OzarkCon QRP Conference:
I had a lot of fun at the OzarkCon QRP Conference! It was fantastic to have the conference back in person! Ninety-three people came from 20 states. If you couldn't make it this year, consider going next year. QRP and CW go together like peanut butter and jelly.
I was transfixed by the announcement of the T41 Plus QRP Transceiver by Jack (W8TEE) and Al (AC8GY). It is a modular, low-cost, five HF bands (80, 40, 20, 15, and 10 meters), up to 20watts, Software Defined Transceiver that is open-hardware and open-source and doesn't require a computer. The Four State QRP Group will sell it as a kit. The price is still being determined, but the components cost about $150. Astonishingly Jack and Al poured six man-years into the design of this QRP radio! Check out their companion book, Software Defined Radio Transceiver: Theory and Construction of the T41-EP Amateur Radio SDT! Also, check out their slide deck.
Bryan (K0EMT) and Joe's (K0NEB) presentations were inspiring. Bryan's QRP equipment, operations, and software development survey highlighted the vastness of our hobby and invited us all to try something new — Slide Deck. And Joe's presentation on the intersection of 3D printing, ham radio, and the pandemic kindled my latent interest in buying a 3D printer. I was inspired to bite the bullet and ordered a best-in-class 3D printer — Original Prusa i3 MK3S+ 3D printer.
I was delighted to see a few entries in the Wacky Key Contest! The Lego Key won the competition and was my favorite. The "Key" paddle was a clever play on words and my second choice.
The group kit building is always worthwhile, and this year did not disappoint. We built the Cric-Key, a low-cost entry-level paddle and keyer. The kit has 19 parts to solder and went together smoothly. The paddles are slightly tricky to put together but straightforward with the help of a partner who could provide an extra pair of hands to hold everything together.
Prizes and more prizes! I won four kits this year — Bayou Jumper Transceiver (40m QRP rig), Cric-Key, N6ARA TinyPaddles, and a big bag of resistors, capacitors, and diodes. Bryan (K0EMT) also gave me an N0SS Noise Generator, which will be my first surface mount kit! I'm always amazed at how many prizes are given away at Ozarkcon. They strive to ensure that everyone wins at least one prize.
I hope to see you next year! In the meantime, feel free to join the Four States QRP DMR Talk Group (TG31654) and discuss QRP, ask questions, or rag chew. Or join the voice net on the DMR talk group Wednesday at 9 PM Central (Thursday 0300 UTC).
A Learning Approach to Achieve QRQ:
We have developed a learning approach to achieve QRQ using a structured high-speed curriculum! It is self-paced and should take about a year to complete. To our knowledge, this is the first-ever such course.
The structured approach to achieving QRQ is a starting point, open to refinement. With additional feedback and collective experience, our goal is to make QRQ accessible to as many people as possible.
We wish you all the best on your Morse code journey!
A Case for "Book Copy":
Author John Silzel (N6HCN) — Reprinted with permission. Originally published in the May 2018 edition of Solid Copy. This article compliments the recently released QRQ Course.
It may be that there are two different CW dialects. The "symbolic" dialect, so fluently spoken by contesters and commercial ops, is far more efficient than voice for the accurate transmission of data: formal traffic, call signs or serial numbers, even ciphered military communications. In symbolic CW, anticipation of the next character is a no-no, since the traffic consists of compressed data of high information content and little redundancy. Every character is crucial, and copy must be perfect.
The other CW dialect may be newer and reflect the rise of CW as an art: the use of code as an auditory language. This "conversational" CW is more like speech or silent reading: concepts and context ride naturally on a fuller vocabulary. Neither sender nor receiver may remember the exact words sent, and neither is conscious of characters at all. This CW dialect comes closer to reading than data transmission, and in fact brain mapping research1,2 shows that the brain processes "head copy" much the same way as it does speech or printed text during fast, silent reading.
We know that learning a second language begins awkwardly, with symbols and sounds, mechanical grammatical rules and memorization of seemingly infinite vocabulary. But at some point, the mind assimilates the new tongue, and the mechanics of the language become internalized and unconscious. This process appears to involve a rewiring, or "neuroplasticity" of the brain, involving new connections between sensory and cognitive centers, and a detectable increase in gray matter density.
It seemed to me that expertise in conversational CW, like fluency in any language, would benefit from immersion. But my family and work could not accommodate hours and hours at my rig hunting up a ragchew or listening to W1AW sessions, only a portion of which were of interest or at useful speed, anyway. Making matters worse were poor propagation, QSB, and nighttime QRN at my home. If only, I thought, I could listen to... a good story... sent perfectly, anywhere, hour after hour in CW, at a speed always high enough to stretch my copy skills.
The Solution: CW e-Books
I found the answer on my first internet search: a free, open-source software application called "ebook2cw". This code runs on Windows, MAC OS, and best of all on Linux, my favorite OS. The work of champion QRQQ operator Fabian Kurz, DJ1YFK (CWOps #1566), ebook2cw does just what it says: converts any ASCII text file to a collection of audio .mp3 files that can be loaded on an inexpensive player or your smartphone, burned to CD, or played however you normally listen to digital music. Converting a full-size novel takes about 40 minutes on a laptop, and just slightly longer on a $35 Raspberry Pi computer, an amazing unit worthy of its own article. My solution is to drag-and-drop the converted audio files to a cheap Coby 8Gb MP3 player, which fits in my pocket and holds enough CW for months of nightly "reading".
All of this is great, but until book publishers start releasing CW editions (we won't hold our breaths, will we?) you’ll need a way to get your reading material in ASCII form. Fortunately, the good folks at The Gutenberg Project have provided more than 50,000 ebooks, virtually copyright-free, with more added all the time. Acquiring a CW library is as simple as downloading the "plain ASCII text" version of your chosen book. Even "War and Peace" is only about 3 Mbytes, smaller than an average music download.
It’s of course optional, but I like to use an editor to "search and replace", making some CW- friendly edits to the downloaded book: I replace "and" with "ES" for example. I used to remove quotation marks, but I’ve found that copying that unusual character has become second nature. In fact, ebook2cw handles more punctuation than we use on the air and has means for you to insert prosigns as well. Ebook2cw will optionally insert a BT at the end of each paragraph, which I like very much. (Fabian Kurtz tells me it will even handle some special Greek, Cyrillic, and Hebrew characters!) While you’re at it, check your book to see what text is used to delineate chapters. Ebook2cw can break the book into chapters based on "hits" to a particular search string, like "CHAPTER", and I add this keyword to books whose chapters were ambiguously marked in the original file. This whole editing process takes only about 15 minutes for a typical novel.
At this point, you're ready to feed the edited book into Ebook2cw. I use the no-frills command-line version of the app, but there is a version of the code that includes the familiar "GUI" window interface. It is a simple process and there are good instructions on the website listed above. There are separate speed settings for characters and WPM. I set the program to chop the book up by chapters, and limit each MP3 file to 30 minutes, so they’re manageable for me in one reading session. (Longer files mean more work to find my place if I fall asleep while listening!) I set ebook2cw’s QRQ feature to give me 3-4 WPM of QRQ per 30 minutes, so each file begins at my current comfortable "base" speed and ends up pushing me a bit. Any time I am not stretching a bit to copy the last QRQ, I will reconvert the remaining chapters, bumping things up 3 WPM or so. But I never let it get frustrating — my goal is a relaxed but focused reading experience, not a sweat -breaking adrenaline meltdown! (Save that for CWTs...)
Rewiring Your Brain: From CW "Guinea Pig" to Speed Reader
Your first CW book might seem like slow going. At first, I thought I’d wear out the "rewind" button on my mp3 player. Books are, after all, more eloquent and complex than our on-air QSOs. Strange spellings, dialog, contractions, and sections of oddly spelled vernacular can be challenging at first. Stick with it, and don’t be tempted to peek at the text! If you like Westerns, the books by Zane Grey stick to a fairly common vocabulary and style that helped me adapt to "book copy". When I started out, my (rusty) base speed was about 15 WPM, I still needed a pencil and paper, and I was accustomed to Farnsworth timing. My first goals (besides enjoying the books) were to toss my pencil "cold turkey" and wean myself to normal CW word and character spacing. Then I began to build WPM. As any op knows, this is an irregular process, with plateaus and periods where progress seems nonexistent. But with a good book, it is easy to be patient and "stick with the program".
Once hooked on a good book, you'll be motivated to practice. And with regular practice, learning is inevitable. Your brain is pre-wired for language and cannot help but become more and more fluent. Relax and enjoy the book, speed will come inevitably and effortlessly. After a few books, the unconscious head copy will have you wondering just how fast you can go! I believe anyone can eventually pass 30 WPM by spending 30 minutes per day doing "book copy".
You’ll probably spend several months reading a novel in CW, so you’ll want to pick good reading material. No matter your tastes, there are fine books out there just waiting to be converted to CW. Some favorites of mine are "Riders of the Purple Sage", "The Heritage of the Desert" and "Mysterious Rider" by Zane Grey. "Two Years Before the Mast" by Dana, and "Log of a Cowboy" by Adams are great picks. If a novel sounds daunting, try short stories, like the Sherlock Holmes cases by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. In the military nonfiction vein, you might enjoy "Blood Brothers", by Colonel Eugene C. Jacobs, and if you’re a geek like me, or just want to practice numbers, you can read government technical reports like the declassified "Project Trinity" documents detailing the first atomic tests. All of these and more are downloadable via the Project Gutenberg site. And of course, you can convert any text file, email, or webpage text — even this issue of Solid Copy! I’ve tried scanning and OCR of printed books, but the process takes too long for me.
Why try this admittedly eccentric pastime? Well, for one thing, enjoying a good book in bed with your eyes shut is very relaxing, and there is no book light or page turning to disturb the XYL. There is no SDR to tweak, no panadapter to scan, no QSB, no QRM, just Fabian’s computer-perfect fist, solid copy, and no speed limits. A suspenseful plot unfolding in rapid CW reminds me of listening to a radio drama, and the pace, though slower than reading or an audio book, has become surprisingly enjoyable.
Like other ops, I have been startled to find that the neuroplastic "rewiring" of my brain has some strange side effects, as well. The ears automatically "lock" onto CW almost instantly and unconsciously, and seem to find code everywhere, on and off the bands. You might find yourself distracted by the odd things being "said" by birds, dishwashers, squeaking machinery, and the vari- ous beeping devices all around us. During ragchews you might be unaware that you are copying code rather than voice. You might find yourself copying more than one QSO at a time.
Has it been a while since you enjoyed effortless CW as a true language, a mental connection, hanging on every word to see if the "good guy" was going to win, or leaning back at the paddles, eyes shut, enjoying a rapid-fire QSK back-and-forth, telling jokes or yarn-spinning with one of the fine ragchewers on the bands? I’m sure that "book copy" will give even the most crazy-fast op a new level of fun and fluency in our wonderful "second language". You might find yourself waxing eloquent on the air, adopting the gritty prose of Hemingway, or the sly humor of Twain in your next ragchew. If you need help converting that first book, drop me an email and I'll be glad to assist.
1. Schlaffke L, Leemans A, Schweizer LM, Ocklenburg S and Schmidt-Wilcke T, Learning Morse Code Alters Microstructural Properties in the Inferior Longitudinal Fasciculus: A DTI Study. Front. Hum. Neurosci. 11:383, (2017). https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2017.00383
2. Maier J, Hartvig, NV, Green AC, Stodkilde-Jorgensen H, Reading with the Ears, Neuroscience Letters, 364, 185–188, (2004). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neulet.2004.04.040
QRQ = Fun:
The following article was written by Tom (W4BQF) SK. We will remember his passion and enthusiasm for QRQ (high-speed). I thoroughly enjoyed reading his thoughts and advice. I hope you do too! I hope it inspires you to aim high when you set your Morse code proficiency goals! If not today, perhaps tomorrow.
(Note that the following article was edited for grammar and clarity. You can find the original here. It is unclear how long it will be available.)
I am often asked, "How can you copy CW at 70wpm and higher?" Since it's pretty insulting to answer by saying, "Practice, practice, practice," I usually end up emailing back a synopsis on how I learned to do it.
What I have to say on this subject is only my personal opinion, which generally does not agree with everyone else! I don't believe in the various methods of learning code. I think learning to copy high-speed code is much simpler than following someone else's method of learning to copy QRQ. What I am sharing with you are things that I found to work for me. Others have used different methods of achieving QRQ to copy by ear.
There are some basics I think one MUST learn, and the very first one is you must learn to copy ONLY in your head. That's very important! From there, you can begin to increase your copy speed. So copying in your head is a MUST. Jotting down notes or 'keywords' is okay to remind you of something you want to respond to during your QSO.
QSO'ing at 70 to 120wpm is no different than having a conversation on the telephone; you are just doing it using a different language! No sending call signs (except as required) and no sending <BK>. You don't do that on the telephone! And speaking on a telephone is operating duplex. So why not do the same thing using CW?
The second most important thing you must do is have a radio with excellent full QSK (full break-in) at high speeds. Simply because when operating QRQ, you MUST do it in duplex! You don't stop and take notes when conversing on the telephone, so why do it when you are operating QRQ? The radios that I know of that can run full QSK at speeds over 100wpm are the Ten-Tec Corsair II and the Icom IC-781, and they do it flawlessly. In my opinion, full QSK is not at what speed you can hear another signal between dots, but at what speed you can hear your fellow ham trying to break you! Hearing between dots is an acceptable criterion for speeds below 40wpm but is inconsequential over 60wpm. Unfortunately, the more digital circuitry that is added to modern transceivers, the less high-speed QRQ capable they become.
All high-speed code (above 55wpm) is sent with a keyboard/keyer or a computer keyboard simply because one cannot consistently send 'clean' code by hand on a key. Consistent 'clean' code makes for easier copying! I've been a CW operator for over 55 years, but I am not one of those 'old goats' who claim that sending CW by any other means than using your hand is not 'real' CW. 'Real' CW is a dot and a dash, no matter how you send it. The idea here is how you copy QRQ, not how you send it!
Most computer programs that are capable of generating CW, for some reason, are not designed to exceed 99wpm. And most computer programs generate CW via a serial or a parallel port. Using these I/O ports causes an inherent problem for smooth CW generation. A computer's CPU produces random (to us) interrupts, which almost always stops activity in any I/O port FIRST! This leads to a 'stutter' sound in generated CW coming from these I/O ports. VE6YP, the author of the program I've been using for close to 10 years, is the only author I know of who has found a solution to this problem. In his program, YPlog, he generates CW via the computer sound card, which is never interrupted by a computer's CPU 'house-keeping.' The user will need to build a very simple audio detector and a transistor switch to key his radio. This system works very well to over 160wpm.
You first want to learn to copy in your head only because when you get to speeds around 50 to 55wpm, you have to teach your brain literally to change its method of interpreting code. (And it takes a while to do this!) Below about 50wpm, you still hear a dot and a dash to form a word. When copying at 60wpm and higher, you do not consciously hear a dot and a dash. You literally hear a word. Also, at that time, you begin to have a 'flow of conversation,' just like you are when you're talking on the telephone. If you send me code groups at 70wpm, I could not copy most of them, but if you and I are in a conversation at 70wpm or higher, THEN I can copy pretty solid.
Although you will not be conscious of copying dots and dashes, if the sender misspells a word, but somehow, you will notice. For instance, if the sender sends the word 'will' as 'wEll,' your mind will catch that one dit was missed. But your trained mind will ignore that one missed dit, and it will continue copying.
I'm not entirely sure, but above 70 to 80wpm, your mind is in the 'flow of the conversation' and will not likely copy every word sent to you. But your brain is copying enough to make sense of what is being sent!
To increase your copy speed, I recommend a code reader. And don't be shocked by that! I recommend a code reader because the process of learning to copy from about 50 to 60wpm is where you have to teach your brain to copy code differently. The problem at these speeds is if you miss a word, your brain automatically freezes and tries to 'guess' the missed word. While the brain is trying to decide what that one word is, many more words go flying by, and you get very confused and lose track of what is being sent to you. When you start using a code reader, you're going to just read the screen, but subconsciously, the brain is associating the dots and dashes with what you're reading on the screen. The more you do this, the less you read the screen. You will only need to glance at the code reader when you miss a word! This will get you over the 'brain freeze' caused by missing just one word! Once you get to copying around 60wpm, when you DO miss that one word, your brain realizes it but then continues to copy, ignoring or filling in the missed word.
Don't worry about a code reader being a crutch, simply because when you get to where you can copy around 60wpm, you will find that you can then copy code better than a code reader! A code reader is not very good at handling high-speed code in the presence of normal band noise of your receiver. Beyond 60 to 70wpm, the readers cannot keep up anymore because of noise crashes, but your brain can easily filter out the noise. A code reader is an 'aid' to helping one learn to copy code faster. It is NOT a crutch!
Two big things about QRQ: 1) You HAVE to make it just another FUN thing you want to do with your hobby. 2) You are not going to learn to do it overnight! But anybody can learn to do it.
I started doing QRQ sometime in the late '60s when I heard two hams talking to each other on their regular skeds on 40m, at 100wpm. I thought it was fascinating and just decided that was something I WANTED to do. And it took me about a year to go from 30wpm on my keyer to over 60wpm. That includes the time it took me to change from a QWERTY to a Dvorak keyboard layout. The neat and fun thing I found is that once you get to where you can copy between 60 and 70wpm, your mind seems to open up to copying QRQ. Going from 60 to 100wpm appeared to be a breeze compared to retraining my brain to get through the 50 to 60wpm 'brick wall' we all have to go through.
I really don't know how fast I can copy, but I used to have QSOs with KB9XE and NU2C at 120wpm and could fully understand what they were saying. NU2C tested me once, and he would send me two questions, which I had to answer both, then he would go up 5wpm. Finally, at 145wpm, I got only one of his questions! I have recently read that a German ham copied a call sign being sent with RufzXP (a high-speed competition program) at 200wpm! Copying CW at high speeds, either 145 or 200wpm, is one thing. Having a conversation at those speeds is something entirely different.
Again, two things. You have to make this a fun thing, you have to want to do it, and it can get pretty frustrating at times. You have to be willing to spend the necessary time on the air working at improving your copy. That is the only way I know of that you can do it, as there are no shortcuts. Interestingly, of the maybe ten hams that I know operate at high speeds, none of them have any interest in records or recognition for their QRQ ability. They all simply do it for the enjoyment of it.
I relate to many of the things Tom has to say. I am currently practicing at 55wpm, having reasonable success, and intend to switch to 65 or 70wpm in a few months. My long-term goal is to read a book at 40wpm. I once read that your enjoyment with Morse code is proportional to your proficiency. I wish I knew where I read that! I have found it to be true in my experience.
I strive for efficient Morse code practice. In my experience and research, rapid and continuous feedback will enable the quickest path to mastery. It is the idea behind the Morse Code Ninja format — Sent in Morse code, Spoken, and then Repeated in Morse code. Tom's suggestion to use a code reader may be controversial for some people. But used well, it will provide instantaneous feedback at a glance.
Star Trek Crossover:
I am smiling ear-to-ear after receiving a surprise gift from someone that knows me very well. To say that it made my day would be an understatement.
Daniel Davis was hired on Cameo to lift my spirits. Daniel was a guest actor on Star Trek: The Next Generation and played the role of the holographic Professor James Moriarty. He appeared on the second and sixth season episodes "Elementary, Dear Data" and "Ship in a Bottle."
Daniel claiming to have run into Samuel Morris and knowing that he is delighted by my efforts is a marvelous and fantastical thought!! It makes me giddy and laugh out loud every time I think of it.
This is a personal video and something that I waited almost a year to share. I hope that it brightens your day too. (Note that I removed a couple of personal segments to retain for my enjoyment.)
My very best regards and thanks to Daniel,
Ninja Card Exchange:
In all, I sent 109 cards! It was a lot of work, but also a lot of fun. It is a small joy receiving personal mail in our ever digital world. If you missed out, I plan on doing another exchange next year!
I hope that everyone had a terrific and merry holiday season! As the year came to a close, it has been fantastic coming to know so many wonderful people in the CW community.
I wish everyone all the best on their Morse code journey!
73 de AD0WE