Morse Runner

Morse Runner is one of a handful of tools (Morse Runner, RufzXP, CW Player, G4FON) that CW Academy uses in its curriculum, primarily with the Intermediate and Advanced classes (though I did try with my Basic), to help them acclimate to rapid head-copying calls they might hear during the event. Since they will be eventually trying to get onto CWops’ CWT, I created a database of the current CWops roster through March 2021 – simply replace the MASTER.DTA file that comes with Morse Runner.(Note that below, I am using the version BH1SCW created.)

Its primary purpose is to help students learn how to rapidly copy random call signs and numbers that one might encounter in one of the many ham radio events. What makes it especially interesting is you can load a database of call signs and add a variety of real-world noise effects.

In the video below, I walk through running four calls in “Single Call” mode with no sound effects. In the video, I was fortunate to run into different kinds of responses the program might kick back.

Later, we’ll try “WPX” mode with the full sound effects:

  • QRN – Naturally-occurring noise, like lightning
  • QRM – Man-made interference, such as from another transmitter or your neighbor’s grow lights (I wish I were kidding)
  • QSB – InstaBility in signal from changes in the ionosphere
  • Flutter – QSB plus a Doppler shift in frequency, this occurs most often with auroras.
  • LID’s – the operator makes a mistake in sending a code. This is usually followed by them sending a bunch of dots then resending.  For some reason, hearing the computer simulating this is hilarious.

Ray Burlingame-Goff, G4FON, has a free training tool that also provides these sound effects, and, for a modest fee, an excellent trainer for specific contests.

N1MM+ and CWT

There is also a walkthrough of N1MM+ here that I did for my intermediate class earlier this week.

Some definitions

  • CW – stands for continuous wave, a simple method of communication where a signal is either on or off. It uses Morse Code, consisting of dots, dashes, and spaces. A dot is a tone emitted for one time-unit, a dash is a tone emitted for three-time-units. Spaces between dots and dashes, letters, and words are one, three and seven time-units, respectively.
  • WPM – words per minute is a gauge of how fast one is communicating. For Morse code, we typically use the word “Paris” (.–. .- .-. .. …) as the standard “unit.” As a comparison, I can write about 15 words per minute, type about 70 wpm.
  • CWT – is CWOps‘ CW contest held 3x a week, on Wednesdays at 1300Z, 1900Z, +0300Z. It’s a one-hour contest where the average communication speed is well-above 25 wpm.
  • N1MM+ – this is a popular amateur radio contest logging program.
  • KX3 – Elecraft’s all-mode transceiver.

Thus, this blog entry covers how to use the N1MM+ software while participating in the weekly CWT contest. N1MM+ can be used for a variety of other events, not exclusively CWT or even Morse Code.

CWT-specific Setup

The model N1MM uses is you have one (or more) databases for all of your activity, and for each event, you create a specific log in that database. For the longest time, I kept interpreting “log” to mean “my complete history of contacts,” which I did not want to redo.

Okay, when we want to start an event like CWT, we’ll create a new log:

Create a new log in your existing contact database

When you create logs, you have the option of selecting a template with the rules for a specific contest. There are at least a hundred different contests baked into the software. CWT, by CWOPS, is one of those built-in ones. The template has logic in it to estimate the time. When I first drafted this, the next was Wednesday, May 27, 2020 at 1300z (6:00 a.m. PDT). Yeah, this has been in the drafts mode that long.

So… many… options…

For this contest, I’ll fill in my power (sadly, low) and exchange, which for this event, is my name and my member number. Now as a further step, I can pre-load the member roster by clicking on Associated Files tab.

Associated Files

In the blue box is the most recent file loaded – currently through member 2597. If this was blank, or I knew there were updates, I can do so simply by clicking the “Change” box and it’ll check for one:

Well lookie there!

Since then, they’ve added five new members. Updating was remarkably painless. Once loaded, we see the change appear:

Easy as pie.

When I’m working CWT, if I hear my friend Joe, KH6FHI, call. I can enter his name in the box, hit the space bar, and it will pre-fill the remaining information (his name and member number) that I will confirm was exchanged and hit return to log it.

As I work the contest, the band map will fill in with call signs of those I’ve contacted and placeholders for me to come back to.

Band map gets filled in

In the logging window are several function keys that I’ve assigned to sending macros, which is doable, though kind of hokey in the KX3 as it uses the KX3 sending macro each time. More on that at the bottom.

The current macros for this event vary based on whether I’m running or pouncing. For example, if I’m running, the F1 key can be used to reduce the repetition of sending “CQ CWT WT8P WT8P” a few dozen times. Similarly, if KJ7IZT responds, I fill in his call sign in the box and hit F2 to send the exchange: <his call sign> <my first name> <my CWOPS number>. I still have the manual keyer nearby if I need to do something different, but the macros help with speed and reduce fatigue from so much repetition.

Programming the function keys to send CW snippets

KX3-specific Configuration

The first setup was so the software can communicate with the radio. In this example, I’m focusing primarily on CW operation, first the configuration, then automating sending of certain key codes.

The first setting is identifying which serial port Windows has allotted to the radio. Nothing in Windows is as straightforward as it could be. Running the the “Device Manager,” expanding ports, I saw “USB Serial Port” mentioned. At this moment in time, mine is on COM4.

Plug: I found it very helpful to review N6TV‘s presentation on USB and Serial Interfaces. It doesn’t change a lot year-to-year, so we can use the most recent deck from 2019 “Contest University.” Namely, starting around slide 14 – 32, he mentions installing the FTDI-specific driver (which is what the KX3 USB cable uses) and disabling a lot of legacy settings that Windows has set up. (Some absurd.)

Other notable settings are designating this as the CW/Other port, setting DTR to be “CW” and RTS to be “PTT” (push to talk). At this point, the radio is talking with the software.

When I first read through the N1MM documentation, I kept seeing reference to buying a WinKeyer, an external device that would actually send Morse code for repetitive things like: CQ CWT WT8P WT8P It turns out that you can fake it by sending KX3 macro commands to activate keying. Thanks to K4MTX for the blog entries on these. If you right click on the button labeled “F1 CQ” (for example), it will expand into a menu like the one above.

The syntax is thus:
{} — the delimiter for the string. These have to be short.
CATA1ASC KY Initiate a macro call to send text to the radio
! – the other operator’s call sign
{EXCH}
* – my call sign

# Run mode
F1 CQ,{CATA1ASC KY CQ CWT * * ;}
F2 Exch,{CATA1ASC KY ! {EXCH};}
F3 Tu,{CATA1ASC KY TU * ;}
F4 WT8P,{CATA1ASC KY * ;}
F5 Them,{CATA1ASC KY !? ;}
F6 2456, {CATA1ASC KY 2456;}
F7 TU NAME,{CATA1ASC KY TU {NAMEANDSPACE} 73 ;}
F8 Agn?,{CATA1ASC KY agn? ;}
F9 Nr?,{CATA1ASC KY nr? ;}
F10 Call?,{CATA1ASC KY cl? ;}
F11 Break,{CATA1ASC rx;}
F12 Wipe,{WIPE}#
# Search and Pounce messages
F1 CQ,{CATA1ASC KY CQ TEST * * ;}
F2 Exch,{CATA1ASC KY TU {EXCH};}
F3 Tu,{CATA1ASC KY tu * ;}
F4 WT8P,{CATA1ASC KY * ;}
F5 Them,{CATA1ASC KY ! ;}
F6 EXCH, {CATA1ASC KY {EXCH};}
F7 TU NAME,{CATA1ASC KY TU {NAMEANDSPACE} 73 ;}
F8 Agn?,{CATA1ASC KY agn? ;}
F9 WA,{CATA1ASC KY WA ;}
F10 W T 8 P,{CATA1ASC KY W T 8 P ;}
F11 Break,{CATA1ASC rx;}
F12 Wipe,{WIPE}

CWA Basic: Sessions 14 – 16

Sending in-class:

  • Compose two “Dad Jokes” to send.  For example: “Two guys stole a calendar.  They got six months each.”   (Or: “What do you do with an elephant with three balls?  Walk him and pitch to the rhino.”)   
  • We’ll practice more sending of longer passages.  Revisit the Wikipedia front page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page and pick a couple of items from Did you know… or On this Day — there is an extensive “Archive” link that will add variety — and summarize them for sending via CW.  We’ll probably only have time for one, but in case we can do another, let’s do. 
  • We’ll do an exercise where you’ll call a classmate on Zoom, ask a simple question, they’ll reply, then onto the next classmate.  Suggested subject areas: weather, HF rig, antenna, dinner, car, next vacation destination.  The added variety is listening for your call sign and sending a classmate’s.  If you are unable to copy, send a ? for resend.  An exchange might look like this:

W7PEZ de WT8P what is your rig?
My rig is icom ic7300

WS6Y de W7PEZ how big is hexbeam?
The hexbeam is 5280 feet.

KJ7IZT de WS6Y …

For the last two sessions, take some opportunity to get on the air with each other or visit sked.groups.io to see if anyone’s on.  (SST runs Sunday and Friday now.)  I don’t see any interesting and straightforward CW contests for the next two weeks. Other options include SOTA activations or the ARRL Inter DX contest (exchange you send is simply RST and state).  In a pinch, you can use Zoom.

The class material for session 15 has you listening to three short stories and three QSOs. The first time you listen to it (at 20wpm) just hear the rhythm, then try again with a slower version and begin head-copying with your eyes closed.  Beware that the short stories are pretty long. It is fine if you just do one and pinkie-promise to do the others in the unverifiable future.

The QSOs are slightly mean, IMO. There is one person from Dallas who is named Dallas, and in another QSO, the person is from Trevor (WI). From a practical point of view, I never send my QTH as Sammamish (or, God forbid, Issaquah) when I can use Seattle and people know where that is.

Let me know if you are interested in doing the Intermediate class or want to discuss.   Happy to give you the straight dope on it.   Also see the blurb I wrote below.    The Long Island CW Club also has some interesting offerings, including CW Meditation ( — — — — — — — )

The main goal of the intermediate class is to build up head-copying and sending fluency so you’ll feel more comfortable getting on the air to contest or ragchew.    The guide is here

Sessions work out to:

  • Sessions  1 –  3: send and receive 10-13 wpm, Morse Runner, RufzXP
  • Sessions  4 –  6: 13-15 wpm, Morse Runner, RufzXP
  • Sessions  7 – 10: 15-18 wpm, Morse Runner and RufzXP
  • Sessions 11 – 13: 18-20 wpm, Morse Runner and RufzXP
  • Sessions 14 – 15: 20-25 wpm, Morse Runner and RufzXP, CWT
  • Session 16: a taste of receiving 25-30 wpm, though if you’ve done CWT, you have done that already

The bulk of the class syllabus accomplishes this through head-copying short stories, QSOs and snippets from “CWT“, the Wednesday contesting event at 1300z, 1900z and 0300z.  If you have a panadapter, watch 40m (~7.030, evening) or 20m (~14.030, noon) light up for the hour that’s going on.

The short stories will never reveal mysteries of the universe (ahem), but their simple sentences help ease copying.  For example:

A Storm. 
Laura looked out the window.  A storm was coming.  The sky was getting darker.  The wind was starting to blow….

The QSOs are all of the rag-chewing variety, e.g., very free-form, sometimes with errors in them – just like real-life.   Some of them are several minutes long.   Try your best. I had a hard time sitting through the longest ones.

CWT snippets typically have one person running (calling CQ) and three or four stations responding.  The exchange is name and CWOps number, and happens very quickly.   

All of the canned .mp3 files are available at a variety of speeds starting at 10 wpm (Farnsworth) up to 30 wpm.  I found it helpful to make a pass at a speed above what the session asked, trying to glean what I could, but letting it flow past if (when) I didn’t, then repeat at the lesson speed.   

To assist with copying random call signs, there are runs of Morse Runner (usually 10- or 15-minute runs, receiving call signs and serial numbers with the option to add real-word sound conditions) and RufzXP (50 random call-signs copying and general butt-whupping).   

The Long Island CW Club seems to make more use of G4FON’s Trainer , which kind of does a bit of each.  (G4FON has, for a small fee, a contest simulator that will let you practice CWT, WPX and several other big CW contests.  I want to spend some time with and write up an tutorial before I can recommend it further, but it looks very promising.)

A lot of the bonus homework later in class will have you making contacts and rag chews with other students or each other.   Some of the advisors recently set up sked.groups.io, though to be honest, I think they need something more like Slack or Telegram for that as the messages are time-sensitive and of little value once someone’s done for the day.  There are also some other advisors running regular events.  For example, Joe (KH6FHI) holds intermediate and advanced class ragchews on Thursday nights.  

In-class sending exercises are similar, though we can now introduce some more complicated concepts like explaining a circuit (trying to be concise and clear), paraprosdokians (think Steven Wright-style), or organizing a DXpedition, where each classmate has some component they’re responsible for (e.g., beer cooler, writing grant request to Elecraft, travel arrangements to North Korea/Bouvet Island/the 1960s when Ham Radio Hooligans ruled, etc.). 

Finally, like the basic course, the speeds for the intermediate course are “optimistically aggressive” in ramping up and where they try to end up.  Realistically, when you can do 20 wpm, you’ll be able to work 95% of contests and have several successful rag chews (if that is your interest).  20 wpm is also the entry point to the advanced course.

Below is a summary of the course schedule. SS&Q are the Short Story and QSO audio files, respectively.

Rufz is used every week. I list the starting speed in the column – it will ramp up and eventually defeat you. It’s unpleasant but when you look back on this, you will be a lot better at copying call signs.

Morse Runner is used most weeks. Through Session 11, we don’t have any of the sound effects on. WPX 1 and 2 have all of them:

  • QRN – Naturally-occurring noise, like lightning
  • QRM – Man-made interference, such as from another transmitter or your neighbor’s grow lights (I wish I were kidding)
  • QSB – InstaBility in signal from changes in the ionosphere
  • Flutter – QSB plus a Doppler shift in frequency, this occurs most often with auroras.
  • LID’s – the operator makes a mistake in sending a code. This is usually followed by them sending a bunch of dots then resending.  For some reason, hearing the computer simulating this is hilarious.

As a convenience, I’ve noted several State QSO parties or contest that would be a good opportunity to get on the air. Of these, the 7th Area QSO party is probably the most accessible since that covers WA/OR/ID/MT/WY/UT/NV.

73,
Jim WT8P

CWA Basic: Sessions 11-13

We’re at the two-thirds/homestretch-ish point in the class.  The speed creeps up 1 wpm for each the next few sessions, eventually hitting 13.  Remember the overall goals are: having fun, making friends, and picking up a new skill for a lifetime.  Absent from these goals is “beating yourself up because you didn’t hit flawless 13wpm on the nanosecond the 13wpm session started.” 

Learning CW takes time.   The CW Academy classes have a very ambitious pace for learning a new skill.  It’s rare that everyone lands on the same point.  So, relax, relish how far you’ve come(*), and, please, proceed at your own pace.  (*If you’d like some perspective, retry the self-assessment tool – scroll down about halfway:  and see how far you’ve progressed.)

… but not as much time as it’s going to clean my “office” when the Pandmic is over

For Session 11: When I was working on SST, I noticed a lot of the operators were trying to be nice by adding pleasantries and other CW Abbreviations, that could contribute additional anxiety if you were expecting something more akin to the exchange on the web site.   We earlier explored CW Abbreviations and Q-codes – three letter abbreviations beginning with Q.  Some of them are very useful shortcuts (e.g., TU for “thank you”), others seem odd (because I’ve only been a ham for 5 years) but common enough (e.g., QSL for “I am acknowledging receipt”), and then there are others.  Pick three, preparing to send the code, a concise definition, and whether you think it’s useful in the 2020s.  (It is possible someone may choose the same one as you; don’t say anything and send your own definition.)  For example: QOG means How many tapes have you to send?   I do not think this one is useful. 

Bonus homework: This weekend are both SST and the Hamcation (Orlando) QSO party. The exchange for Hamcation is your name, state and local expected high temperature.  For example, JIM WA 30.  If you’re snowed in, see if you can work the event stations running a gigawatt of power.  (e.g., K4T Bob FL 82).  There is also a CW RTTY contest going on.  Have fun!

RTTY where we’d normally hear CW.

For Session 12:
Sending in-class: Compose three sentences about your preparation for a session on the air.  These could be anything from printing a crisp stack of ICS 213 forms, the beverage you fetched from your gun room, selecting which hex-beam you want to use, checking the reverse beacon to see who’s active on CW, etc.  Since we’re doing a round-robin exercise, each sentence should be self-contained and concise.  (We’ll probably get two of them done, the third would be a reserved if we have extra time.)  

Bonus homework:  Go to Wikipedia here and send (to yourself or, optionally, a classmate) at your smoothest rate, one bullet from each of the “On this day” and “Did you know” blocks.  For example:

If you mess up a word, send eight dots, pause a letter, then resend that word.  (In other words, assume you’re on the air, sans Zoom)  But also use your judgement.  If you intended to send a long word like “California” but instead sent “Californsa” – just continue, as there is enough context that the other person would be reasonably expected to “get it.”

For Session 13:
Sending in-class: Compose two “Dad Jokes” to send.  For example: “Two guys were caught with a stolen calendar.  They got six months each.”

Bonus homework: Make two QSOs – some options include your classmates, a student in another class (this group: https://groups.io/g/sked/topics is getting more traffic), SOTA activations or the ARRL Inter DX contest.  In a pinch, you can use Zoom.

73, Jim WT8P

CWA Basic: Sessions 8, 9 and 10

For Session 8 sending in class: What are your three most valued (to you) household appliances and/or power tools? (e.g., KitchenAid mixer, coffee grinder, and cordless drill)

This weekend are two additional possible contact events for QSOs:
1) CQ Magazine World-Wide CW sprint on 160m – The exchange is simply a signal report of 5NN and your state.  Based on my hour last night, there were a lot of potential CA and WA contacts.  (I could hear a few AZ/UT, but they could not hear me, which is a summary of my experience on 160m.)   Look from 1.81 – 1.90 MHz.

2) Winter Field Day – starts at 11 a.m. Saturday.  The exchange is  For CW: 1.81, 3.53, 7.030 – 7.05, 14.035 – 14.055, 21.030 – 21.05 and 28.03 – 28.04 MHz.   (But since it’s field day, try other modes.)
If you chase points, you can earn 6004 points for a satellite QSO from a park, using a battery powered handheld.  Otherwise, RTTY and CW QSOs are 2 points each, phone 1 point each.

For Session 9 sending next class: In celebration of the arrival of 4-letter words, speed jumping to 8 (x 2) and being past the halfway point (2/4ths): What are four of your favorite (PG-14) four-letter words?   

Nearly every weekend over the next several months has some kind of CW contesting event.  In addition to SST, there are four other CW events this weekend:

  • Minnesota QSO Party: 1400 – 2359z Feb 6; exchange is your first name and state, Minnesota station send first name and three-letter county. I list this one first because there are a lot of great operators in MN and it’s about the right distance to make contacts on the higher bands.
  • British Columbia QSO Party: 1600Z, Feb 6 to 0359Z, Feb 7 and 1600Z-2359Z, Feb 7, exchange is 5NN and your state, BC operators send 5NN and three-letter district.
  • Vermont QSO Party 0000z Feb 6 – 2359z Feb 7.  exchange is 5NN and your state.  Vermont stations send 5NN and their county.  Vermont is always a tough state for me to reach. There is a larger “13 Colonies” event the first week of July.
  • European DX contest 1800z Feb 6 – 1759z Feb 7.  Exchange is 5NN and ITU zone, Europeans send 5NN and EU region (see section 4 here).

Session 10 ups the speed to 9 and has 1-5 letter words.  

Pangrams

For Session 10 sending in class: we’ll do pangrams, a sentence that uses all letters in the alphabet.  There are some examples here and in the attached file (from various sources on the Interwebs). A near-pangram (all but one or letters) is also acceptable.  For example, there was a geocachingpuzzle whose keyword was revealed by the absence of a specific letter from each line:

How quickly daft zebras jump vexed giraffes.
Crazy Frederika bought very exquisite opaline jewels.
Sixty zippers were quickly plucked from the big woven jersey.
Jackdaws love my toy sphinx of black quartz.
The five boxing wizards judge men quickly.
Blue gods just flocked up to wanly quiz and vex him.
Pick my box with five dozen liquor jugs.

While doing Winter Field Day, I wrote a tutorial on setting up N1MM+ (Here’s another for CWOPs’ CWT.) I am in no way an expert on this program, so if you have experience with this, please share with the group.  When class is over, I can show a sample demo for a state QSO party or K1USN. 

Like most ham software, N1MM+ initially looks as impenetrable as Cubists designed web sites, but once you’re past some of the learning curve, it can help automate many rote tasks when working a contest or event.  Among the things it does well:

  • Tracking scoring of specific contests, especially multipliers.  For example, during Winter Field Day, your score increases a lot for each band & mode you work.  (N3FJP solves this by offering separate, straightforward programs for each event.)  It can apparently deal with concurrent events (e.g., 7QP, New England QP, Indiana QP on May 1st weekend), letting you focus on the radio work.
  • Generating Cabrillo files.  Cabrillo format is the de facto type of documentation required for contests and events because they’ll attempt to match up what you claim you did against what other people did. It’s different from logging.   
  • Exporting ADIF files – these are used by your logging program, and you can upload to LoTW/QRZ/eQSL.  
  • Spotting via a reverse beacon network.  
  • Macros – with some radios, you can set function keys to call CQ, for example, reducing the fatigue of operating for a long period (over 20 minutes for me). 

 A typical contest pattern might be:

  1. Set up N1MM+ for the event. 
  2. Work a bunch of stations.  I take lots of breaks, sometimes check other bands if it’s quiet.  
  3. Generate the Cabrillo log and upload/email it as an attachment, per the rules of the contest. 
  4. Export an ADIF file that I then import into n3fjp (Windows) and MacLoggerDX (Mac).  
  5. Use my logging program to upload the new contacts to LoTW/eQSL and QRZ.

CWA Basic: Session 6 and 7

As we all have felt, it’s quite normal to feel self-induced pressure at not maintaining perfection and, God forbid, be tempted to drop out and do it another time. A better way of looking at it is “if you stick around, will you be further along in your CW journey (and knowledge of Scottish inventions)?”

Obviously, the answer is yes (though I’m biased :). And, as a bonus, you get to hang out with a great group of fellow hams, have fun and improve your skills. (Consider how much you’ve progressed in a short time!) I’ve found the sweet spot is to shoot for about 80% of the homework, on average. Sometimes you’ll be rocking it, sometimes it’ll feel not, but overall, you’re making good progress and friends.

The CW Academy syllabus is aggressive. Recall from earlier discussion that the beginner class goes from 0 to 4, this goes 4 – 10, intermediate 10 – 20 (which is a big leap) and advanced pushes that to 25+. We’ll end the class at around 13, and have made a lot of progress on instant character recognition.

In-class sending:

  • Tell the class your favorite, celebratory dish and the occasion (year, month, etc.) that you celebrate.   K1USN’s SST runs Sunday at 17:00, if you’re up for listening.

Session 6 finally adds some variety with state abbreviations. Session 7 bumps up the speed to 7, but gives us some three letter words. (We’ll soon have four-letter words!)

Questions:
1) Reverse Beacon Network – there are hams who leave their radios on and connected to computers running software tools like CW Skimmer to listen for call signs and report them to a variety of centralized servers that aggregate the results and spread them around.  An example is rbn.telegraphy.de (which has a wealth of good filters), ReverseBeacon.Net or a web sites like dxsummit.fi (especially with filtering set up).

There are a variety of useful applications for this information:

  • Determining a band is active. 
  • Finding hams from specific countries, states, counties during a contest.  For example, there are a variety of State QSO parties where people (at least, pre-COVID) would run mobile stations so one could log contacts in sparse counties (looking at you, Garfield County, Washington) or get multipliers for working different ones in a state.  (Contests will often have separate categories for those using “assistance” such as this.)
  • If you’re participating in an event like the 13 Colonies,  you can use it to find the elusive bonus station rather than continuously going up and down different bands and passing an opportunity on 30m.  
  • DX monitoring.
  • Determining how well you’re getting out.  For example, in FT8, there’s a popular site called PSKreporter that will give you hints on propagation.  Or, it can be used to determine who’s hearing me.  For example, when I did a few CQs, I was heard by KU7T’s station in North Bend that just happens to also be listening to CW.  In the bubble, it shows I’m 13 miles away, coming in very strong (I would hope so), and was last heard 7 minutes prior to my grabbing this screen shot.
I’ve been spotted!

This is also invaluable for those doing SOTA activations.  
On sites like HamAlert, you can set up alerts (email, SMS) for specific stations, modes, bands, etc.  For example, I have one set up for when I show up on CW to determine how well I’m getting out.  A sample email alert looks like this:

After class sessions are over, it might be helpful if I can arrange a demonstration of N1MM+, which will be pretty useful in contesting.  (I’ve only used it a bit, but found its spotting helpful in absence of a panadapter.)

2) Scheduling QSOs – Here are some of the on-air opportunities I’m aware of:

  • Mike (N7ID) set up (this week) a Groups.io board for CW Academy students to set up QSOs with each other: https://groups.io/g/sked/topics  Most intermediate and advanced students are more than happy to work with students in the basic class.  
  • Long Island CW Club has a robust calendar with things going on every day.
  • CWOPS has several folks who have volunteered to offer on-air coaching here.
  • There is an online chat-style resource that CWOPS links to here.
  • There are other groups like Straight Key Century Club, North American QRP CW club, FISTS have regular, informal events that are intended to welcome folks on the air.  
  • If you want to jump into listening to contests, there are usually events going on each weekend, not just CW either.  This is the best resource I’ve found.  It includes the K1USN’s SST each Sunday at 5pm Pacific as well as the faster CWT on Wednesdays.
  • Not QSO-focused, but Gurbux Singh (W6BUX) hosts a “CW story time” on Monday evenings at 18:00 and said you were welcome to sit in.   The hour is broken into sessions of 8-12 wpm, 15-18, and then 20+ where Gurbux will send a sentence for people to head-copy.  Since there are different levels of students, people come in and out during the Zoom call.
  • There are some other events run by other advisors.  For example, on Thursdays Joe (KH6FHI, who was in my advanced class) holds a weekly roundtable that runs 15+ wpm (so more for Intermediate and Advanced students). 

3) Dash vs BT vs BK – I will have to ask about this one.  The dash made an appearance in the Beginner course, and I never had a definitive answer.  Generally, “BT” (which is the same as the “=” sign) is like an “um”, “BK” is either a pause or back to you without the formal identification.

A MAN FROM NANTUCKET BT
PUT HIS CASH IN A BUCKET BT 
THIS IS NOT HAIKU

In QSOs we’re doing now, we’ll make more use of doing the call signs in exchanges to give the other person break (and get quality time in sending), e.g.:


WT8P de W7PEZ SUP? K
W7PEZ de WT8P MAKING HAGGIS K

where the “K” is over.  

However, since you know who you’re talking with, you only really need to identify as often as the FCC requires, thus might hear this:

SUP? BK
MAKING HAGGIS BK

CWA Basic: Sessions 4 and 5

Sessions 4 and 5 repeat the prior sessions, but bump up the Farnsworth speed to 5 then 6. It doesn’t look like a lot until you’re trying to listen!

As I mentioned, it’s very common to feel an adrenaline bump when it’s your turn to send.  If you mess up, or are feeling flustered, take a deep breath, send eight dits, take another breath, and start the word again (unless it’s like the last letter that would be understandable from context).  Add more spacing if you like.  Just remember, you’re among friends and it’s all about having fun. 

For the bonus homework:
Compose an amateur radio-related haiku, a three-line poem where the lines are 5, 7, and 5 syllables, respectively. Two examples are below. As you practice at home, think of where it would be appropriate to add additional spacing to compensate for the lack of context clues.

No propagation
Until someone calls CQ
Then the bands open

The new antenna
is only temporary
honey.  I promise!

Pick a couple of short facts that you find interesting and would send in CW.  Try to be concise, though we may elaborate after if there’s interest.   For example, “supernovas produce iron” (heavier elements are believed to be created by neutron star collisions)   

If time permits, listen to K1USN SST Sunday (details at the bottom) and report on your success in copying signs. (If you’re inclined, try to call someone at a speed you feel comfortable.) We’ll be trying to get on-air contacts on this in a few more weeks.

K1USN SST:  Open to all. Please Join Us!
Sunday @ 4:00-5:00 PM PST (Monday @ 00:00-01:00 UTC)
Exchange: Name + (state/province/country)
Suggested operating frequencies: (QSY +/- as needed)
20 meters: 14.028 MHz – 14.045 MHz
40 meters:  7.028 MHz – 7.045 MHz
80 meters:  3.528 MHz – 3.545 MHz
160 meters: 1.810 MHz – 1.825 MHz 
Full details on the  K1USN Radio Club SST Website

Set up time with one or more classmates to do an online CW practice QSO with the basics (signal report, Name, QTH, more if you’d like). You can use Zoom for personal use for free for up to 45 minutes per “meeting,” which should be more than enough time. You can use any other tool (Skype/Microsoft Teams, WebEx, Telegram, …). Or, try on-the-air.

If you’re working, say, less than 200-300 miles, 80m would have a good shot during the daytime. Beyond that, 20m or 40m during the daytime. If your license permits, don’t rule out 17m or 30m, they’re mighty fine bands.

To recap Morse Runner:

  • In the station (blue box), enter your call sign, tick QSK (this lets you hear the other sender while you’re sending), select a maximum WPM and pitch as appropriate.  I’d recommend trying at least 15.  It doesn’t let you Farnsworth out the spacing, and the lowest (10 ) has tones that are frustratingly long.
  • In the band conditions (green box), untick all of these.  They’re different ways to make it harder to hear.  These are actually pretty cool.
  • Set the duration to 5 minutes (default is an hour, which is a lot of commitment.)   Click the a down arrow next to the Run button (outlined here with a red box) so you can select “Single Call” as an option.
Morse Runner (1.72 with better fonts)

In this mode, the computer sends you a call sign.  Type that into the “Call” box and hit return.  You’ll hear you sending back the a signal report and a serial number.  (You don’t have to do anything for this.  If you look at the “Sent” box, the serial number increases.) 

If you have correctly copied the call sign, the computer will confirm with an “R”, a signal report (5NN or 599) and a sequence number.   Wait for the computer to finish sending back to you, enter in the serial number it sends you and hit return.  Another call sign will be sent.  Repeat until the time interval is over.

The response can vary, such as sending its serial number twice or using “cut numbers”  (T = 0, N = 9) in the serial number.    It will be obvious.  (For example it may respond TT1. You can enter it without the leading zeroes.

The computer doesn’t “hear” you until it’s done sending.  If you respond over it, you’ll likely need to do a repeat.  Sometimes, you can stop sending by hitting the escape key and wait for it to finish.  (You may need to retype things…)

If you don’t copy the call sign, you can simply wait a few seconds and the computer will retry up to 2-5 times, hit F7 (question mark). In the advanced levels, where you have a pileup, you should try a partial match. 

If you get the call sign incorrect, it will repeat, with a “DE <callsign>”, sometimes repeating the call sign.

CWA Basic: Sessions 1 – 3

The basic class — which I really wish existed when I took CW Academy – serves as a bridge between beginner and intermediate. 

Its focus is on Instant Character Recognition (ICR), the ability to hear letters (initially) and words (later) as one unit without any additional steps. The bulk of the official syllabus — which you should glance through as it is the best of the four — uses the Morse Code Trainer web tool

How the 16 sessions work out

Session 1 has you practicing individual letters and numbers at a “high” cpm (~25+ so you’re not counting dots and dashes. Some people need to ramp it up higher (I’m about 33+). Fortunately, you start with a low (~4) Farnsworth spacing so you have time to breathe.

The goal is to identify which letters and numbers give you the most difficulty.  As the text recommends, record yourself saying each letter as you hear it. If you can touch-type without thinking, you can do that. Just don’t write down letters while you’re trying to copy.

You’ll do groups of nine in an effort to encourage you to “let go” in the event you do not copy something. The manual illustrates the snowballing effect if you take too much time on a letter, you’ll start off behind when new letters come at you.

Session 2 is similar, but focuses on the letters and numbers you’ve had the most difficulty with. That list may change slightly from day-to-day and as you adjust speeds.

Session 3 adds the most common punctuation characters: / , ? .

Since doing only headcopy will get monotonous, you’ll break up your sessions with self-practice sending common QSO components (e.g., your call sign, weather, rig, home, antenna).    There are also the Morse Code scales that drill on letters, numbers and the most common pangram of them all.  On that sheet, I found “Bens Best Bent Wires” to be a lot of fun to send.  There is also a whole sheet of pangrams should you get tired of hearing about the exploits of the quick brown fox jumping over the lazy dog’s back.

For the bonus homework:

  • Listen to SST, try to pluck out a couple of call signs.  If you feel inclined, make a QSO!  
  • Pick two cities or towns in or something fun about Scotland to send. 
  • For sending next time, pick two menu items for your CW Academy virtual dinner order.  I initially suggested Chinese (since that’s what Ross mentioned he’d ordered), but let’s extend that to also include Filipino and Thai, because I was looking at those menus and am now hungry. (I did not include Vietnamese because of the extended character set – the cuisine is excellent.)
  • Sessions 1-3 sending practice has included a few of the most common things you’d encounter in a QSO: your call sign, a signal report, etc. In a future bonus homework, you’ll schedule an online QSO with a classmate (via zoom or the free tool of your choice). To prep for that, let’s update your QSO cheat sheet ( sample attached ) so you have that handy.
  • The two Windows software tools that have been mentioned are RufzXP (copying call signs, typically runs of 50) and Morse Runner (timed practice copying call signs and numeric contest exchanges with optional band simulation – which is pretty cool) that we’ll get set up on in a couple of weeks.  These will be helpful for getting used to copying random call signs, making your first on-air QSO smoother. More on those below.  

Logging: Let me know if you need help setting up Logbook of the Web (LoTW).  It is the granddaddy of logging sites and is free, but its sign-up process uses two-factor authentication: they send you a post card at your FCC registered address, you enter that into the website, then they email you a certificate to “sign” your logs with. (Fortunately, every logging program works with it.) Although there are a lot of other sites (eQSL, QRZ, ClubLog, HRDLog, sota.org.uk, 3830scores.com etc), LoTW is the most important.

Paul asked me about how long until logs are confirmed. Sometimes a long time – I’m still occasionally seeing one trickle in from 2017 or 2018. Based on personal experience, it’s correlated to mode:

  • FT8 and digital modes are the quickest and most consistent logging for the reasons you’d expect: people do it in quasi-real time.  A lot show up fairly quickly (within a week), then there’s a long tail. For example, I finally logged a contact in Paraguay and it was reported within two hours, whereas some of my Japanese contacts (my largest base outside of the US) trickle in over a couple of weeksk. I’d estimate that over 90% of my QSOs will show up in either LoTW, eQSL or QRZ. 
  • CW is around 60% of the time, nearly all of those appearing on LoTW. Generally, if someone does digital modes, they’ve got a process. However, for folks who do primarily CW, it’s not uncommon to see them in batches at 1-, 3- or 12-month intervals. I’ve had at least five CW Academy users bulk upload end-of-year over a few hundred contacts I’ve had among them. For example, last week:
Call sign redacted
  • Phone – I have fewer than 100 phone contacts — I cannot output a lot of power and… after 10 years of flying, I get very annoyed at the random phonetics (“This is Knight Eiffel Six Psychology Cinnamon Jalapeno”).  Confirmation rate is pretty low on HF, only one on VHF/UHF satellite, and that was in response to sending him a card with a self-addressed, stamped envelope.
  • When working all states (WAS), users in PA, CA, AZ and TX to most often confirm whereas WY (fewest people), DE and RI (small states) are the last ones I get.  The State QSO parties starting in April are sometimes helpful.

Kevin wrote: I’ve been practicing using Morse Runner for the last hour and I really like it. I thought I wasn’t as good at call signs but so far I’ve impressed myself 🙂

Great work!  This is closer to the rhythm of a typical CW contest, except this mode eliminates the need to call CQ each time.  (There is one where you do, sometimes multiple times.)   It is just another tool to practice a more specific aspect of CW copying. 

Later, you can play with adding some effects like multiple people coming back at you, in which case you pick one and either respond with its sign or a partial – the understanding being that only that sign should come back.

To set up a single call session:

  • In the station (blue box), enter your call sign, tick QSK (this lets you hear the other sender while you’re sending), select a WPM and pitch as appropriate.  I’d recommend trying at least 15.  It doesn’t let you Farnsworth out the spacing, and the lowest (10 ) has tones that are frustratingly-oh-god-please-finish-already long.
  • Set the duration to 5 minutes (default is an hour, which is a lot of commitment.)   Click the a down arrow next to the Run button (outlined here with a red box) so you can select “Single Call” as an option.

Finally, in the green box, untick all of the effects. Just for your edification, they are pretty cool and include:

  • QRN – Naturally-occurring noise, like lightning
  • QRM – Man-made interference, such as from another transmitter or your neighbor’s grow lights (I wish I were kidding)
  • QSB – InstaBility in signal from changes in the ionosphere
  • Flutter – QSB plus a Doppler shift in frequency, this occurs most often with auroras.
  • LID’s – the operator makes a mistake in sending a code. This is usually followed by them sending a bunch of dots then resending.  For some reason, hearing the computer simulating this is hilarious.

Bill wrote:
Does one need an actual “key” to interact with this morse runner thingy or is it all built into the software? i.e does one only use a keyboard?

Only a keyboard. It is the lamest video game ever.  I think there is a way to connect a paddle up, but Stephen would be much more knowledgeable about that aspect.   Morse News, Morse Keyer and Morse Code Tools are here: http://morse-rss-news.sourceforge.net/

I’ve created a database of the CW Ops and your call signs that you can drop into the Morse Runner directory, using my MASTER.DTA file instead of the default. Your “score” will be lower (# correct * unique prefixes) because there are fewer prefixes (and a smaller database), but you’re much more likely to work someone in this database.  Unlike RufzXP, you won’t get something insane like DL1/EA7CIJ/QRP.

The WPX competition is a mode that the Intermediate and Advanced classes do during one of their session. It introduces all of the band conditions, LIDs, pile-ups, and requires you to “call CQ” (with the F1 key).   I’m not trying to discourage you, but there are better uses of your time right now. It’s immensely frustrating until you’re in the advanced class.

Paul wrote: I’m not doing a hard sell here but wanted to share the Long Island CW Clubs’ calendar for this week. Take a peek…

Yes, please check out the Long Island CW Club: https://longislandcwclub.org/  It has a lot of programs, including ones for kids and YLs.  They do advocate straight keys.  There are topics other than CW if an hour a day plus class twice a week is “enough” 🙂

The place I got my UPS battery replacement was here.  Delivered, it was a third of the cost of the official manufacturer branded one.  Installation was much easier than taking down my home network at a time when no one else in the family would notice.

CWA Beginner – Session 16

For our last, unstructured session, we’ll do some more sending and copying using these lists of fruits and vegetables, and animals.  As with the exercise we did with the state abbreviations, send a word to the next person, they’ll send the word back, “R” if correct.  (If they don’t copy, “?” to resend)  They’ll send a word to the next person, and so on.  

Welcome, Session 01, 02, 03, 04, 05, 06, 07, 08, 09, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16

I’ve created a brief tutorial on Morse Runner.  On the most basic level, this program is used to practice simple exchanges (call sign + serial number).  When it calls you, if you don’t get the full call sign, you can either do nothing and wait for it to resend, hit F7 (?) or try a partial and F5.  The partial is useful in a “pileup,” that is, if several stations responded but you only got a partial on one, you’d send what you had and the other stations should ignore it.  (In practice, and occasionally in the program, that doesn’t always happen.)  The default time run-time in Morse Runner is 60 minutes, but I would not run it more than 10 or 15 minutes because it gets tedious.  

I’ll work on one for RufzXP.  When I used it for the intermediate and advanced, it was solely to practice learning call signs.  It’s also used in the basic class for canned word lists.

Logging programs:

On Windows, I use N3FJP’s generic logger, which was part of the suite of loggers I bought for Field Day 2018.   (I have a license of Ham Radio Deluxe but found it a bit overwhelming, especially with a smaller monitor.)  It does feel like I need a lot of utilities for a complete set. For example, if I’m running WSJTX, I have: WSJTX (duh), Meinberg NTP (to synchronize the clock), and JTAlert to talk with N3FJP as well as identify call signs I “need” for various challenges. (For example, to “work all states” on 17M, I need to find someone in Idaho.)

For contests, N3FJP’s utilities are super easy, but after several events, the computer gets cluttered. I’ve since learned to use N1MM+ enough to feel its indispensable. I’ll do a tutorial session on this in a few weeks just so you can get some basics on how it works. 

On my Mac, I use MacLoggerDX.   It’s nice for uploading contacts, but if I forget to transfer a contact, it won’t add it automatically.  For WSJTX, JT Bridge serves the same function as JTAlert.  Time is automatically synchronized by the operating system.  

Automation: As far as I can tell, most contesters (non-straight keys) use automation for the sending side to avoid the repetitive stress of sending CQ a few thousand times.  They’ll do the headcopy for the receive. This is very different from the CW “rag chew,” where there are some predictable components, but it can be very free-form.

The Basic Class: has some useful resources. The second and third links are the session booklet and a video tutorial on Morse Code Trainer’s Instant Character Recognition (ICR), respectively.   The course didn’t exist when I went through CWA, so you can imagine how uncomfortable I was going from beginning to intermediate. I’ll work through the lessons before our class starts.

The booklet is very useful to read the narrative part, glance at the lessons, then read the appendix.  A key point early on is to pronounce the letters out loud as you hear them. Run the sounds at 25-30, but with Farnsworth spacing at around 4wpm. Again, the speed is so you’ll be unable to count the dihs and dahs, instead concentrating on how the entire letter sounds.

It will help you if you record yourself with a voice recorder, Audacity, Zoom (personal session & save to file) to listen to after you’re done.  You’ll find there will be clusters of letters that give you problems (For example, B & V gave me fits, then B & 6 in call signs.)  These can sometimes change, but the hope is the list eventually reaches zero.

We’ll do interim meetings on Thursdays, excluding Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.  Plan on doing the CWA session, and we’ll use class to answer questions, share experience, practice sending to each other.  Feel free to work ahead if you have time. The Daily Morse Code Scales are a fun sending practice, especially the last quarter (Bens Best …)

  • November 12 – Session 1: Discovering your character speed
  • November 19 – Session 2: Defining Troublesome Characters 
  • December 03 – Session 3: Add Punctuation Characters 
  • December 10 – Session 4: Increasing effective speed to 5 wpm
  • December 17 – Session 5: Increasing effective speed to 6 wpm

Class will tentatively be Sunday & Thursday at 19:30 PST: January 7, 10, 14, 17, 21, 24, 28, 31; February 4, 7, 11, 14, 18, 21, 25, 28.  Towards the end of the class (~session 14), there are some short stories and QSOs that have a lot of redundancy built into them to help you with letting go of unrecognized characters.  

As a heads-up, the last two sessions have you inter-week exercises where you’re getting on the air and making several QSOs.  This was one reason I have been trying to nudge you to try K1USN. QSOs can be with each other, but I can help get you connected with students in other classes who want to practice on-air QSOs. 

If you aren’t already set up on Logbook of the Web (no ARRL membership is necessary), it would be worth starting that process.  You start with “proof” of your license (you can download a PDF from the FCC) and ID (black out private bits like the number).  ARRL will mail you a postcard with a secret code.  You verify the code with them and then they send you a “secure certificate” that you’ll use with TQSL to send your logs.  Nearly all logging programs I mentioned in my prior email have a method to do the “signing” for you and it’s painless.  

LoTW is a double-blind system, unlike eQSL.cc where you can see any incoming logs that haven’t been matched up yet.  The intent behind this system is because some people take awards like “Worked All States” for achievements very seriously.]

Optional exercises:

  1. On Monday evenings at 18:00 PST, Gurbux Sing (W6BUX) hosts a “CW Story Time” The hour is broken into sessions of 8-12 wpm, 15-18, and then 20+ where Gurbux sends a sentence for people to head-copy. Since there are intermediate and advanced students, people will come in and out on the Zoom call.
  2. On Wednesday, November 11th, CWOPs hosts its slow(er) speed CWT, something they do three times a year to welcome the new CWA students.  This is another simple exchange: <your name> CWA.   Some of the advisors hang out on 7.100-7.110MHz for the first 15 minutes of the 03:00Z session in hopes of giving students QSO opportunities.   (Other times, CWT runs at 25+ wpm.   It is pretty cool to see how busy the band gets during that window.)

CWA Beginner – Session 15

This is the ad hoc, unscripted part of the course.

Welcome, Session 01, 02, 03, 04, 05, 06, 07, 08, 09, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16

Bonus homework:
If you can, listen to the K1USN SST on Sunday either on air or via Web SDR, see what you can pick off. If you want to try to make an on-air contact, that would be awesome, too.   As a reminder, the exchange information is here.

In class, let’s try a few exercises with state capitals:

(Warmup) Send a two-letter abbreviation to the next person.  If they copy, they’ll repeat it back, sender acknowledges with an “R”.  Recipient then picks a two-letter abbreviation to send to the next person, and so on.  If they don’t copy, send a question mark for al resend.  We’ll see if we can do a few quick rounds.

(Once warmed up), Send a state capital, next person responds with the two letter abbreviation.  They’ll then send another state capital to next person.  (Gives a little more practice sending.)

Warm-up sheet: 

  • The basic class has a few resources like the Daily Morse Code “Scales” sending warm-up.  (To be honest, the repeated letters was pretty tedious, so I would skip to the “Drill” portion.)  Bens Best Bent Wire is fun to send.  When that gets too easy, try the pangrams.
  • Start faster than you would normally send.  For example, if you normally can do 5 words a  minute, try 7 or 10, letting mistakes pass over you.  Once done that, retry at your nominal rate and work for accuracy.

Software used:

  • Audacity (free) – https://www.audacityteam.org/ – you can use this to record yourself and also control playback of an MP3 such as one downloaded
  • G4FON – another online training program 
  • Morse Mania (freemium, iOS and Android) seems to be gaining a lot of popularity because it has canned word lists in it.  I found entering things on the keyboard was distracting and fraught with error.
  • Online: LWCO (https://lcwo.net/) – you can use this to generate MP3s such as the ones Mateo sent out for lessons 3-10.
  • Online: MorseCode.Ninja https://morsecode.ninja/practice/index.html has a lot of resources, including pre-recorded YouTube videos.  
  • Stephan mentioned using FLDigi to decode.  It and the phone app (whose name escapes me at the moment) do need some tuning.  

For learning to copy call signs:

  • Rufzxp (free) – this is the one that I mention will speed up if you get the call sign right … until you don’t, then it slows down a little bit.  It also allows you to set up custom word lists and maintaining the speed.  Here is a tutorial on using custom word lists, which will be more useful when we start the beginner class.  Windows & will work fine in Parallels.  There is a command-line version for Linux/Mac/Windows that does a similar thing. 
  • Morse Runner (free) – This is useful for practicing contest exchanges because there is a call sign and a serial n umber the “computer” sends to you.  It maintains the speed within a certain range, but gives you the option of adding real-world conditions like noise, fading, op mistakes. There is a Mac bundled version (using the WINE emulator).

Hardware:

  • Some radios have a built-in decoder that you can use to capture your sending and  use that as a tool to assist in timing.