Giving Blogger a try 
Friday, March 30, 2007, 12:07 AM - Announcements
I've grown tired of the blog I've been running. A couple of things have worn me down:
  • having the whole burden of administration
  • Being isolated running a blog out the wild Internet
  • The look and feel of the interface

As such, I've set up a blog on Blogger: Geek Quanta. We'll see how it goes.
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good news on Morse Code 
Thursday, October 19, 2006, 11:18 PM - HamRadio
For over two weeks now, I haven't done any Morse Code practice at all. Last night I sat down and worked on the Morse Code Teaching Machine and it was as if I hadn't skipped a day.

I find it very promising that I'm learning Morse Code as a reflex, rather than a cognative skill. Now if only I could get my speed up.
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I bought an HF radio! 
Monday, August 21, 2006, 02:12 AM - HamRadio
So yesterday, I bought my first radio to operate on High Frequencies (HF).

The short story is, yesterday I went out and bought a Tempo 2020 for $250 from the a local ham. The radio gets good reviews.

I also bougth a Heathkit HM-2140 SWR meter for $25.

Oh, and I bought a Morse Code key for $20.

Not the actual unit

The longer story is why I bought it.

What I was looking for is simply to get on HF, particularly with Morse Code (CW) but also with voice, and learn what's going on down there in the lower frequencies. Of course, I'm also eager to start participating - once I get my General amateur license (band usage is allocated by the FCC according to the different classes of licenses). The rig appealed to me because it was relatively inexpensive and convenient to check out and purchase. I probably could have gotten better vintage radios for same price or thereabouts, and maybe a low-end brand new rig for a bit more than twice the price.

However, I still need to spend yet more money and effort to set up a ground, build/buy an HF antenna, and get my shack established.

Not my actual shack - I WISH!! ;)

Right now, my only other radio is my hand-held Yaesu VX-7R.

So, I'm starting from scratch - having a local ham offer it up to me for that price where I could come out and see before I buy seemed like a good thing to me.

The other ham invited me over to look at the rig and see if I wanted to buy it. When I arrived at his house, he took me to his shack and wired up the rig. We scanned the 20m and 40m bands for a while, and found some CW transmissions going on. We also found a few conversations on Lower SSB (one was in Italian! :)) In all cases the sound quality was good to my ears. He keyed up the transmitter briefly and opened up the case. It looked clean and well cared for inside. He telephoned the ham that did the restoration work on it and we chatted for a bit.

I liked the look of the rig, and how solid it felt (built like a tank, as many have written on!) and the way the digital/analog display lit up. The thing that also appealed to me about the radio was that I couldn't just turn it on and run it like an appliance. I'd have to do some research to learn how to tune it up properly, so I don't bust the tubes. What also amazed me was how much detail was in the manual - wiring diagrams and so forth, though perhaps this is not uncommon for radios of that day. Again, I saw that as an excellent learning opportunity.

I realize the limitations of the rig. It doesn't have the WARC bands, nor does it have any of the other wiz-bang features listed by several hams here. Of course, these features are ones I don't know anything about (yet) anyway. (General Coverage RX, Solid-state PA, notch filter, and IF shift - ???). As such, I doubt I'll miss them for a while. Again, my main goal is to get onto HF for CW and ragchew.

I certainly have a lot of reading and studying ahead of me in order to learn to use the radio properly. I did get the original manualsPDF!, so that helps. My main concern now is to take good care of the radio. I'd love to see it through another 20 years of operation.

I see this radio being able to get me on HF without breaking my bank - remembering that the total cost will be an entire set up (a ground, antenna, etc). As I get more experienced and learn more about various features, bells, and whistles, more time will have passed and I'll be ready to spend more on more radios.

After all, this will certainly not be my last radio.

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Even More Morse Code Progress - full character set! 
Friday, August 18, 2006, 01:22 AM - HamRadio
This is what my Morse Code Teaching Machine looked like after about an hour of practice on Sunday:

After that practice, I started to turn on every character before even starting. For the last several days, I've been practicing daily for at least ten minutes, more if I can. As always, I crank the speed dial as far as I can.

After a half hour session tonight, here's what my screen looked like, starting from a full character set:

I'm getting very eager to start doing real messages at full speed. I've been listening to MP3s from W1AW and experimenting with yet more Morse Code teaching software. A few of the packages out there were appealing to me, but I'm not yet quite certain which ones are going to help me into the next stages.
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Darth Smartass 
Friday, August 4, 2006, 01:43 AM - Miscellaneous
Major Motion Picture production: $25 million dollars
DVD of said Major Motion Picture: $20
DVD player and capture card: $300

Some clever geek with more talent for comedic timing than George Lucas could even wish he had...

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Weekly Morse Code Checkpoint 
Sunday, July 30, 2006, 01:48 AM - HamRadio
Here's my latest update to my progress with Morse Code. Everything else has been so busy, that I've not done anything since my last post.

This was after a little over an hour.

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More Morse Code Progress 
Sunday, July 23, 2006, 03:47 PM - HamRadio
The more time I spend with the software the easier it all gets (whatta shocker! ;-)

Here's where I am today after about an hour of practice:

I'm hopefull I can learn all characters by next weekend. We'll see how much time I can spend towards that goal. :)
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Morse Code progress report 
Friday, July 21, 2006, 10:51 PM - HamRadio
It's been less than two weeks since I found that new software to teach myself Morse with (see last post). In that time, I've made significant progress with relatively little effort. I haven't practiced more than a few days each week, anywhere from a half hour to over an hour per sitting. If I had to guess, I'd say I'd worked on it maybe about half a dozen times since I made my last post.

The neat thing about the software is it can graphically show you how well you're doing. Here's what mine looks like right now, after a half-hour session. It should be noted I haven't touched this since the weekend.

The lower the bar, the better I am at recognizing the letter. It's also worth noting that the bars reduce at what's nearly a logrithmic rate. They drop by huge amounts at first, but then slow their descent the more you get them right.

I've also found it beneficial tonight to crank up the speed a little. I find that if I have less time to think, it becomes more reflexive, which of course is the whole point. I'm hopeful at this rate that I can learn the whole alphabet & 10 numbers within another week, tops.

We'll see how it goes. :-)
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Amazing Morse Code Progress - I found new software 
Sunday, July 9, 2006, 12:58 AM - HamRadio
The last several days, I've been making prodigious improvements in my Morse Code studies. It's not due to the G4FON software that implements the Koch method, however. It's due to software published by Ward Cunningham (K9OX), which he entitled simply "Morse Code Teaching Machine". I have to say the results are simply astounding! I've been using the software for only three days, and already I've learned over half of the 36 characters.

The methodology takes full advantage of modern computers by giving you instant feedback. This enables the student a much faster learning cycle than the Koch method, which I found slow and tedious. When using G4FON's software the way it was intended, I dreaded doing any Morse Code study. With this software, it's more of a game. Something along the lines of those mindless arcade games you can find on Yahoo! Games that just pass the time. I've spent up to an hour in front of the software in any given sitting.

It works very simply. It starts with four letters, and sends a character in Morse Code. It waits for a while for you to key-in which character you just heard before proceeding. If you don't key in the letter (presumably because you don't know it), it then repeats the sound, also displaying the character. It continues to repeat until you get it right, then gives you another. After you've shown significant improvement in the first four, it adds a new character. After all five characters are sufficiently learned, it adds another.

It's not quite fully random like the G4FON software, rather it's got an algorithm that studies how much you get it right and how quickly, and gives you the letters you're most having trouble with. Every now and again, it will throw in an old letter you've done well on in the past.

This excellent methodology was first made into software by K9OX, who tells the origins of the software on an old page on his site:

I learned the code from a ham radio operator. He ran a class in the basement of the town library. Five of us would sit at a table copying random letters as best we could. It wasn't random though. He would watch us copy. He knew which letters needed practice and that's the letters we got. He'd test us with old letters when we were doing pretty well. Then he'd introduce some new ones, a few new letters each session, until we could copy the whole code.

That quote is just a snippet of what is a very interesting read. I'm going to let the rest of the site speak for itself. If you, the reader, are at all interested in Morse Code, or would like to see why I or other ham operators might be, please visit the links provided and check it out. If you're an amateur operator and are interested in Morse Code, but are having difficulty learning the code, I strongly encourage you to try his software.

A Fully Automatic Morse Code Teaching Machine
The original Morse Code Teaching Machine page
Download for Windows
Download for Linux
Download for Macs
Download for DOS

The other great thing about the software is it's simply a drop-in executable. There's no installer software, and at 251KB it has a VERY small footprint!

My intention after I've managed to learn all of the letters through this software is to go back to G4FON and use it as a full character-set full speed code simulator. I've no idea what code speed I'll be able to copy at after I've finished my initial learning through this new software, but I'm very intent at being able to copy and send at 20 words-per-minute, minimum. G4FON will help me build my copy speed for realistic transmissions, I think, although the character sets will be random rather than real messages.

The other good reason to use G4FON is it has lots of neat features like artifical static, signal quality degredation, pitch changes, chirping, uneven code transmission, and so forth. In short, everything I that might make the simulation of code transmission as near to real-life quality issues as one might be able to hope for. Ultimately, I'll want to get some HF gear and listen in on the bands where they're transmitting Morse Code. Until then, this should keep me busy. :)

I'll continue to post on my progress.

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My first EchoLink contact 
Tuesday, July 4, 2006, 01:12 AM - HamRadio
I just finished with my first contact via EchoLink. Even though I've been registered for weeks now, I was hesitant to try and make contact. The reason being, I couldn't get my audio quality up. There's a test server on EchoLink that plays back your sound so you know what quality audio you're going to be transmitting with. Mine was pretty poor, and I thought it was due to the cheap headset I was using.

When I made my contact tonight, it was with a gentleman in Memphis, Tennessee. One of the first things he asked me about was my audio quality, and I explained my situation to him. He then showed me how you can use Windows to boost your microphone's gain. After I did that, he told me my audio quality was excellent!

To enable the microphone gain boost in Windows, open the Volume Control panel. If there is an "Advanced" button beneath the Volume control, click on it. If not, select from the menu Options->Advanced Controls. This will make the button appear.

When you click on the button, it will open up another dialog box which has a check-box for "Microphone Boost". Just click, and it's done.

As always with amateur radio operators, this gentleman was helpful and friendly. The rest of our contact was great, I'll be checking in on his repeater via EchoLink again. :)

This is certainly a hobby I can easily do for the rest of my life, there's a lot to explore and learn, and it opens up avenues to meeting people I'd have never met otherwise. It's also great now that I can use EchoLink, as it enables me to transmit to the rest of the world, via the radio repeaters that are linked to it.

I still want to get more radio equipment, though, this "Internet" thingie aside... ;-)
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