Operating, Random Musings

Ghosts In The Ether

I recently stumbled upon a fascinating Wikipedia page that just might describe a phenomena that I bet just about every one of us CW ops have experienced at times. You’ve just finished off a marathon CW effort such as a contest or Field Day and finally get a chance to lay down, close your eyes, and try to get some sleep in a nice quiet room. Almost too quiet. You’re drifting to sleep…and then you hear it. Strains of CW, just on the edge of your hearing. You can almost make out some meaning, but it’s not quite coherent. It’s just your mind playing tricks on you.

The article which I found describes a condition known as Pareidolia, as Wikipedia sums up quite succinctly:

Pareidolia (pronounced /pærɪˈdoʊliə/ pa-ri-DOE-lee-ə) is a psychological phenomenon involving a vague and random stimulus (often an image or sound) being perceived as significant. Common examples include seeing images of animals or faces in clouds, the man in the moon, and hearing hidden messages on records played in reverse.

Long story short, our brains are supremely attuned to pattern matching, probably as a survival mechanism. At times, it is likely that it leads us to perceive meaningful patterns where in reality there are none. An extreme example would be those people who see images of Jesus in their grilled cheese sandwich or that nutty Reverse Speech guy, but we’ve all experienced minor versions of it at some times in our lives.

It seems that there must be some aspect of immersing yourself in CW that makes you even more susceptible to the phenomena for some time afterward. In my experience, sometimes it’s taken an hour or two to shake it from my head. Even when I haven’t been recently working CW, there are times where some random squeaks or beeps perk up my ears and get me in the CW copying mind frame. It’s a funny and peculiar thing, to be sure.

Cool Stuff, Operating

Begali Simplex Unboxing

I got a bit of cash for my birthday last month and it was burning a hole in my pocket for a few weeks. I decided I needed a good set of CW paddles for my station, since the only keying devices that I have (that work) are all straight keys. It was a bit of a toss-up to decide what brand of key to get until I saw the Begali name mentioned; then I remembered lots of hams saying good stuff about their keys. There was enough goodwill on the Internet that I figured I would take the plunge and give the base model Simplex (with a palladium finish) a try. It took about 3 weeks for the paddles to get here, but it was well worth it. Here’s a little visual tour of my Begali unboxing experience.

Yes, I know, an “unboxing” blog post makes me an even greater geek. I’m at peace with that. Anyway, on with the show…

Let’s open the box…

Now to open it up

Some extras included

Christmas wishes

Two different sets of aluminum finger pieces sent along, although I only ordered one. A nice extra!

First peek at the key

The key together with the dust cover

Here it is unwrapped and with the stock finger pieces installed

Now to add the nice blue aluminum finger pieces…

I’m blinded! The palladium finish with gold accents is incredible.

A macro shot of the engraved logo

Finally, here’s the key with my cable installed, sitting next to the AA0ZZ EZKeyer

I hope you got a little vicarious enjoyment out of that! I haven’t made a QSO with it yet, but just from using it on the keyer with sidetone, I can tell that it has an incredible feel. This one will be a keeper for the rest of my ham radio days.


NT7S Code Practice Oscillator

NT7S Code Practice Oscillator - In Altoids Tin

Here it is, a completed version of the simple discrete component code practice oscillator that I promised. I tweaked the circuit just a little bit and made a Manhattan layout that will enable the CPO, a 9 volt battery, and all of the required controls to fit into a standard sized Altoids tin. This CPO produces a nice sine wave at about 600 Hz, unlike many of the other CPOs that output a buzzy square wave tone. There are no exotic parts used in this project, only a couple of generic NPN transistors, a handful of common resistors and capacitors, and a trim pot. The output level is sufficent for headphone use, although it will not blow your eardrums out, even at full volume. If you need to use a speaker with this oscillator, just plug it into a set of amplified speakers, like those used for a computer. This project would also make a good oscillator for CW practice on a VHF/UHF FM repeater. The volume control should allow you to adjust the output level to one that is appropriate for the microphone jack of a FM rig.

NT7S Code Practice Oscillator - Tin Open
Inside view of the CPO

I’ve attached a PDF schematic and layout diagram below. I haven’t created any build instructions, but it should be an easy build for anyone who has any experience with Manhattan construction. Let me know if you plan on using this design for a group build to help people learn CW, I might be able to work with you to create such a document. Print out the layout diagram at 100% scale, and you should be able to use it to size your copper clad board and mark the locations of your pads. I hope this is helpful to you and can help you to introduce new operators to CW.



A Little SKCC Activity

New Beaverton Shack
Shack in Progress

On Friday, I noticed that this weekend was the monthly SKCC Weekend Sprint-a-thon. Since I’m a straight key guy, I figured this would be a good way to get in some of the CW practice that I desperately need. The event runs from 0000 to 2359 UTC on Saturday, but I didn’t get on the air at any point on Saturday local time. I missed the initial rush of the opening of the contest, but I still had time to catch the second half of the event this morning.

My first couple of QSOs were not very pleasant, since it’s one thing to copy CW at 15 WPM from a practice MP3 but quite another to do it under real-world conditions. However, once I loosened up, the CW ability started to come back to me more naturally. Since I still have a touch of the key fright, I was OK with S&P QSOs, but didn’t work up the nerve to snag any contacts with a CQ of my own. I set myself a modest goal of 10 contest QSOs, but I didn’t really sit down at the shack and make a serious effort at it. The bands weren’t very good today, and there were long dry spells where I didn’t hear any SKCC members calling CQ. In between stints at the key, I tried to get caught up answering e-mail and took care of some of the endless chores that need to be done around the house. I also have to admit that I didn’t run QRP, but was at about 20 watts for the event. I guess going with higher power is a crutch carried over from my old QTH, but I think I could have used 5 watts or less just fine. No one seemed to have any real trouble hearing me (as long as the QSB didn’t get me).

After all was said and done, I didn’t quite hit my goal, but I did have an enjoyable time. I only managed to complete six QSOs in the event, altough I did work club call K9SKC in the old 40 meter novice band for extra points. If I did my calculations right, I got 80 points. Not very impressive, but I wasn’t trying to be competative. I’m glad I took the time to try the event, since it got me some much-needed practice, as well as a handful of contacts towards my Centurion award. I had also heard that the organizers wanted 100 submissions for this WES, so I’m doing my part. Overall, an enjoyable way to spend some weekend time and a confidence booster as well.