Head Copy

Head copy

As you climb past 20wpm the ability to write down everything you hear diminishes (unless you are a good typist or can do short hand!). Most of us have to switch to head reading and only making occasional notes.

But how do you copy CW in your head without writing it down?

People often talk about having a mental ticker tape…in truth, for me it’s like seeing a word appear under a spot light on a little stage…once I see/hear the whole word it gets moved off to the left and starts to fall into the shadows. After a couple of words I probably couldn’t tell you the exact things I just heard but I understand the path of the conversation.

I guess I’m using a hybrid of the ticker tape (stage & spotlight) visualisation and predictive text, hearing whole words where I’m proficient enough and spelling the words out where I’m not. Most sentences have a little ‘padding’ even in CW e.g. UR RST IS where just RST would do so it’s not normally vital to get every word. Although I’m visualising the letters on my mental ticker tape I’m mentally sounding out the phonemes of those letters until I either ‘see’ or ‘hear’ the word. So if I copy INDIA I don’t think of the name of the letter like EYE-EN-DEE-EYE-AY…I think of the sounds each letter makes and this normally lets me ‘hear’ the word in my mind.

When you first learn CW you’re taught the importance of not anticipating what is coming next as this can lead to mistakes but, I confess, with head reading I use context and common words to start imagining what word might be coming next (I’m a bad, bad, boy and you’ll see below that this approach can cause you to miss chunks of a word). This is just like predictive text on your mobile phone. So, if I hear a J I might start thinking of common J words like JUST, JUDGE, JANUARY…typically the context and any words before it result in >80% accuracy. So if I hear “I JU” I’ve shortened the list to JUST and JUDGE. If, on the other hand I hear “I HAVE A JU” I’m starting to think of JUMPER or JUCY. This predicting isn’t always correct so I need to keep listening to what is sent or, if I’m not concentrating 100%, to discard the missed word. The more letters I copy at the start of the word the more likely I am to be correct.

We know humans only hold 5 +/- 2 things in their short term memory buffer so for longer words I either chunk them up or ignore the middle and just use the start and end of the word to identify it. So if someone sends INCREDIBLE I might hear the INC and start my predictive list (INCLUDE, INCITE, INCAPABLE…) but I will now forget about those three individual letters and just store INC as a sound. In this case as soon as I have copied INCRED (the sound blocks INC and RED) I probably stop listening knowing this is likely INCREDIBLE/INCREDULOUS and I can just grab the last one or two characters to confirm or let context guide me. Why stop listening you ask…why not listen intently to the whole word? I can do other things in that second or two like start to look up the other station on QRZ, or fill in my log book or simply think about things I would like to say…it can also give me a little mental break. 

Similarly with longer words I frequently just get the start and finish. For instance if someone was mad enough to send ENCYCLOPAEDIA, I’ll probably get as far as ENCY before losing the feel of the word. It’s probably down to me trying to think about the sound that these letters would make together that grabs my focus so I miss a few letters. When my focus returns I may get as little as DIA at the end of the word but with the mental ‘sound’ of ENCY and knowing the word ends with DIA I’d guess encyclopaedia and be unlucky if this wasn’t right.

You can often tell if someone is going to send something unusual or important and there’s nothing wrong in writing that down if it’s important to you. As soon as I hear UR RST or OP HR or MY QTH sent, I pick up the pencil because I want to record the report or the Ops name or location. Similarly, if someone sends IVE JUST BOUGHT A I’m ready to note the object of the conversation because it’s going to be the one important word in the sentence and when it’s my turn to send, a little reminder of the key subjects is helpful. Head reading does not exclude jotting down notes for me.

By chunking up characters and ‘hearing’ phonetic sounds I can overcome some of the short term memory limitations. But what about the overall meaning of the ‘Over’…how do you make sense of a sentence?

That 5 +/- 2 things memory buffer is pretty accurate for random data but with context and meaning we can retain much more. Just like when we have spoken conversations you can discard the ‘filler words’…all you really need are the subject (nouns) and verbs to follow the meaning of a conversation so if your ‘ticker tape’ has a limited length, just hold on to the key words. I can rarely quote, verbatim, what I have just heard but I can relay the sentiment and that’s all you need to have a conversation. 

seiuchy logo

An interesting tool to play with to pull out the important stuff (without having to remember too much) is Seiuchy.

Alternatively, check out Morse Code Ninja for lots of practice material to build up your head reading skills.

Kurt has created MP3 files, YouTube videos and Podcast feeds for a whole range of practice audio files including things like the top 100 words and Q-codes which are invaluable for practicing head copy.

Morse Code ninja logo

If you have a pencil in your hand there is a tendency to get carried away writing everything but, while learning to move from writing everything to head copy, simply write (without looking at the paper) while you visualise what you're hearing and, as soon as you are comfortable what the word is stop writing and don’t bother reading it. If you find you have a word that you are struggling to ‘visualise’ then write out all the received characters in full and glance down to see what it was. This is a great transition approach to build confidence in head copy.

Do you head copy? I’m guessing even if you answer ‘No’ that you can recognise some common words like CQ and 73s without listening to the individual characters. If you’re already head reading, what is your approach and do you have any tips for people just starting to learn the skill?

HNY and best of luck on your learning journey...

International CW Council

In 2021 a new body was formed to collectively draw together many of the smaller, national and regional CW groups. Known as the International CW Council (ICWC) its mission is a reflection of all the groups it draws together, namely to promote and aid in the retention and growth of International Morse Code as a mode of communication between amateur radio operators.

There are still a huge number of clubs and societies (such as @lidscw) worldwide, all doing their bit to encourage and support learning and using CW as a mode and as a language. Like all minority languages, we benefit from sharing the knowledge and skills to keep the object of our passion alive.

The ICWC will be promoting and publicising mentoring, outreach opportunities and the use of CW generally to Social Media, Hams and other external bodies and encourages inter-CW Club cooperation and joint activities.

One particularly nice feature is a consolidated view of all (known) CW based activities in a calendar, go and check it out and get it book marked to keep track of CW events that you can take part in.

Giving Back Programme

Are you keen to get on air with your key but still feeling a bit nervous that a QRQ ‘machine-gun’ is going to answer you? Are you struggling to find QRS CQ calls? Perhaps you’re confident on the key and want to support others?

Well read on…

In 2021 a scheme has started among the world’s most popular CW clubs to get supportive, QRS Operators active during known periods for you to go and find. The ‘Giving Back’ scheme aims to get operators on-air for stress-free QSOs, targeted at new or nervous operators (or, indeed, simply people wanting to improve their skills) at 7PM local time on 40 meters (7.035-7.045 MHz) and/or 80 meters. Don’t forget you can find QRS CQs or hunt out Operators from the CW clubs including ours by using the RBN dashboard at https://rbn.telegraphy.de provided by the wonderful Fabian Kurz, DJ1YFK.

The Giving Back programme is also looking for volunteers from all of the global CW clubs to take part and get on-air during regular slots so why not offer to give something back on behalf of LidsCW and volunteer between 30 mins and an hour each week to help your fellow hams with an on-air QSO.
You can check out the Operating Schedule at https://cwops.org/giving-back/.
If you’d like to volunteer then drop Rob Brownstein (K6RB) an email at k6rb58@gmail.com letting him know what day you could operate each week and let him know your are volunteering on behalf of @lids_cw so we can be seen to be doing our bit. You don’t have to be an awesome Fist, just patient and encouraging with others…that will be awesome enough!

Lockdown Morse

The global pandemic and the resulting lockdown has changed all our lives. For some it has been business as usual…just with more PPE or working from home. For others it has meant time off work, either voluntary or enforced and the possibility of some spare hours.

One enterprising ham has taken the opportunity to create a video CW training course and it’s really rather good. Check out Matt, M0PTO’s ‘Lockdown Morse‘, a series of 28 videos from 30 minutes to ~1 hour which start at the beginning and take you through ‘head reading’ and basic QSO elements.

There are some nice touches in this series of videos including things like actually training you to ignore characters you don’t recognise…a really important skill in CW. Character speed is good, helping you to learn to recognise the characters at a reasonable speed but with Farnsworth spacing to give you some thinking time.

I think Matt has created a useful learning resource here. The YouTube format works well…Matt paces the training well and you can pause the video to check your decoding as you go.

As businesses start back up our precious time is going to disappear again but if you can afford to invest in learning a new skill…this might be just the starting point you’re looking for.

How to Learn Morse Code…

How to Learn Morse Code and Make Radio Contacts - David González, EA7HYD

I first came across this ‘Dummies Guide to CW’ in it’s native Spanish form on the authors website www.cw4u.org and from the sample pages I was really impressed…so impressed that I emailed David, EA7HYD in March 2018 to offer my support in producing an English language version. Fast forward to January 2020 and David has just published the English/American version and updated the Spanish version. Details on how you can get a copy below!

So what was it about this guide that caught my imagination? Well, it’s presented just like a normal Dummies Guide breaking everything down into small and easily digestible parts. The graphics, layout and cartoons make navigating the book easy and intuitive and it is simply an easier read than other CW training books I’ve seen.

Front cover
Chirp chirp chirp cartoon

The content is logically laid out and quickly dives into the important stuff…the how, what, why and when of learning CW. All of the important knowledge required by a fledgeling Fist is delivered in bite sized nuggets along with recommendations of how to self train using lots of different resources and leveraging the Koch and Farnsworth approaches.

David uses example QSOs heavily to highlight the order information is normally given in, to give examples of different types of QSO and to explain, in detail, step-by-step, all the parts of a QSO and a lot of variations that new Fists may encounter.

Example contest exchange

After focusing on learning to receive and the format and content of QSOs the guide goes on to the subject of sending, different keys and the approach to using them. The guide concludes with some more advanced knowledge like contesting and working split and wraps up with an interesting mix of history, reference material and other CW related guidance.

Example data card from EA7HYD

An initial English translation was made by Jesús Pacheco González and I provided my support translating and editing for free (I have no commercial interest in the guide). My reward was being able to add a section on SOTA to try and get more new Fists up on hill tops! In translating we stuck to American spellings as the USA probably has more new Fists per capita than anywhere else in the world but David also kept the language simple so that other, non-native English speakers can easily enjoy it too. There’s a European flavour to the use language and that’s how it should be given David is Spanish. 

Example page showing part of a QSO

In working on the translation I have re-read the book many times and it has made me smile every time with funny and really well observed advice which I wish I had known when I was learning.

If you are starting your learning journey, having a 2nd (3rd, 4th, 5th…) attempt at learning, stuck in your progression or simply struggling to get your new found skill on the air, you will find ‘How To Learn Morse Code And Make Radio Contacts’ essential and supportive reading and, I believe, worth every penny.

How To Learn Morse Code And Make Radio Contacts (Como Aprender Código Morse Y Realizar Contactos En Radio) by David, EA7HYD can be ordered from Amazon, price £14.50/$19.50/€16.70 (different countries may have slightly different exchange rates).

 

The author also provides a related website where you can download additional, supporting material including MP3s of the QSOs used in the book, a Facebook page and expect to see a YouTube channel develop over time..

Código Morse banner

Essex CW ARC Bootcamp and Convention

Dean (G4WQI) has contacted us to let us know that Essex CW ARC are planning a Bootcamp and Convention on 19th October 2019.

“Places for the bootcamp and convention to be held in Witham Essex are filling up. If you have interest in attending this years event and to avoid disappointment, contact Andy G0IBN at g0ibn1@yahoo.com”

Essex CW ARC are a great bunch of guys and this should be an excellent event for new, intermediate and more experienced fists…book now!

Click here for more info from EssexCW…

CW Communicator

Gerry  (G3MS) contacted @lids_cw to tell us about CWCOM; simple to use software for sending and receiving morse code over the internet using the keyboard, mouse, or externally connected straight key or paddle key.

The software was originally written for Windows 95, but still relevant and used today on all versions of Windows, including W10 (it can also be made to work on LINUX and MAC machines - see below).

There are quite a lot of settings to 'tweak' but the basics should work out of the box.

It was written by an Australian Radio Ham,  VK1EME, John Samin, but he has discontinued servicing his website, and with his knowledge, Gerry has written a blogsite to help people to download, install, and set up the program. Check out all the details at:

https://morsepower.blogspot.com/p/blog-page.html

All instructions are in an easy to follow, step by step format, with some pics to help along the way.... there are a couple of links to get the program from download sites on the blog pages. For LINUX and MAC users there are separate pages with step by step instructions on how to get CWCOM working on those platforms.

The program is used by many Radio Hams, around the world, and some Australian Post Office Telegraphists that used to man the overland Telegram system there. There is no requirement to "sign in"... no log in, no password, no registration. The only "hardware" you need is a key and a computer (a USB to serial converter or mouse adapter,  see blog page for instructions to make, if using a laptop).

Skill levels from beginner to experience are ALL welcome. ... learners should not be frightened off just because they hear some "fast" morse... they are just as welcome, as the "old hands"!!!.

There is the opportunity for groups to choose their own channel ( frequency) for group practice sessions, so it would be ideal for Radio Ham Clubs to extend "out of hours" practice when members are at home. Similarly, it is an excellent program for those radio hams, who, for whatever reason, have problems with local planning laws, regarding antennas... or for those who live in "sheltered" accommodation, where radio equipment is not allowed.

Gerry, an ex Royal Navy Wireless Telegraphist from 1960, is usually to be found on channel 1000 ( default channel) from about 14:00 G.M.T until about 22:00 G.M.T. and is able to help new users or learners to get the best out of the program settings... or just to have a ragchew session.

Operating protocol is the same as CW operation on the ham bands.

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[Michael G0POT] I’ve loaded the CW Communicator and I have to say it is very quick and simple to set up. You can use your keyboard as a key but are limited to about 10wpm I think. I had a USB to serial converter  so bought a 9 pin D-socket and a 3.5mm stereo socket to create an adaptor to plug in a paddle and have been using that (much nicer sending with a paddle or a straight key). Once connected you are presented with a simple QSO screen and you will hear (and see in text) and the CW sent and received. CWCOM has lots of potential for training, either one to one or as a class setting. My only issue with it so far has been getting a consistent sending experience but I thinks its just a matter of playing with the settings

The main window with controls. The sub-window is a view of who else is on which 'channel'.

Our thanks to Gerry for sharing this Internet CW communicator.

 

Hereford Morse Boot Camp

Rich (G4FAD) and Chris (G0JPS) wrote to tell us:

A Morse Bootcamp is being held in the Herefordshire Amateur Radio Society’s clubhouse near Leominster in North Herefordshire on the 4th of May, loosely under the club’s umbrella.

We aim to run 3 different groups of sending and receiving between 8 wpm to 20 plus words a minute. We will be demonstrating different keys how to adjust and send with them and how to improve head copy and to generally have a good Morse day.
We want it to be fun as well.

Rich (G4FAD) is joined by Andy (G0IBN) who has run several very successful Bootcamps in the East of the country. Sandy (G0VQW) and Bob (G3IXZ).

It will cost £10 for the day; tea, coffee and biscuits will be provided but please bring a packed lunch. Please contact Rich via email (see his QRZ.com page) if you want to join the event or simply want more information.

Location: Herefordshire Amateur Radio Society’s clubhouse near Leominster in North Herefordshire.
Date: 04-May-2019
Time: 08:30 to 16:30 (local)

…as a side note, I’m just sat here listening to some wonderful CW being sent on a bug (I assume as the Op has just reported his weight coming loose and his CW slowing down). It was Sandy, G0VQW who will be helping to run the event. Judging by his sending you should be in for some good training and CW.

Michael (G0POT)

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.

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