SSB) voice signal is about 3 kHz. That is to say that the voice signal is 15 times wider than the CW signal. Another way to say this is that for a given amount of bandwidth, you can fit 15 times more CW signals than you can SSB signals.
  6. It’s just plain fun. Once you learn CW and start using it, it can be a lot of fun. Like any activity that requires some skill, mastering that skill can be a source of pride. Not to sound too vain about it, but I enjoy the praise I get from my fellow hams when I can display my CW operating skills.

How to Learn Morse Code
In the old days if you wanted to learn Morse Code, you went out and bought a vinyl record or maybe a cassette tape that had precrecorded lessons on them. Another approach—the approach I used—was to tune in a Morse Code signal and start to associate the patterns of dits and dahs to characters of the alphabet. Both methods had drawbacks.

Today, things are a lot easier. Not only are there free resources available, I think they are much more effective in teaching people code than the old LPs or cassette tapes. Here are the three resources that I recommend:

  1. G4FON Koch CW Trainer. Ray Goff, G4FON, has perhaps written the most popular CW training program. It runs on the PC, and is completely free! The program uses the Koch method.  The idea is that you learn to receive at the speed you would like to eventually achieve, but you learn only one character at a time. This method works very well for lots of people.
  2. K7QO Code Course. The K7QO Code Course takes a different approach. This set of .mp3 files comes on a CD-ROM and teaches you the code letter by letter. It starts out sending the letters slowly, then ramps up. The nice thing about this course is that you can use it on any device  that is capable of playing .mp3 files. To obtain a copy of the CD-ROM, send $1 per copy and a self-addressed envelope to FISTS, PO Box 47, Hadley MI 48440.
  3. Learn CW Online. LCWO uses the Koch method to teach Morse Code. Because it runs in your browser, you can use this website no matter what computer you happen to be using.

Whatever method you choose, I hope you’ll consider learning the code. See you on the CW bands!

Operating Notes: Twitter encourages CW operation?

I just finished a QSO with John, KR4RO. What is remarkable about this QSO is that it probably would not have occurred if we hadn’t first made contact on Twitter. John, who is @kr4ro on Twitter, and he and I follow one another there. Apparently, he saw my tweet (a tweet is a message posted to Twitter) that I was calling CQ on 7026 kHz and waited for my QSO with Vin, W1IDL to end and then called me.

John mentioned that he hadn’t been on CW for quite some time, and that he was kind of nervous. He did just fine, though, and I was very flattered that he would go out of his way like that to contact me.

I think more hams should use Twitter. It could open up a whole new world for hams. And, as my QSO tonight proves, it can even encourage some to get on CW, and as we all know, we can never have enough CW ops on the air. If  you already use Twitter, please follow me there. I’ll be certain to follow you back.

W1IDL QSO
Speaking of W1IDL, my QSO with Vin was remarkable on several counts. First of all, there must have been some weird short skip going on because he was 599 plus 20 dB here in Ann Arbor, even though he was located barely 50 miles away.

Secondly, it was notable because we had such a great conversation, even though this was our first QSO. Right off the bat, he started asking me questions about Ann Arbor and what I did here. I looked him up on QRZ.Com and found out that he was also a Rotarian and asked him about the club he belonged to. All in all, it was a memorable QSO.

Are contests good or bad for CW?

This afternoon, I got to make a few contacts in the ARRL DX CW contest. I was on 10m, using my new loop antenna, and propagation was pretty good to Central and South America. I worked a bunch of countries including Argentina, Barbados, Costa Rica, Colombia, Brazil, Virgin Islands, Aruba, Belize, and Surinam.

After about an hour, I got bored with that, and decided to QSY to 30m, where I heard a guy I’d worked many times calling CQ. I told that I’d been playing in the DX contest on 10m, and had gotten bored with it, so I was down here looking for a ragchew. He told me that he never works contests, to which I replied that I thought that contests might actually be good for CW in that it might get more hams to work CW on a regular basis.

That comment got him going. He noted that he’d seen an increase in operating practices that we use in contests in normal operation, and he didn’t think that was a good thing. The two examples he gave were responding to CQs only with one’s callsign and not using the K prosign to signal the other operator that it’s his turn to start sending.

To be honest, I have also noted an increase in these behaviors, especially the first. I’d never thought about contests as encouraging these poor operating practices, but I think he has a point.

I don’t know how we encourage operators to not use contest procedures during normal operation, but I think we should talk about how to do so. One idea that he had was to send QRZ? whenever an operator responds to a CQ with only his callsign. I’ve done this in the past, and think this is a good idea, but I’m not sure that it gets the point across as well as we think it does.

What do you think? Do you think these practices are bad for CW? If so, what can we do about it?

Things I found while twittering

Just some things I found while twittering. I found them interesting, so I thought you might, too…….Dan

Tworse Key:  a tweeting Morse key. An open design exercise in interface archaeology, that decodes the input from a classic Morse key to send twitter messages. The source code and hardware schematics are available online http://modin.yuri.at/tworsekey/

Design analog chips. According to the website, this freely downloadable book is “a comprehensive introduction to CMOS and bipolar analog IC design. The book presumes no prior knowledge of linear design, making it comprehensible to engineers with a non-analog background. The emphasis is on practical design, covering the entire field with hundreds of examples to explain the choices. Concepts are presented following the history of their discovery.”

DashToons.Com. Jeff, K1Nss presents the illustrated adventures of Dash!, the dog-faced ham.