Keep Calm and Move On

If you have struggled long to master Morse code, maybe it’s time to let it go?

move onAs a frequent sojourner in the land of ham radio mailing lists and club newsletters, I can’t help but notice the abundance of consternation created by the struggle to learn Morse code.

The perpetual question asked, “what is the best way to learn the code?” never seems answered to complete satisfaction. The answer is always “practice” which obviously isn’t helpful because the response to that is always “but how?”

It’s downright sad that this endless quest sucks so much time and energy from the global fraternity of radio hobbyists. Morse code is completely unimportant in this day and age, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t useful. It’s simply one mode — among many that we have at our disposal for communication.

My answer to those who have struggled for too long to learn it is simple: obtain one of the many hard or soft interface units that will decode it for you. Send code from the keyboard (or button on a memory keyer) and receive it from a screen. Who cares how you do it? The CW interchange with DX stations is amazingly brief and meaningless. All that really matters is the “contact” — there’s no bonus for head copying the DX at 50 wpm.

CW provides tremendous advantage over every other mode in this regard because it is more effective than voice and the BIG DXpeditions will use it while foregoing other digital modes. There is simply no reason to miss out on anything the mode has to offer just because you can’t copy or send it at any speed.

During the W1AW portable celebration event last year I managed to confirm 26 states on RTTY, a few of them on six meters no less, yet I’m not a RTTY operator. My ICOM IC-7100 has a built-in decoder and I queued several canned messages in its memory. When I copied a station sending CQ and standing by, I would hit one button that sent my call sign. I would receive my report and follow that with a second button push that sent ‘TU 73 de KE9V’.

Those contacts were perfectly valid and counted for the W1AW event as well as WAS. It doesn’t matter that I’m not a ‘proper’ RTTY operator and have no other gear or software in my shack that would identify me as one. If one of those stations would have asked me a question I would have been in trouble but they never did!

If someone would have told me that I’m “not a real ham” because of operating that way I would have laughed and laughed and then moved on. I don’t need the validation of others to prove my ham radio worthiness and neither do you.

There is of course many benefits to mastering the art and skill of Morse code and it’s certainly a worthwhile goal. But if you just can’t do it don’t kick yourself. It’s much like learning to play a guitar. Some people take to it quickly while others never do.

You can get better with practice, but contrary to what many will try and tell you, it’s not for everyone — and there’s very little to enjoy about a hobby that causes constant frustration.

Of Course; But Maybe

N6PSE writes Part 5 of Good hams…bad hams. Of course the clown running the gear swap scam needs to be visited by the boys in his local radio club intent on delivering an ass-whipping. But maybe… if you agree to swap gear online with a complete stranger, you deserve what you get?

We all know that amateur radio enthusiasts or “hams” are predominately good people. But just like our population in general, there are Bullies, thugs, misfits and even some criminals in our hobby. In Part 5 of Good hams…bad hams, I want to tell you about one misfit in Washington who is running a successful Internet scam business. I will also update you on the infamous bad hams, KZ8O and K3VR.

I read the news today, oh boy

News that the ARRL has begun the search for a replacement for CEO Dave Sumner, K1ZZ began washing over hamdom this week. The bulletin from HQ said:

Additional details are forthcoming, but the Board will begin its search for a successor to CEO Sumner, who has set a target retirement date of May 1, 2016. Sumner will be 67 and will have been on the Headquarters full-time staff for 44 years. He was named Secretary and General Manager in 1982, with a change in title to Executive Vice President in 1985, and the additional title of Chief Executive Officer in 2001 (the title of Executive Vice President was phased out in 2011).

Sumner will be near to impossible to replace. Despite the CEO title he’s not just a “suit” — he’s an active radio operator. I’ve bumped into him frequently during contests, always on CW. His intimate, inside knowledge of the amateur service coupled with his passion for radio make him unique.

What will his replacement be facing?

Over the next twenty years we will see the complete deregulation of amateur radio. First, the FCC will become less involved and enforcement activity will eventually be removed. Problems like 14.313 will have to be solved by us – and technology, if they are to be solved. Eventually, the government will discontinue licensing altogether, casting us into the cauldron with that other service.

Before that comes to pass, we will begin to endure an extended period of solar minimum that will doom the efforts of those without the ability to erect the large antennas required for low-bands over their heads. The age of easy DX, QRP, and 10-10 International is rapidly coming to a close. Not to mention the general malaise brought on by those who see our kind of communication as old-fashioned and inferior to “smart” phone technology.

And because no one is willing to imagine that scenario, let alone talk about it, we are poorly prepared to deal with its impending impact.

Yes, whoever replaces K1ZZ will face a mountain of problems. But to point that out would be cliched, especially in the context of our history — it’s been true for every new ARRL leader. Amateur radio is constantly under some threat or another. From the complete shutdown of the service in the aftermath of (not one!) two World Wars to the constant risk of losing spectrum to commercial and government interests.

Ours is a shared playground, perpetually at risk and whoever replaces Dave Sumner better arrive with their Chuck Taylor’s laced, ready to play — and with a firm grip on 21st century technology. The meek might inherit the earth but they make lousy leaders, especially for the “Mad Max” future where we will soon find ourselves.

Ross A. Hull

Ross Hull was born in Australia in 1902. Trained as an architect, Hull had a keen interest in the rapidly developing field of wireless communication. His moment in time was perfect for the age in which he was born. He had a leading role in experiments demonstrating the value of short wavelengths for long-haul communications. He was the first in Australia to relay programs received from “overseas” and became a vice president of the Wireless Institute of Australia in 1923.

rosshull

A few years later, and having abandoned architecture, Hull hung out his shingle as a “consulting radio engineer” and was soon elected Federal Secretary of the Wireless Institute and the Australian Radio Relay League.

His pioneering work led to the earliest wireless communication between the United States and Australia. In 1927 he traveled to the US to begin working with the headquarters staff at the ARRL — assisting with the production of QST Magazine. Soon he assumed the role of director of the ARRL Experimental Laboratory.

1928 was a critical one for amateur radio. Representatives from the principal nations of the world had assembled in Washington during the last months of 1927 and drawn up an international treaty regulating all of radio’s shortwave branches. When the negotiations and the compromises were concluded the international regulations finally adopted imposed new standards and restrictions more severe than those which had grown up haphazardly under domestic regulation. These new rules were to go into effect on January 1, 1929. American amateurs had just one year to get ready.

Foreseeing the necessity for developing new equipment and methods to meet the problems imposed by the new regulations, the ARRL inaugurated a special Technical Development Program. Hull was chosen to head that program. With a small group of assistants he plunged into the problem of compressing years of technical research into a few short months.

The brilliant success of the Technical Development Program was one of the epochal achievements of amateur radio. Hull’s studies over that period revolutionized the entire technique of the amateur game. Exploring every phase of amateur equipment, he analyzed weaknesses, established new requirements and devised electrical or mechanical modifications to meet those requirements.

In 1929 he returned to Australia and became the technical editor of Wireless Weekly in Sydney. But the lure of American life had got under his skin, and a year and a half later he was back in the United States, this time permanently, under the quota.

Almost immediately his interest turned to the ultra-short waves or ultra-high frequencies, then radio’s newest frontier. For some years this field had been lying fallow; it was ripe for an abundant harvest. Popularization of the ultra-high frequencies by showing amateurs the fun to be had with local contacts both at home and from portable and mobile stations was one of Hull’s outstanding accomplishments.

Of considerable note for our age, Hull pioneered the field of radio controlled models and was first to build, and fly a remote controlled glider. The technology that flies drones on the battlefield and over the homeland began with the work of Ross A. Hull.

Late in 1937 his interest was attracted by television which had by then been successfully achieved in commercial laboratories. In earlier years he had been rather sharply critical of the television “industry,” particularly of the stock-selling and promotional schemes surrounding much of it. He knew that the stage of its development prior to 1937 did not warrant the claims that were being made. But when electronic television showed itself as a practical actuality, he became intrigued by the possibilities of its application in amateur work.

On September 13, 1938, following a small dinner party at his home, Hull left his guests to their coffee and retired to his laboratory to setup his receiving equipment in order that he might show them television pictures about to be transmitted from New York. Wearing a pair of headphones connected to the sound-channel receiver, he reached over a high-voltage transformer in the experimental power supply on the floor in order to insert a plug into a wall socket. As he withdrew his hand it came in contact with the high-tension lead to the forty-four-hundred-volt transformer. Current from the transformer passed through his body. He fell, his hand still touching the high-voltage lead, the headphones completing the electrical circuit to ground.

Death had been instantaneous. The career of Ross A. Hull, premier amateur experimenter, had ended on the firing line of a new frontier.

Additional Reading

  1. Ross A. Hull – VHF Pioneer [PDF]
  2. Pioneer Australian Aeromodeller
  3. Hull, Ross A. – Academy of Model Aeronautics [PDF]
  4. How did Ross A. Hull, VK3JU, discover tropo propagation?