I’m Going Buggy

Last year at Dayton, I bought a used Vibroplex Original bug for $50. The stainless steel plating wasn’t in the greatest shape, and the silver contacts needed cleaning, but I thought I’d gotten a pretty good deal.

Well, I never could get it to work quite right. I thought it was just that I didn’t know how to adjust it properly. Whatever the reason, it just didn’t work quite right, so while I played around with it from time to time, it mostly just sat on the bench.

About a month and a half ago, I decided to once and for all to figure out what was going on. I played with the adjustments, but again didn’t get good results. I did notice, though, that the contacts were in really bad condition. It looked as though someone had taken a file to them. That’s a real no-no for key contacts.

Fortunately, Vibroplex has a relatively low-cost service for contact replacement. For $40, they’ll send you a complete set of new contacts. There are a couple of caveats, though:

  1. You have to send in two contact posts so that they can replace the contact point on them.
  2. The order form on their website has the wrong address on it.

Both of these issues caused a delay. I first sent the order to the wrong address, and it took a week for the Post Office to return the letter to me. Then, I didn’t understand that I had to send in the posts, so that delayed my order.  The second issue was my fault, but the first is Vibroplex’s fault.

I finally got that all straightened out, and the parts arrived on Wednesday. I put the bug back together yesterday, and now it works like a charm.

The only problem is that the dits are very fast. I’m going to have to experiment with ways to slow that down. Vibroplex makes a thing called the Vari-Speed that does this, but it costs another $35, and I’m not sure I want to spend that much more. In any case, I’ll be practicing with the bug and hope to “get buggy” on the air soon.

Last Saturday on the Radio at KB6NU

I had a busy ham radio Saturday here at KB6NU. It started early Saturday morning as I headed out to the Ann Arbor Mini-Maker Faire. It’s a small, locally-organized version of Make: magazine’s Maker Faires that take place in San Francisco, CA and Austin, TX.

This year’s exhibits included:

  • Learn to Solder
  • DIY Satellites
  • See neural electrical activity
  • Silkscreen what you’re wearing
  • Electric Allis-Chalmers Tractor
  • Marshall Stack Touchscreen Jukebox
  • Hands-on activities from the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum
  • Amateur Radio
  • Sustainable Technology
  • Pedal Power Pavilion
  • Return of the Giant Vortex Cannon
  • Electric Scooters
  • Robots
  • Paper folding and pop-up books

Basically, it’s a bunch of geeks showing off the geeky things they’re working on and demonstrating the geeky things that they like to do.

I organized the amateur radio exhibit, which, like last year, consisted of me getting people to send their names in Morse Code, and Dave, N8SBE, demonstrating the capabilities of his Elecraft K3. Dave’s K3 was really the hit of the show, with its panadapter and digital modes display.

kb6nu-at-mini-maker-faire-2011

KB6NU trying to get yet another person to send their name in Morse Code at the 2011 Ann Arbor Mini Maker Faire. It was pretty hot in the shed we were in, and right about this time, I was ready for a nap.Photo: Roger Rayle

This being a geeky kind of event, I was quite successful at getting people to send their names in Morse Code. After showing them how to use the touch keyer that I’d brought, a lot of them really got into it. I even managed to amaze a few of them, when after they’d sent their name, I was able to say, “Well, nice to meet you Sally or Joe or whatever name it was they’d sent.”

All in all, there was quite a bit of interest in our display, amongst both kids and adults. We had one girl, for example, who I’m guessing was about 11 or 12, come by several times, looking at everything we had with intense interest. One time, she even dragged her parents along with her.

After all was said and done, I ended up passing out quite a few brochures and handing out quite a few business cards. As far as PR goes, it was a very successful event.

You can see more of Roger Rayle’s photos of the event here.

More Stations Whose Callsigns Spell Words
After the Faire, I went out to dinner with my wife and in-laws, but later that evening, I got back on the radio. I tuned around for the AL QSO Party, and only made about a dozen contacts, but two of them—W4HOD and W4CUE—are stations whose callsigns spell words. Both are club stations, too. My cards are in the mail, and I’m hoping to get their replies soon.

CQD de MGY

Found this on YouTube today:

This Saturday and Sunday (4/9-4/10) listen for W0S from the steps of the Titanic Museum in Branson, MO. I worked them last year from WA2HOM.

More Ham Videos

Here are a couple of videos whose links were sent to me via the many ham-radio mailing lists that I’m on:

A Ham’s Night Before Christmas. KN4AQ’s version of the Christmas class “Night Before Christmas.” Thanks to John, W8AUV, for sending me this link.

Six year old ham on Letterman

Sorry about the quality of this image, but the video itself isn't all that good.

Six-Year-Old Ham on Letterman. Gary, KN4AQ, who posted this to the PR List says, “I was putting my “Ham’s Night Before Christmas” video up on Ham Radio Tube (www.hamradiotube.com) and I came across this video from the Dave Letterman show back in 1993.” Veronica, KC6TQR, (now 26) responded on YouTube. She says she’s not very active – just talks to her family.”

International Morse Code, Hand Sending. This is a Morse Code training film produced by the Army in 1966. The lessons are still applicable today, even when using a paddle and keyer to send Morse Code. It has a sense of humor, too. Thanks to Don KA9QJG, for posting this to the HamRadioHelpGroup mailing list.

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.

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.

CW or Voice During an Emergency?

On the ARRL PR Mailing List, someone wrote that he had been approached by a relatively new ham and was asked, “What percentage of hams do you think use CW on a regular basis?” The reason that the new ham asked this question was that he wondered if more people would be monitoring phone frequencies or CW frequencies during an emergency. That is to say, would he “have a better shot of getting in touch with someone on CW or phone”?

Here was my reply:

I am going to hazard a guess and say that less than 10% of licensed amateur radio operators are regular CW users. Having said that, a couple of thoughts occur to me:

  1. The type of emergency will dictate where one should be listening and/or transmitting. For example, here in the summer, we sometimes have tornado watches. For the most up-to-date information on this situation, I listen to the local SkyWarn net, which takes place on one of the 2m repeaters. It’s all voice communication.
  2. On the other hand, if I’m out on a boat in the middle of the ocean with no satellite phone, I’d want to be able to send out a CW signal. The CW signal will get out farther, and if you can’t be heard, it doesn’t matter how many people are listening. There are enough hams monitoring the HF CW bands that you should be heard.
  3. If you can operate both voice and CW, you’ll have more chance of getting in touch with someone than if you can only operate one of those modes.

Any other thoughts?

Batteries Just Cost Me Some Points!

Down at the museum today, I got sucked into working the PA QSO Party. I made 35 contacts before packing it in for the day.

This evening, I thought I’d get on and make a few more contacts. So, I set about programming my WinKeyer.

Normally, this is a no-brainer, but tonight, the keyer started acting up on me. I would get halfway through programming one of the memories, and the thing would just quit on me. It was all very puzzling. I plugged and unplugged the key without success. I had it play back its status to me, but that gave me no clue.

Then, it dawned on me that I had never changed the batteries in the thing. In fact, I couldn’t even remember what kind of batteries it used. So, I opened up the case and found that it used three, AAA batteries.

I changed them and got the thing working again, but by that time, the band had changed and there were no PA stations to be found! So, I guess the moral of the story is change your keyer batteries before the next big contest.

While I’m miffed that I missed a few points, I can’t really complain about the battery life. I built this keyer in December 2008, and this is the first time I’ve changed the batteries, so they’ve lasted nearly two years.

The QMN: A Celebration of the First Traffic Net.

This is from the August Michigan Section News, by Dale, WA8EFK, Section Manager:

The year 2010 will mark an important anniversary in the History of Amateur Radio: The birth of the first public service net and it happened here in Michigan.

Before the implementation of a net concept, radiogram traffic and emergency communications activity was conducted on a system of schedules and random contacts. Radiogram traffic moved across the country on “Trunk Line” networks staffed on a daily basis by “iron man” traffic handlers. From these key stations, traffic was routed to its destination via individual schedules, directional “CQ” requests, and similar techniques. The ARRL “Amateur Radio Emergency Corps,” “National Traffic System,” and similar programs had not yet emerged.

This all changed during the autumn of 1935 when members of the Detroit Amateur Radio Association (DARA) formed the Michigan Net and adopted the net call “QMN.” The plan was simple and elegant in concept. Using the relatively new technology of crystal control, radio amateurs from throughout the State of Michigan would gather on a single “spot frequency” to exchange radiogram traffic and coordinate emergency communications response to disasters. A QMN Committee standardized the procedures and created the familiar “QN-Signals” so familiar to generations of traffic handlers. With the creation of QMN, the modern traffic net was born.

This year, QMN will celebrate its Diamond Anniversary with a very special event! A 75th Anniversary Banquet will be held at Owosso, Michigan on Saturday, October 23, 2010. Activities include:

  • A special event station on 7055 KHz and 3563 KHz using the call K8QMN. This special event station will use vintage equipment from the 1930s and ‘40s. Visitors will have an opportunity to sit down at the key and experience QSOs using 1930s era receivers.
  • A presentation entitled “An Early History of Radio” will be featured along with a talk on the history of QMN.
  • Long-time members will reminisce about their experiences in Amateur Radio.
  • Vintage radio equipment will be on display for all to enjoy.
  • A working Morse Telegraph Circuit will be available on site for those who would like to see land-line telegraphy and American Morse Code in use.
  • A special commemorative booklet will be provided to each attendee. This commemorative booklet will include an excellent history of QMN written by the Don Devendorf, W8EGI (SK), along with an introduction covering the early history of Amateur Radio.

QMN members both past and present are invited to attend, as are all radio amateurs with an interest in the history of Amateur Radio and the history of public service communications. Those wishing to attend this event should request a registration form from James Wades, WB8SIW at the following e-mail: jameswades@gmail.com You don’t want to miss this celebration to be held on October 23, 2010 at the Comstock Inn, Owosso, Michigan.

Logged at 0155Z, 8/6/10

I fired up the rig about 45 minutes ago and found this on 10115.5 kHz:

ICJYX BMHDI QKXGT SKCQD ZFBZZ MOVOY HIRWA SUQER PIOGL RZPNN SKVFL ANYVQ AAMWM IVVLM IDKAL MAIYG LIYTE ROWIH DOYAC HDRJM SHJIH

and on and on and on. They were going about 20 wpm. Seems like there are an awful lot of Ys and Qs in there.

I normally set up on 10115 kHz, but I didn’t want any black helicopters landing in my backyard and taking out my dipole.