#50 - Learning Morse Code
This past week I started learning CW, more commonly referred to as Morse Code. This is a system that uses dots and dashes of sound to represent letters, numbers, and even words.
CW can be extremely useful in many situations. It cuts through noise and static easier than spoken word does, and it does not take as much power to transmit a signal using CW as it would using voice. With CW a person can literally talk around the world using just a few watts of power, whereas using voice for the same transmission may take 100 watts or more.
By using CW you can use a low-power battery-operated radio setup (also known as a QRP rig) in a backpack and a portable antenna to transmit from the top of a mountain to locations hundreds or even thousands of miles away.
But before you can do that, you first have to learn CW and that takes lot and lots of practice. Luckily I was able to join in on a beginner class (Level 1) of the CW Academy by the CWops club.
These classes are difficult to get into as people are normally waiting up to a year or more for classes. They are currently taking registrations for the Jan-Feb 2019 class session. They had a last minute cancellation for the Apr-May 2018 class and I was able to squeeze into the first class with only an hours notice.
We practice each day on our own for at least an hour a day then we meet twice each week online in a group video chat to go over any questions we have and for feedback. The class teaches using the Farnsworth method where instead of learning dots and dashes from looking at an alphabet list, you learn by hearing the sounds of each letter. Supposedly it is the best way to learn CW and allows you to copy and transmit code much faster than the traditional way of learning.
To practice CW you will need a way of creating the tones. There are a few different options for this depending on if you will be using the keyer built into your radio to create the tones or you want to have a stand alone system. I decided to go with a combination keyer/paddle system so that I have the option of practicing CW when I am away from my radio. I decided on the MFJ-422D shown below.
With the MFJ-422D I can either use a 9-volt battery or an optional 12-volt power supply to power the unit with. I can control the speed, volume, frequency and weight of the tones produced.
The keyer sits on top of the iambic paddle and allows the tones to be created without going through the keyer in the radio. It also has a built in speaker for you to listen to the tones it produces. It is weighted nicely and also has three rubber feet to prevent it from sliding on your desk while it is being used.
With this unit I can plug it into my radio and use it to either practice or transmit CW with, and when I am not near my radio I can still use it to practice with.
I just received my keyer/paddle combo today via UPS so I spent about 4 hours practicing this afternoon. Since I got added to the class at the last minute I am behind everyone else who got their study materials a couple weeks before the class started, so I am playing catch-up. Plus I had to miss last nights class because I was down with a migraine, so that has thrown me even farther behind.
I am planning on spending between 4 to 6 hours a day practicing throughout the class, so I should be able to catch up to everyone else quickly.
Right now I am catching on quickly, the only problem that I am having is transferring what I am learning from short-term memory over to long-term memory, but only time will tell.
I will give an update further along in the class and we shall see what my progress is.
Until next time, 73
In upcoming episodes we will take a look at Antennas, Handheld UHF/VHF Radios, Mobile UHF/VHF Radios and Emergency Communication (Emcomms)