How to cross the Gap of Suck

2019 has started and, at this time of the year, for some reason, we are often inspired to make changes to our lives and tick off some of those bucket list items. So if your resolutions for this year include learning or improving your CW how will this year be different than last year, or the year before that?

Let me tap into an excellent summary of learning that, weirdly, comes from the world of Banjos (banjohangout.org, The Immutable Laws of Brainjo: Episode 31). It’s called “How to cross the gap of suck” because, like all things in life, when we start doing them ‘everyone sucks at first’. If we love something enough (or are young enough) we don’t let that put us off but for many, getting over that steep learning curve after the initial romance has worn off can be a struggle and our development grinds to a halt.

Much of what follows is verbatim from Josh Turknett’s banjo article but with amendments to make it specific to learning CW?

Here are his ‘5 key strategies for making it across the gap of suck’:

1. Break it down

Break the learning process into the smallest possible bits you can practice.

Beyond being the best way to build efficient and effective neural sub-circuits, there are also tremendous psychological advantages to breaking big goals into bite-sized bits.
Struggling to differentiate between S, H and 5 or P, J and 1? Spend time listening to and sending just the few characters that you are struggling with rather than whole chunks of different characters.
 Not only is dividing and conquering the most effective approach to learning, but it’s also the one that comes with most rewards.

The single greatest motivating factor is progress, and the more opportunities you create for demonstrating progress, the more likely you are to soldier on.

2. Embrace the struggle

It’s natural to equate “struggle” with “pain,” and natural then to see your early struggles as painful. A bitter pill you must swallow. A necessary evil.


Another option is to reconfigure your thoughts about the struggle entirely.

If you don’t have to expend much effort to get somewhere, then getting there isn’t nearly as gratifying. It’s the struggle to get there that gives our ultimate success its meaning.

The very best learners look forward to the struggle. Struggle doesn’t equate to pain. Struggle equates to progress” and after every half-arsed CW QSO full of mistakes, once you stop blushing, you will feel like a CW god!

3. Set Process-oriented goals

OK, you could set a goal like “I want to be having conversational QSOs at 35wpm in 6 months.“
That seems reasonable enough. But there’s a problem with an outcome-oriented goal like that.

It depends on some factors that you can’t influence.
There’s no way to know or predict whether certain goals are within the realm of feasibility.


Why would this be a problem? Because if you do everything right in your effort to achieve that goal but fall short, you’ll come away feeling discouraged. 
On the other hand, the variable you can influence is your process. You can control whether or not you achieve a process-oriented goal, such as “I’m going to practice for 15 minutes every evening” or “I’m going to learn to send one new character a day.

These factors do influence the final outcome, and whether you adhere to them is entirely within your control.” 

4. Don’t play the comparison game (unless it’s to yourself)

As you start to learn and listen to other operators on the air (especially during contests) it’s human nature to compare ourselves to others to see how we stack up. 

Avoid that trap, because nothing good ever comes from it. 

When you’re in the Gap of Suck, almost everyone is better than you. It’s just statistics.
But, remember 2 things:

1. Everyone had to cross the Gap of Suck.

2. No matter how “good” you get, there will always be those you look up to. 


If you get in the habit of playing the comparison game, then get used to a life of disappointment. Because no matter how good you become, there will always be those operators out there who are faster, or can fill in their tax return while having a QSO or use a mechanical bug. 


Instead of thinking how much you suck compared to these guys use them as sources of inspiration. Let them show you what’s possible if you stick with this CW thing, if you make it across the Gap of Suck. 


Remember, there is no good or bad, only where you are on the ‘Timeline of Mastery’. Those Operators who are further along give you a glimpse of your future. 

5. Look backwards, not forwards

We humans adapt quickly to the new status quo. All in all, it serves us well. But that means it can be easy to forget how far we’ve come.

As mentioned earlier, there is no good or bad, only where you are on the Timeline. At any moment in time, there’s what’s ahead of you, and what’s behind you.  


Combine our tendency to always look forwards towards where we’d like to be, rather than backwards at where we’ve come from, with how rapidly we adapt to any new normal, and it’s easy to convince ourselves that we’re not making progress.


Remember that every new character you’ve learned to decode, from your first few letters to picking out P, J and 1 with >80% accuracy, once felt really hard. Regardless of where you are, there are almost certainly other operators learning CW who’d like to trade places with you. To them, you are their future.


When assessing progress, the proper metric is not how far you have left go (which is infinite), but how far you have come. 

Talk to almost any competent Fist and they’ll tell you that there will always be more that you’d like to do, that this journey never ends, and that every position on the timeline of learning is relative.

There is no finish line, only this moment in time, framed by where you’ve been, and where you’re going.




My thanks and acknowledgement to Josh Turknett, MD and his article “How to cross the gap of suck

Don’t forget to check out the ‘Your Stories‘ page to see how other people learn and what has worked for them and, because we’re all different, why not share what is working for you in case it can help a fellow Ham. Email articles to admin@lidscw.org.

LidSpotter – From the ground up

The Lidspotter has now been completely rebuilt from the ground up.
Some issues were noticed where spots got delayed, and reappeared a couple of hours after they should have been posted. This turned out to be a delay in the email part of the chain (Hamalert was doing the spotting, and emailing the spots to the script which formatted and posted out to the social media channels).
After the rebuild (and a bit of debugging), the spotter is now reading a direct feed from the RBN, so our spots now appear almost immediately, rather than the about-a-minute delay as was.
The other improvement is it now reads the Lids_CW member page to directly grab the callsign filter list, so any new members are automatically added to the list when Michael updates the site. Previously I had to notice a tweet, and edit two separate lists on different services; now it’s just a case of sit back and watch!

Oh, and the last bit of good news, Twitter are allowing us to post again!

73 and see you on the air
Chris, G0JPS

LidSpotter’s new lease of life

Twitter hasn’t been very nice lately; apart from the constant spamming of adverts all over the place, they have now also severely restricted the ability of bots and scripts to make automated posts, which broke the lidspotter. The program was still happily running, it just couldn’t post. A temporary fix was made (using a very shoddily coded web page), but the bandwidth of a £1.20 per month virtual server isn’t huge.

Enter Telegram. A free, secure messaging app that’s cross platform. I’ve been using it to communicate within a gaming clan for quite some time, and one of the channels we use is run as a news feed, which seemed ideal. So I got some setup details from the chap that made it, and created a LidSpotter version which runs smoothly and faster than twitter’s ever did (and we’ve discovered the alerts can even be made to appear on smart watches, too!). This feed can be found at t.me/LidSpotters

 

 

And now, Mastodon as well. I’d heard of it, but never really looked until Simon G0FCU mentioned it on twitter; so I had a chat with the admin of the mastodon.radio instance

and got permission to play – and, on the first attempt, it works! Just create a free account, and search for @LidSpotBot then follow it.

I’m sure there will be some snags along the way, Mastodon is a new open-source network and is still evolving, but it looks good.

Hope to see more members on there.

 

LidSpotter Revisited

When the LidSpotter died, I was dismayed to find I had lost access to the web facility which turned the Hamalert emails into tweets!
After some chasing around, and finding out that while other sites existed that performed the same service, they all needed to validate email addresses I had no access to.
In desperation, I asked a friend who's a bit of a linux guru. In true 'mate' tradition, he said he wasn't going to do it for me, then told me where I could get a basic, dirt cheap VPS (Virtual Private Server), and lent me a book - "Programming Perl" - and said I could work it out for myself.
So one cheap server, and a lot of googling later, I had 45 lines of script. The server accepts the incoming email from Hamalert, and sends it to the script which removes all the gibberish headers then tweets the spot that's left. The end result is I learned something,  and the spotter's working again, hooray!
Once again, apologies for the interruption to the service.
Chris G0JPS

Lids CW Spotter Bot – the product of an idle mind!

It all started with a tweet. Whilst idly tuning up and down the bands, I wondered if there was a way to know if any other LIDS were on air, and then the germ of an idea formed. So like a fool, I tweeted it...

The germ of an idea

Well, that was it. I was committed now (or should have been). Searching around for ways to pick up spots, I looked at the Reverse Beacon Network, DX clusters, and eventually found the very excellent HamAlert which does all that tedious mucking about in hyperspace for you. You give it a list of call-signs, it compares incoming spots from RBN, clusters, sotawatch and pskreporter. If a spot matches your criteria (in this case, a list of currently 270 call-signs) it can do several things with the information.

HamAlert

Getting the information onto twitter wasn't the easiest, but a web service was found which will turn emails into tweets. So the spots get formatted by HamAlert, sent by email to the WebApp which turns them into tweets, and the LidsCW Spotter is the result.

The only downside of the system as it stands, is the membership list of call-signs needs to be manually updated; no great shakes though as @lids_cw tweets every time a new member is added!

All in all, an interesting exercise, which seems to have produced a useful resource. And if it gets more LidsCW members firing dots and dashes at each other across the airwaves, well, that makes it all worthwhile.

Lids Spotter output

73, Chris G0JPS
#156

Share you CW journey

If you’re learning or have mastered CW you’ll know what a journey it can be and how easy it is to fall by the wayside. There is no one right way to master The Code but there are probably a lot of common pitfalls and we all need a little encouragement now and then to keep us on track.

We’d love to hear your learning stories, what’s worked, why you’ve hit a wall and how you overcame set-backs.
Under ‘Resources > Your stories’ we’d like to share your experiences…even if you’re still learning.
In ‘Resources > Learning tools’ we are trying to bring together learning tools that have worked for members.
Once you start having your first tentative CW QSOs you may find there are some hints, tips and tools to help you not feel like an utter failure :o) You can share those in ‘Resources > Operating aids’.

Whatever your experience, what ever has helped you go from Zero to Hero, why not share it with you Ham Buddies so they can be CW heroes too. Drop us a line with your stories, photos, articles and ideas and we’ll try to publish them here.

You can reach us on email admin@lidscw.org or, of course, send us a Tweet to @lids_cw

Getting active on CW

If you are learning to get comfortable using CW it’s important to have regular on-air contacts to build your skills and maintain your confidence. If you want to make those normal (template) QSOs a bit more of an interesting challenge then why not get along to EUCW and check out the Snakes and Ladders activity.

Snakes and Ladders simply takes your normal QSOs (anything longer than 5 minutes) and looks at the QRA or Maidenhead Locator of your contacts. At the end of each month it analyses all the participants logs and chooses some of those locator squares to be snakes and some to be ladders and you gain/lose points accordingly!

The great thing about Snakes and Ladders is that you don’t have to do anything above and beyond your normal QSOs other than log the other stations QRA/locator and submit your log at the end of each month.

Find out more here http://www.eucw.org/

If you’re a FISTS member you can download a handy log converter which automatically reads your log and prepares you Snakes and Ladders submission. https://fists.co.uk/

Summer break is coming to an end

The LIDS CW annual summer break-a-thon is coming to an end. Its marked by a reddening of the skin and a knotted hanky on the head is ceremonially removed and placed in the cupboard until next year.

So what?

As far as Lids members are concerned this means the drawing closer of ‘strictly come dancing’ on Auntie and a cue every self respecting member to head to the shack are start sending a strange combination of di’s and dah’s that on occasion resemble actual words, phrases and numbers.

Don’t spill the beans but lurking round 40m on abou 7.032Mhz might net you the QSO of your dreams. Looking forward to working you. Don’t forget that you can arrange skeds via Twitter, just Tweet Freq & time to @lids_cw and arrange to your hearts content.

CW Boot Camp report

Saturday 16th April saw the long-awaited inaugural LIDS CW Boot Camp.  Ten LIDS members from as far afield as Kent gathered in Bristol for a day of CW practice, learning, discussion and fellowship.

Many practice QSOs were made across the room, some using sidetone oscillators but also radio-to-radio QSOs by connecting dummy loads to the antenna sockets.  Pick a band, any band…

We had a 30m station set up for ‘live’ CW contacts and, although the antenna was a simple dipole folded around the ceiling, it tuned up and had got some RBN spots in Spain and Germany the day before.  Unfortunately the band conditions were awful during the morning and we were also suffering from S6-7 of noise so it wasn’t until later in the afternoon that G0POT ‘broke the duck’ with a QRS contact with EA7JUK.  Of course, everyone else in the room was working to copy both sides of the QSO.

Attendees were (in LIDS# order): David G7AGI (#003), Michael G0POT (#027), Matt M0CUV (#040), Paul G0WAT (#051), Steve M0SPN (#059), Simon M3HXE (#069), Paul M0PNA (#114), Matt 2E0LJZ (#116), John M0HFH (#128), and Mike G8HKS (#139).

Thank you and well done to all the LIDS who attended.  We would love to be able to do another boot camp and hopefully in a different location so that they can be accessible to those for whom Bristol was a little too far to travel.