Monday, July 24, 2017

Work all States - QRP CW

Tonight I went to good friend and elmers house, Ivin - W9ILF. We setup a K2 in Ivin's backyard and connected it to a Buddistick Portable Vertical Antenna. Before we knew it, we were on the air. QRP of course!

Elecraft K2 w/ Straight Key

 Buddistick Portable Vertical HF antenna
Ivin made first contact after hearing a station calling CQ on 20m. The station was Andy - AB1BX from Reewarren Rhode Island. You can read more about this contact by going to Ivin's blog and reading about it by CLICKING HERE.

Next it was my turn, but 20m was fading out so we switched over to 40m. Within a few minutes of scanning the 40m band I found Jerry - W8HOG calling CQ. Jerry is from the small town of Lynchburg Ohio which is located about 150 miles southeast of my location. I was not able to find much information about Lynchburg Ohio online, but I would enjoy learning more about it one day. Thank you Jerry for putting up with my slower speed and sloppy sending and I appreciate the opportunity to QSO with you.

After finishing with Jerry I thought it was my turn to start calling CQ so I did, and within 2-3 attempts I heard a station coming back to me. It was Lee - K4ISW from Charlottesville Virginia, about 460 miles away east of my location. Lee was booming in and he gave me a 579 report signal report. The town of Charlottesville is located just southwest of Washington DC and is known as the Gateway of the Shenandoah Forest which is a US National Forest. The highest peak in the Shenandoah Forest is named Hawksbill Mountain and reaches up just over 4,000 feet. Sounds like a great place to bring a portable radio to right? I found a photo taken from the summit and it definitely meets the "ham radio with a view" standard. Thank you Lee for also putting up with my slower speed and sloppy sending and I appreciate the chance to QSO with you.

View from Hawksbill Mountain Summit
I look forward to completing more QSO's in the near future as I have made it a goal to get on the air every night and practice sending and receiving Morse code. I look forward to continuing this adventure, meeting new people, and discovering new places. 6 states down, only 44 left to go.

Until next time, 72 de W9ODX

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Learning Morse Code

Word is starting to get out about my Adventures with learning Morse code and the questions have started to pour in as well. The most common question asked lately would be "which is the best way to learn Morse code?"

I have been very lucky this year to have several friends and elmers around me during this adventure of mine. I don't have all of the answers, but I would like to share with you what has been shared with me and hopefully help answer the question above.

Rhythm & Sound

If you search online for methods of learning Morse code you will find several different methods out there including visual charts where you count dots and dashes, Morse code trees where you follow a flow chart and a variety of other visual and mental associations out there. I would encourage you to throw away any visual aids you have as it may help you out initially with learning Morse code, but will create a hurdle for you later on as you attempt to speed up. When I first started learning I would catch myself counting dots and dashes and would get frustrated about how slow I was able to copy. That is when my friends and elmers jumped in and told me about the "rhythm of the code" and encouraged me to stop and listen. Each character has a distinct sound and rhythm to it, if you can associate that sound and rhythm with the character it represents you will be able to copy at with much greater speed. For me this was an excellent way of learning because of my background in music. I enjoy strumming on a guitar almost as much as I enjoy tapping on a key. We can talk more about me and my guitar in another post. So, I removed all of my visual aids and at times would even close my eyes while listening to Morse code so that I could "feel" or "sense" the rhythm of each character. What do you know... it worked! Before I knew it I was able to open my eyes and start writing down the message I was copying. Now, just like I would increase the tempo of a song I am playing on my guitar to speed it up, I can also speed up the tempo or rhythm of the Morse code I am listening to and increase the speed of my copy. Give it a try!

Morse Toad

Since we are now learning Morse code by sound and not with charts, why not start out faster from the beginning? I was introduced to a method called the Farnsworth method early on in my adventure and I am very thankful for that. Basically instead of listening to the character sent at 5 words per minute, I was listening the the character sent at 13 words per minute, but with enough spacing in-between the characters to think about the sound I heard and write it down. This would slow the speed down to about 5 words per minute as well, but it got me used to hearing the character at a faster speed. Once I got the characters down, I would just work on decreasing the time in-between each character to speed up my copy instead of trying to learn the character all over again at a faster speed. This was probably the best piece of advice given to me. Why learn Morse code multiple times? There is a free app out there for your smart phone called "Morse Toad". It's an app I used when first learning code that sends the character to you at a faster speed, with plenty of spacing in between the characters. The 8-bit looking graphics gave the app a feel like an old video game which made it fun to use as well.

I will continue to share tips and tricks with you as I continue my own Adventures with CW. For now, I hope this helps you get started on your adventure. Please comment below with any questions or concerns and feel free to reach out to me anytime through email as well. 

Until next time, 72 de W9ODX

Friday, July 21, 2017

Maritime Mobile... Almost!

Morse Reservoir

Yesterday I joined friend and fellow ham Mark - W9NF for an afternoon on the lake, which funny enough is named Morse Reservoir. Sounds like a perfect place to send CW from on a HOT summer day right? Morse Reservoir is located about 25 miles north of Indianapolis as has around 7 miles of navigable water. We made our way up and down the lake in Mark's cabin cruiser at cruising speed. Mark's maritime mobile HF station consist of a Yaesu 991 connected to a ham stick antenna mounted on the bow of he boat. When I mention ham radio with a view in Indiana, it doesn't get much better than this Morse Reservoir.

Morse Reservoir
Ham radio with a view (ham stick antenna on bow of the boat)
Mark and I have operated from his boat before, but we never CW. The weather was hot and humid and the water was cool and pleasant. It did not take much convincing to drop anchor and jump into the lake to cool off for a few. Before I knew it 2 hours had passed by and it was time to start heading back to the marina. Mark and I never had the chance to get on the air, but I promise to return to Morse Reservoir very soon with CW key in hand and share that story with you.

History of Maritime Radio Telegraphy

In the late 1800's Guglielmo Marconi, an Italian inventor and electrical engineer credited with the invention of radio, was developing his wireless radio telegraph machine. By the turn of the 20th century Marconi's machine was complete and he sailed to North America to begin investigating means of sending radio telegraphy across the Atlantic ocean. After a series of test, Marconi accomplished this feat on December 17, 1902 when a transmission sent from his Marconi station in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia was received across the Atlantic Ocean. About a month later a transmission sent from a Marconi station in South Wellfleet, Massachusetts sent a message of greetings from United States President Theodore Roosevelt to King Edward VII of England in January of 1903.By 1904 Marconi was building stations on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean to communicate with ships at sea. Marconi telegraph operators aboard ships are credited with assisting in several maritime rescues including the widely publicized sinking of the RMS Titanic and the RMS Lusitania. If you enjoy history like I do, I encourage you to read more about early Marconi radio telegraphy and how it transitioned into the CW we use today.

Until next time, 72 de W9ODX

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Coffee & CW

Good morning and welcome back to the blog. I've been very busy this past week with work and life so I have not had an opportunity to get on the air, but I do have a few things I would like to share with you.

If you remember in my first couple of post I wrote about the reason for this blog. I want to be able to share my stories, good and bad, to hopefully encourage others to want to learn CW and join in the fun. I want to let you know about an event that I hope will help me continue this mission. Recently I had a blast participating in Field Day with my friends from Hoosier QRP. We completed QSO's from the east coast to the west coast all on 5 watts or less with CW and we all had a great time. After sharing some stories with others about field day and CW they seemed very interested. It got me thinking, why do we only do field day once a year? Why not do some kind of "mini field day" event on a regular basis throughout the year? So, I came up with a simple idea that I hope will take off. Coffee & CW is an event that I will host each month here in Central Indiana. I will bring coffee, donuts, and set up a simple CW station to get on the air. I invite you all to join me, even if you've never sent one character of CW ever, come out and experience the fun! The location of this event will change each month as we tour city, county and state parks across Indiana. Contact me for more information.

The other thing I wanted to share is that I recently had a friend of mine tell me that he has started to study CW using the same smart phone app I started with called Morse Toad. It's a free app that is set up like an old 8-bit video game in an attempt to make learning CW fun. I guess the stories I have been sharing on the local repeater while commuting to and from work are working? I wish Jim - KC9TPX the best of luck with his new adventure.

Are you ready to start your adventure with CW? I'd be happy to help you as well.

Until next time, 72 de W9ODX

Monday, July 10, 2017

Backyard CW

Hello and welcome back! The weather was nearly perfect here today in Central Indiana which meant only one thing... a perfect day to operate outdoors.

QRP CW from the back patio today

I was joined this afternoon by friend and elmer Ivin - W9ILF. We experimented with antennas, planned for future projects, and set up the MFJ-9040 5 watt 40m CW rig to get on the air from my back patio. Our antenna today was a vertical 40m ham stick with an elevated horizontal radial tied off to a tree branch. 

After a couple rounds of calling CQ, we scanned the band and found Charles - K3WW contesting with the Straight Key Century Club (SKCC) and completed the QSO by exchanging information. Charles gave me a 559 signal report from Perkasie Pennsylvania, about 600 miles away. Perkasie is a burough located just 35 miles north of Philadelphia and was home to a former Major Leauge Baseball factory that produced millions of baseballs from the 1920's to the 1950's. Charles station looks very impressive and he has quite the antenna farm growing from the photos I can see on his QRZ page. I enjoyed reading the article on his webpage telling the story of the day he operated QRP from his back yard, my kind of operating! Thanks for the QSO Charles, I look forward to hearing from you again.

After scanning the band again, we found Peter - AE1T who was also contesting with SKCC. Peter and I completed the QSO by exchanging information needed for the contest. Peter is from Plymouth New Hampshire which is a little over 800 miles away and he gave me a 559 signal report for my 5 watt signal. Plymouth is located in Upper New Hampshire located close to the White Mountains. Peter has been a amateur radio operator for 57 years. I think a cup of coffee with Peter while overlooking the mountains and listening to his stories of the last 57 years would be awesome! Thank you for the QSO Peter.

Wow, two more states added to the list. Who says you can't have fun with QRP CW outdoors? I will be sending out QSL cards to Charles and Peter later this week.

Thank you to Ivin - W9ILF for joining me today and for your friendship and encouragement.

Until next time, 72 de W9ODX