Coded Language

After a month of banging my head, fist, and eardrums at it, I think I finally know Morse Code. I mean, it’s pretty shaky, but now I have some aural and mental understanding of the shapes and rhythms of each of the 26 letters, 10 numbers, and some punctuation.

A month after I said I was going to learn…I learned. I’m not going to say it was easy, but modern technology and some tried and tested learning techniques made it possible for this old dog to have a foundational knowledge. Seriously, use an app, any app, that teaches you code using the Farnsworth method (fast characters, long spaces) with characters in the Koch order (letters organized so you learn the subtle differences early), and have a practice code key handy.

Like I said, I’m very shaky, and could easily forget half of it in a day. But from what I understand of modern learning methods, if I could just hammer away at it with long enough sessions, and get some good sleep somewhere in the middle, then I can learn and retain it. And practice, practice, practice.

My next step is to start copying code from live conversations. Luckily, there are endless options. I have an app so I can do it anywhere, and there’s always the CW portion of all the ham bands that I could tune through to find conversations to copy. Listen, find the letters, write the letters, read the text later. That’s an operator’s job. When I can copy with good accuracy, I can start banging it out on my own and call CQ for conversations. Baby steps.

This is a milestone. Now that I kinda know the alphabet, I can work on reading words, sentences, and prosigns. The world of DX is waiting on me.

Soon, very soon.

dah-dit-dah-dit dah-dah-dit-dah

First QSO, First DX

So today was a crap day, but what happened when I left work and raised my antenna was a soothing balm that made everything alright. The good news is that today I made my very first HF contact (called a QSO) on the 20-meter band with my good radio. That’s a first. Also, on the very same contact, I made my first international contact (called a DX). On the same call!

Here’s a shout out to Gil VE2MAM from Quebec, Canada, who was calling CQ/DX to collect American counties. His signal was coming in strong and clear with a little bit of fading, so I decided to give it a try. I turned up my amp power, keyed up my mic, and responded with my callsign. He eventually heard me in the noise and we had an exchange of signal reports and a few other things like my location and county. I gave him a “59” signal report, meaning he was readable and had a strong signal. He gave me a “555”, meaning I was readable, my signal was fairly good, but there was some modulation on my signal (these can be dealt with).

I’m just happy that I’m finally learning how to make it happen. As it turns out, the modular vertical antenna I’ve been using (which is ultra-portable) isn’t so good for making anything other than regional contacts. It’s easy to set up and tune, but it’s just not that efficient at putting out a radio signal. What i did tonight was string my 20-meter dipole between two trees in Mueller park. It took me a little bit of trial and error to throw the ropes high enough and get enough distance between trees so the antenna wasn’t in the branches, but I figured it out.

Gil, I certainly hope your log of our QSO doesn’t need me to submit a log from my end for you to get credit, but it was nice talking with you. 73, good sir. Merci!

First QSO, 14.289MHz 20170609 0:00 UTC
20-meter dipole strung between two trees