Monthly Archives: June 2013

Breaking the 30 wpm CW barrier

I’ve recently begun listening to the pre-recorded W1AW code practice to improve my receiving speed. For years I’ve been kind of stuck at around 20 wpm for most QSO work and up to about 25 wpm for contest work where the exchange is quite brief and writing what’s being received is not necessary.

I decided to move beyond 20 wpm and try to crash the 30 wpm barrier. Once above about 25 wpm it’s difficult to hand write what’s been received. Of course it’s always possible to copy using a keyboard, but I wanted to accomplish two things: First, improve my code receiving speed to 30 wpm and above and, along with that, learn to copy without writing or keyboarding.

I’ve made good progress. I can copy about 70% 25 wpm and probably 30-40% at 30 wpm. The toughest part is letting go of paper and pencil (or the keyboard). Forcing myself to listen carefully and fully concentrate on the code takes some discipline but it can be done.

My strategy is to do 3-4 sessions each week. Session one is copying at 30 wpm for 8 minutes, immediately followed by 8 minutes at 25 wpm. By copying 30 wpm first, 25 wpm seems relatively slow…and 20 wpm seems really slow. It’s just a way to trick your mind really.

The other advantage to learning to copy code all in your head is that, on the trail, it’s much easier to adapt as condx may not favor holding a writing instrument and pad of paper. Keeping it all in your head lightens the load and simplifies the operating position to the rig, key and phones.

The photo in this post shows the keys I use. The Bencher BY1 is my favorite, although the KX3 key is surprisingly good for such a compact key.

Thoughts on 2013 ARRL Field Day

Several things occurred to me thinking back on my experiences at two Field Day locations this year. First, while operating CW in a county emergency police communication trailer that was sometimes full of visitors and other operators, I realized how this might have simulated an emergency situation.

There was a lot of noise from many voices of visitors and operators on SSB. Coming prepared with a good set of noise-canceling headphones allowed me to fully concentrate on my efforts contacting a series of very weak stations on 80m.

From the visitors perspective I wished I had been somewhat less intent on making contacts and more engaging with those visiting our Field Day site. I missed opportunities to talk about what I was doing and how it might relate to a real emergency situation and what makes this so interesting and vital to me.

I also realized the importance of proper diet for a long stint at the operating position. This year I worked two 8-hour shifts on CW. In both cases I came prepared with food that kept me nourished but never left me feeling sluggish. Again, in a true emergency situation it’s important to stay fresh and alert especially as the hours roll by and there may not be someone to relieve you at your station. I realize my long shifts were probably somewhat extreme but could happen in an emergency, so I took it as a good test of my ability to handle a long stretch of operating. In one case I worked 2000 to 0400 hours, having just come off an operating stint of 1000 to 1600 with a brief nap in between.

I also learned subsequently that I had my paddle improperly adjusted which caused significant hand fatigue over the course of my two 8-hour stints. I noticed the quality of my fist kept deteriorating as the hours rolled by. I was really struggling to send well, even in short bursts. I was unable to unlock the secret of how to enable the memory function of the rig I was at in one location, so all my sending was done manually.

Several evenings later, while taking copying ARRL code practice the text being sent was a QST excerpt from 2009 about correct key adjustment to minimize hand and arm stress. After practice ended I downloaded the PDF and read the full article which was actually about adjusting a straight key. It turns that the advice offered fits pretty well for paddles as well. So I loosened up my settings and discovered I could send lengthy passages with much greater ease and less muscle strain.

Finally, this field day taught me about the importance of adapting to equipment whose operation was unfamiliar to me. In an emergency it’s likely that operators may not have their own gear, so being able to quickly figure out and adapt to an unfamiliar rig and its interface is important.

2013 ARRL Field Day

Really looking forward to the weekend’s ARRL Field Day activities. As in years past I’ll be working two field days locally. I’ll start Saturday morning at the QTH of Ron – N7CE – in Viola, Idaho with the K7SEL crew, helping set up and getting some CW and digital operating time in. I’m hoping to do some gray line work in the evening as well. The station location and set up at N7CE is great: high on a hillside, good antennas and good gear.

In the evening, I’ll head down into Moscow, Idaho to the Latah County Fair Grounds and join the late night Field Day activities with KD7PH, the Palouse Hills Amateur Radio Association. They’re planning a 2A set up and a GOTA (Get On The Air) station for visitors to try their hand at ham radio. We’ll have hams from the WSU club joining us. Should also have some decent antennas and gear.

Weather is supposed to be sunny on Saturday, maybe less so on Sunday.

There was a really nice write-up on the PHARC Field Day in the Moscow-Pullman Daily News on June 20. They interviewed several PHARC club members (Chris – KF7HXJ, Geoff – KC7QCS, and Tom – KI6DER). They talked about how they got their start in Ham Radio and what they enjoy about it. Nice article and great press for the club and Ham Radio in general.

There was a photographer at our pre-Field Day meeting Wednesday evening who took several photos of the group, but none appear to have made it in the paper.

Magnetic loop antenna update

Did more in-depth reading on magnetic loop antennas and have decided not to move forward on building one. What changed my mind were reports that pointed out high RF radiation associated with MLAs and the potential for accidental exposure unless the operator remains at a sufficiently distance from the antenna (3-6 feet at a minimum), even when operating at QRP power levels.

That, and the associated very high voltages associated with these antennas, could make a MLA a bit more dangerous than I prefer, especially for operation inside my home where proximity to the antenna, for tuning purposes, could cause me to position myself too close to the antenna.

Gray Line Propagation to Europe on 20m

June 9-10 have seen good 20m propagation to Europe around 0430Z.

June 9: worked F2GL and FG8NY and DF2PY. June 10: worked LY2BAW, and EW8O.

This evening heard, but did not work, LZ1534GWS, SM5COP, 9A2HF and OH4RF. Signal strength around 5 for those stations.

All these on the new home brew indoor 40 ft loop antenna mounted on the ceiling at about 25 feet above street level.

Phase 1: St. Louis Micro Loop antenna

I decided against using a bicycle wheel rim as the antenna and opted instead for a copper loop design. The local hardware store sells soft copper tubing ($25) like that used for residential water and natural gas hook-ups.

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The bicycle wheel rim came in very handy as a form to create s near- perfect circle for the loop.

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Shaping the half-inch soft copper tubing was very easy.

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I’m trying to locate a 10:1 reduction drive for very fine tuning, but so far have not found a source.

Once the two-gang air variable capacitor with planetary 6:1 drive ($27) is delivered I can attached it to the loop, then mount the unit to a sturdy platform for fixed and mobile operation.

Inspired by the St. Louis Micro Loop II

The June 2013 issue CQ Magazine features a great article entitled, “Parking lot and dining room antenna ideas.” In the article, Dave – NF0R – talks about his St. Louis Micro Loop II antenna built from an aluminum bicycle wheel and an air variable capacitor. This magnetic loop is highly portable, light and requires no assembly for trail operation, especially if you’re already on a bike! I plan to set mine up for quick mount/unmount on my rear bicycle rack.

That said, I plan to use my Micro Loop for fixed and mobile operating. I ordered an air variable capacitor from Crystal Radio Supply in Texas and plan to use the aluminum front wheel of my Dad’s old 10-speed touring bike for the loop portion of the antenna.

I’ll post updates later after construction and testing are completed.