Holiday Card Exchange:
Celebrate the holiday season with us with our second annual holiday card exchange! Send me an email with your mailing address and whether you prefer a Christmas card or a holiday card. I'll reply with our home mailing address and send out your card soon. Alternatively, you may surprise us with a card, and we will send one back! (Address is good on QRZ.)
Each card comes with a Morse Code Ninja sticker and Ninja Holiday picture. Offer good until Jan 1, 2023.
Happy holidays as the remaining days of 2022 draw to a close. I wish everyone all the best on their Morse code journey! 73 de AD0WE
Morse Code Ninja Inspired Art:
What would the Morse Code Ninja logo look like as a 3D render? With Stable Diffusion and Photoshop, I recreated the Ninja logo in photo-realistic detail. Although there are some shortcomings, it is still pretty neat! Yes, that is me! But don't worry. I'm not changing my logo. hi hi.
Stable Diffusion is an exciting machine-learning technology that allows you to generate an image from a short text description! Most people won't be able to run it locally without a powerful workstation and the technical know-how to set it up. You might consider using getimg.ai to experiment from your web browser. I have used it extensively with great success.
I spent a couple of hours using DALL·E 2 to create Morse Code Ninja-inspired art, as pictured above. DALL·E 2 is an alternative to Stable Diffusion. DALL·E 2 is easier to use, while Stable Diffusion gives you more creative control. There are pros and cons to both technologies.
I am astonished by what can be achieved by man and machine working closely together to produce art! As a person provides direction and hints, the artificial intelligence does its darndest to flesh out the idea based on everything it has seen and learned. This is some of the most fun I have ever had! The process of exploring ideas for a ninja in different contexts of amateur radio was a joy.
Even if you don't consider yourself an artist, I encourage you to give it a go. By no means am I an artist — creating the Morse Code Ninja logo took every ounce of my soul. Using DALL·E 2 and Stable Diffusion was liberating. I could quickly explore creative ideas and almost instantly coax them into existence.
What will you create? An image you make could be the basis for your next QSL card!
I received an awesome gift from Ma. Theresa Cruz Aniceto (DW3TRZ)! Thank you!! That made my day! The cross stitch was done with exacting caring precision and arrived in perfect condition from the Philippines. I will hang it up next to my station.
The Filipino greeting "Mabulay" means "Long Live!" Theresa participates in contests and strives to win DX awards. Around the world, she has made many friends!
73 de AD0WE!
Learning Morse Code as a Language:
Have you ever wondered what the secret is to polyglots, people who learn to speak multiple languages? Or even people who seem to pick up Morse code much more quickly than others? I invite you to listen to this 10-minute inspiring TED Talk, The secrets of learning a new language, by Lýdia Machová, PhD.
Making your Morse Code Learning Journey enjoyable is the most important key to success. If it isn't fun or at least enjoyable, it will take a lot of willpower to sustain the necessary practice over time to become fluent. Willpower is a renewable resource, but you can quickly exhaust it with the other things in life that you need to do or accomplish. Once that happens, you'll stop practicing and break your commitment to learning Morse code and improving your proficiency.
Whenever you get bored with one method or approach, try another. There are a TON of options! (We live in the Golden Age of Morse Code!) If you are new to the Morse Code Ninja format, check out the Morse Code Ninja Course and Practice. If you are bored practicing with computer-generated code, try listening to the ARRL W1AW Broadcast, finding and practicing with a code buddy, or receiving guidance and mentorship through the Long Island CW Club classes or CW Academy program. If you have learned the characters, get on the air to practice!
Have you exhausted those options? Check out the Ninja Resources page. You will find a comprehensive list of Software, Interactive Online Resources, On-air Practice, and Hardware for learning Morse Code.
Just enjoying Morse Code practice isn't enough. To become fluent, you also need Effective Methods, Systems, and Patience.
When starting out, choosing an effective method for mastering ICR (Instant Character Recognition) is crucial. With ICR, the unconscious mind is doing the hard work of instantly recognizing each letter as it is sent. The characters are recognized instantly and effortlessly. This skill will allow you to copy faster than 15wpm and avoid the pitfall of getting stuck at less than 10 to 13 wpm copy.
ICR is the most challenging and essential skill to master. Once learned, it will allow you to master IWR (Instant Word Recognition) and achieve speeds of at least 50wpm when combined with head-copy.
Effective methods to learn ICR will discourage students from decoding the dits and dahs consciously. A common approach is to use the Farnsworth method, starting with a character speed of at least 20wpm and an overall speed of 10wpm. If you can count the dits and dahs, you need to go faster. A character speed of 25wpm is not uncommon, but it may be necessary to start at 30wpm.
If you aren't sure which methods are most effective to learn Morse code and reach your proficiency goals, ask a mentor, take classes with the Long Island CW Club, or go through the CW Academy program. There are known effective methods for every phase of the learning process.
Create a system for practicing. When are you at ease and not under time pressure? When are you more likely to be in a learning mindset and can stay focused? And when will you consistently have time to practice? Do you have time to practice on your commute to work or perhaps when you first get up?
Create a plan, turn it into a habit, and make it a part of your everyday life. Be realistic, and don't overdo it. An aggressive routine will lead to burnout and suck the enjoyment out of the practice. The best Morse Code practice is the one you will do!
Consider frequent, consistent practice. It takes repetition over time to develop long-term memories and improve your proficiency. In general, more frequent practice for shorter periods is more effective than fewer, longer sessions. Ideally, practice twice a day for at least ten minutes each time.
What is not effective? Spending a lot of time trying to learn Morse code over a few days or weeks. As an analogy, we all know that it is not effective to memorize a bunch of facts the night before a test. You may pass the test but quickly forget what you learned.
Be patient and give yourself grace. Learning Morse code as a language takes time. It is not difficult to learn, but it requires practice and dedication to become proficient. Incremental success and achievement are a source of motivation to continue your journey of learning. Consider keeping a log of your practice and proficiency. Look back on it when you fail to see all the progress you have made. Persistence and patience pay off.
I find that Morse code becomes a language and not just an encoding once you can head-copy at 30wpm or faster. Achieving this level of proficiency will not happen in weeks and months. It may take a year or two. If you have higher aspirations, know that reaching those lofty proficiency goals could take years. It wouldn't be uncommon to take three to five years to head-copy a general QSO at 50wpm.
However you approach learning, I wish you all the best success on your Morse Code journey! I hope you found this helpful.
Why CW is So Cool:
It's 11 pm EST, and you're listening to the last few CW signals remaining on the band for the night. Things are very slow, and it's about time to turn the radio off and finish up the day before sleep. Of the three things you hear, they are mostly longer conversations, at higher speeds, between operators that have obviously spoken together many times. The conditions aren't great, and things are fading in and out.
Then it happens. Out of the void you hear a solitary CQ call, at only 10wpm. It's the third repeat of the CQ now, and you know from experience that there is only a small chance that someone will respond at this hour, on a night like this, at that speed, with conditions being a bit marginal.
You have a thousand reasons not to respond:
- Your code has sucked today, and you're really struggling.
- You're tired and stressed, and the accuracy in your characters showed it when you practiced a bit.
- You have some key fright because you don't want to embarrass yourself (again).
- You still need a decoder on some QSOs, and if the conditions fade too much - you'll be left with no backup - just your tired brain and a hard-to-hear signal.
- The other station is at 10wpm, and your iambic keyer gets very easy to mess up on when you get down to those sending speeds.
- The other station is a straight key - and while their CQ is easy to copy - you fear that the actual QSO might be much more difficult.
- The list goes on...
But you haven't made a single QSO today, and it's your last chance to fit one in before the end of the day. So against all of your doubts and urges to just sit this one out, you hit a few buttons, set a few parameters, and start keying their callsign.
Once this happens, there's no going back. It's only forward from here. No matter what. Like that first jump from the high dive when you were a kid at the public pool - with everyone watching. This is the stuff of nightmares.
Will they even hear you? Will they hear you well enough? Will they immediately know that you are a beginner and the QSO will be a mess? Perhaps they won't even respond.
But they do. You hear your callsign coming back to you.
Then something amazing happens. The QSO is paced perfectly. The conversation is positive and great. The typical lines are there for the signal report, name, and rig information, with a little extra room for a joke or comment. Both operators are somewhat new to CW, having a great time, and the messages at the end of the QSO are grateful, uplifting, and sincere. Both operators truly appreciate having notched a good contact for the night and having practiced their new skill just a little more.
You sit there dumbfounded as you realize that you just had your best QSO, after all that doubt. You couldn't see it coming. Yet there it was. It was somehow waiting out in the ionosphere for your antenna to reach out and grab it.
That feeling is very difficult to describe. Now that I'm older, I also realize how rare that type of feeling is. It's something that mostly exists in childhood. It's really something special.
That's why CW is so cool. Deceptively simple, difficult to master, and so very cool.
3D Ninja Logo:
I am excited to present the 3D Morse Code Ninja logo! You can download the files and print your very own today! (If you don't have a 3D printer, many public libraries offer inexpensive access to 3D printers. If that doesn't work for you, contact me, and I'll print and ship one to you at cost — $15 includes materials and shipping within the USA. It is sized to fit in a USPS Flat Rate Shipping Box — 6.41" x 4.92" x 1.18". You can choose between Black or Galaxy Grey.)
I recommend printing no smaller than about 3.54" x 2.72" x 0.65" or 90mm x 69.1mm x 16.62mm. You can scale the print arbitrarily large or small, but if you go too small, the printer won't have enough resolution, and parts of the model will be too fragile. Use your slicer to print with supports and have the Ninja's backside facing the first print layer. I print with a brim, but it isn't strictly required.
Thanks, Jack (AA0IZ), for refining the initial prototype! It was difficult to remove the support structures from the original model without tearing away the arm of the Morse code key. And the Ninja needed to be trimmed down so he wasn't so husky looking.
Jack has also designed a bobblehead version that is available for download. (A small spring is the only extra hardware you will need.) My sincere appreciation is extended to Jack! He printed and sent one to me. I have it sitting on my Icom 7300, as shown in the picture.
Guardian of the keys? hi hi. As a surprise gift, I gave away the initial prototype print to Cathy (W4CMG). It made her day! And it goes to a deserving home to someone who passionately gives back to the CW community. She named him Guardian of the Keys and stands watch over her growing collection of keys.
Amateur radio is an umbrella hobby with many hobbies embedded within it. I had been considering a 3D printer for the last couple of years, but it was Joe's (K0NEB) presentation at the 2022 OzarkCon QRP Conference that convinced me to get one. I went all-in with a best-in-class Original Prusa i3 MK3S+ 3D printer. It has worked out great, considering all the things I have printed over the last few months and have had only one failed print.
This project has been a lot of fun, and I have learned a lot too!
Hamvention and Award:
I am proud to have received and share the 2022 Award for Advancing the Art of CW along with the Long Island CW Club and Neil (ZL1NZ). It was a great honor. This is an annual award given by CWOps to recognize individuals, groups, and organizations that have made the greatest contribution(s) toward advancing the art or practice of radio communications by Morse code.
It has been my pleasure to give back to the amateur radio community and those aspiring to learn Morse code and improve their proficiency.
My website has been described as a gigantic CW superstore containing anything you could possibly be looking for related to CW — especially CW training resources, including Software, Online Training, On-the-air Practice, Hardware, Books, Instruction, and Advice. (If I'm missing something, please let me know!)
Celebrate with me and enjoy a Morse Code Ninja sticker on me. In June and July 2022, send me an email telling me a little about yourself and your Morse code journey and request a sticker. If you would like to save me a stamp, please send SASE to my QRZ address.
Hamvention: It was fantastic to attend Hamvention this year and meet many friends for the first time! As pictured in the top right of the collage picture, I had an excellent conversation with Charlie (NJ7V - Red Summit RF) and Brian (W7JET) on ideas to help newcomers. And pictured in the middle right of the collage, I was delighted to meet Cathy (W4CMG) and Anne (KC9YL) — they accepted the CWOps award on behalf of the Long Island CW Club. If I didn't have a chance to meet you this year, let's plan to meet at Hamvention 2023!
I wish everyone all the best on their Morse code journey! 73 de AD0WE
The following article is reprinted with the author's permission, Paul Carreiro (N6EV) Originally published in 2009 and last updated February 4, 2017. This article complements the recently released QRQ Course.
I also started practicing using this method without realizing there was a name for it! Amazing! I use IWR (Instant Word Recognition), some Phonic Copy, and a bit of ICR (Instant Character Recognition) to copy at QRQ speeds. Because the spelling of English words is not entirely phonetic, I suspect many people will also rely on multiple methods of copying Morse code simultaneously. I encourage you to learn and give it a try! I also welcome your feedback to learn more about your experience!
Thanks again, Paul! I know others will find it thought-provoking!
As with any processes, there are alternate methods to achieve an end goal. Since I hadn’t seen it depicted yet in the various discussions about head copy, I want to share the method I use. Like many have testified, my transition from written to head copy came by operating true mobile CW operation (in motion.. as opposed to portable operation) where written copy is impossible / impractical.
Before we break down the phonic method of head copy, let’s first consider basic code reception with the following concept from Steve, N8CPA: "Letters are graphic representations of sound. Code is an aural representation of graphic representations of sounds." At the beginner level of code reception, code elements are received audibly; mentally converted to a letter representation of that code element; then that letter representation is written down. Comprehension of the content of the message occurs only after the written letters are constructed into words and sentences. As proficiency increases, the speed of this conversion improves, and perhaps the method of writing down each letter becomes more efficient. But the basic process is unchanged as speed increases. Various speed plateaus are reached due to bad habits, poor writing techniques and ultimately, the limit induced by the time required to mentally convert from audio element to letter representation to written form.
Most head copy methods that you see described involve learning to recognize word code patterns rather than individual letters. Variations also include using a mental ‘blackboard’ to queue up letters until a word is recognized. Comprehension occurs after each word pattern is completed and recognized. These word recognition methods have been used by countless operators successfully over the years. Since the written portion of the process is removed, copy speed naturally is improved. And while I understand the concept of recognizing word patterns… I often wonder what happens when a word arrives that you haven’t yet learned to recognize pattern wise? Comprehension, while vastly improved over written copy, is still stuttered. I want to be clear, I’m not saying the word pattern method is wrong or invalid. To me, it just seems less efficient (and comfortable) than the method I’m about to describe.
The Phonic Copy method can be summed up by altering Steve’s concept above to read: "Code is an aural representation of a phonic sound." Each Morse Code element represents the phonic sound of a corresponding letter, not the letter itself. This means, as elements (letters / numbers) are received, they are phonically pronounced in the speech / aural portion of the mind (the auditory cortex) rather than visualized graphically as letters or whole words in the written / visual portion of the mind (the visual cortex). One universal principle to increasing copy speed is to remove the number of steps or conversions it takes from reception to comprehension. By eliminating the conversion from aural representation to graphic representation, phonic copy allows instant comprehension, many times even before a word is completed. As Drew, AF2Z aptly states: "You can hear a word building to completion as it streams by, not as a unit word sound that pops into your mind …. (and) not as individual letters that you have to assemble either. It’s more like spoken words that are being pronounced rather slowly."
To expand on and better demonstrate the Phonic Copy concept, let’s use the word "PRONOUNCED" as an example. I doubt this would be a word that many using the word pattern recognition method would have practiced and learned before hand as it is not a common word used in QSOs. Look at the word ‘P R O N O U N C E D’ and step through it phonically letter by letter in the speech / aural portion of your mind. Each letter has a distinct phonic sound associated with it. This Phonic Copy method (thanks to Walt, W5ALT for helping give it a name) is the same process, except instead of visually stepping through the word as you just did, the phonic sound elements are recognized (verbalized in the speech / aural portion of the mind) as each code element is audibly received. There is no visualization, letter queuing or pattern recognition involved (other than converting the code elements into phonics). Numbers are simply recognized as you would speak them. Punctuation and pro-signs are recognized easily by their pattern.
Copying this way, there are no unrecognized (not yet learned) patterns or words to worry about. Nor is there a queue of letters to keep track of (blackboard method). In fact, using this method, I can listen to two CW stations conversing in Spanish, and ‘hear’ the conversation as if they were in front of me. Granted, comprehension is limited in this example as my Spanish is marginal! The code simply flows as a phonically pronounced stream of words and numbers in the mind. Comprehension is instantaneous (assuming you understand what the word means!), as opposed to waiting for a pattern (word) to be recognized. As with other head copy techniques, this method is easier to use the faster the code is sent. So it doesn’t lend itself to extreme QRS speeds. It also lends itself to conversational CW where apprehension and the mind’s own error correction kick in. You wouldn’t use this method to copy random five letter code groups.
You could compare these two head copy techniques to, on one hand, seeing a stream of written letters or words pop up on a computer screen (visual / graphically recognized pattern method), versus having words spoken out of a speaker of that computer (Phonic Copy method). Or more simply, the difference between reading text versus listening to speech. Admittedly, I have not experienced the visual / pattern recognition head copy techniques that have been discussed and used by the vast majority of CW ops. But it would still seem to me that Phonic (pronounced) Copy would be a more fluid and easily learned method. It simulates an audible conversation with someone, as opposed to a chat room conversation. From personal experience using this technique, my head copy speed skyrocketed to over 45 wpm, and has easily translated down to slower speeds. Copying ‘Conversational CW’ at QRQ speeds using the phonic method is truly effortless, relaxing and achieves that nirvana state where the Morse becomes a language, not just a code representing letters and numbers.
I offer Phonic Copy as an alternative method / perspective for head copy that has worked for me and others. For whatever reason, it has not been well documented to my knowledge compared to the word recognition method. And near as I can tell, a very small percentage of CW operators practice this method. Take it or leave it. Your mileage may and will probably vary. No warranty expressed or implied.
What ever method you use… ENJOY CW! As long as we communicate, and have fun while doing so… we’ve achieved the ultimate goal.
Your thoughts are welcome.
Learning the Phonic Copy Method:
I’ve been asked many times since writing this article back in 2009 how to learn the Phonic Copy Method. Initially, these were tough questions to answer as I didn’t intentionally set out to learn this method. It came quite by accident without recognizing exactly what process I was using. So I went back and analyzed the circumstances in which I learned to head copy phonically. The key to this method, as mentioned above, is the use of the speech / aural sections of the brain (the auditory cortex, Broca’s area, Wernicke’s speech area) versus the written / visual sections used in other head copy methods. I learned while driving long highway distances. While driving, the brain processes the road and potential hazards ahead via the visual stimuli presented. This leaves the aural / speech section of the brain available to process the auditory Morse Code into phonic speech sounds.
My advice for learning this method is to set yourself in an environment where your eyes are occupied by some visual stimuli, while your ears are left without distraction to process the incoming Morse elements. As with other head copy methods, the code element speed should be at or above 18-20 WPM and the content should be plain conversational text, not random letters or words. During initial training, it will be easier to start with Farnsworth style code, with plenty of space between each code element. Start by consciously equating the sound of a code element to its corresponding phonic. Don’t worry about catching every code element, words or comprehending the context of the text. Then just keep the code in the background while occupying your eyes. You can do this while driving if you have a receiver, or MP3 player. Or, at home, start a long video with the audio turned down. Pick something interesting. Perhaps the many ham related videos on YouTube. Be sure the video’s audio is turned down, then start your Morse audio input. It’s a bit like walking and chewing gum at the same time, but the brain has an amazing ability to multi-task like this. As you gain more experience in converting the code elements to phonic sounds, progressively shorten the extra Farsworth spacing until it’s removed.
Keep at it and eventually you will pick up strings of phonic sounds that form words. When you get to this point and start stringing words together you will start to comprehend the context of the conversation. That’s when the other aspect of this method kicks in to assist… that of anticipation. Just as with normal speech conversation, there are logical patterns to sentences (nouns / verbs / adjectives, etc), and there is logical flow to the context of conversation. The language area of your brain (the Broca’s area) has already been trained to do this when you were a child learning to speak and understand speech. It’s okay if you anticipate the next word wrong. We’re not copying forward here. The brain will auto-correct when it hears speech it wasn’t expecting. It’s an amazing muscle. Exercise it!
To further reinforce the process of linking aural code elements to phonics, do the following. In between the sessions of listening to plain text code described above; mix in some sessions where you send words from a key / code practice oscillator while sounding them out phonetically in the mind. This too can be plain text by conducting a mock conversation / QSO. Don’t read text while doing this. Keep the process entirely aural. Before sending each word, sound the word out slowly in your mind. Then repeat the word, again in your mind phonetically as you send each letter on the key / code practice oscillator. As you progress, you can eliminate the pre-sent sounding of the entire word. At this point, just progress from word to word sounding them out phonically in the mind while sending each corresponding letter.
Please contact me and let me know if you have attempted to learn the Phonic Copy Method. I’m curious what others results are like. I’m available for advice and encouragement also.
73, Paul N6EV
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:
I celebrated the holiday season with a Christmas card exchange. Each card came with a Morse Code Ninja sticker, personalized message, and a Ninja winter photo.
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