Fun with CW

At our past two monthly meetings, lucky SPARC members have gone home with a speical door prize: the Pixie 40m CW transceiver. The Pixie is a low-cost way to send and receive CW on the 40-meter band. “CW” and “Morse code” are often used interchangeably, but technically CW refers to the method of transmitting a radio signal (“continuous wave”), and Morse code is the series of audio tones being sent over that signal (the famous “dits” and “dahs” or dots and dashes).

CW is an effective way to communicate over long distances with low power, but today’s hams can spend years in the hobby and never use it. Since 1991 it’s been possible to earn an amateur radio license without passing a Morse code proficiency test. The FCC dropped Morse code requirements from all license classes in 2006. Having those Pixie transceivers around has spurred some club discussions about CW both in person and during our on-air nets.

On a recent net, Tim WA0PTC explained the procedure known as “zero beating.” Essentially, it is the process of making sure the sender and receiver of CW signals are both on the same frequency. The ARRL’s Doctor Is In podcast has an entire  episode on zero beating.

If you’d like to learn Morse code and give CW a try, Mike Dinelli sells a book called The Art and Skill of Radio-Telegraphy, which some refer to as “the bible of Morse code.” There is both a free version and an updated edition available for purchse.

Communicating via Morse code may seem like a relic in the age of smartphones, but certain engineers at Google disagree. The company’s Gboard keyboard for mobile devices (available for both Android and iOS) has recently added a Morse code option. And in order to make learning Morse easier, they’ve released a game called Morse Typing Trainer. Google claims the game can teach you Morse code in under an hour. The addition of Morse to Gboard is an attempt to improve the accessibility of devices like phones and tablets.

To supplement the Typing Trainer game, Google released a poster with the game’s mnemonic images. Click on the version at the bottom of this post to download a printable PDF.

Updated 09/20/18: In the September edition of the Pasadena Radio Club Bulletin, Paul Gordon N6LL lists a few other CW resources.

HelloMorse-Poster

Is It Legal to Operate Your Radio in the Car?

The short answer: Yes, it is legal to operate your radio in the car.

Long answer: Governor Jerry Brown recently signed into law AB-1222, which clarifies that operating mobile is still legal. Hams in California had been concerned about a law passed last year that seemed to ban operating amateur radios in cars. The well-intentioned law, AB-1785, was meant to cut down on accidents and deaths from distracted driving, a growing problem. The target of the law was, obviously, driving while using mobile phones. But the language in AB-1785 was broad and could have been interpreted to ban ham radio use as well.

AB-1222, signed on September 26,  removed the terms “specialized mobile radio device” and “two way messaging device” as prohibited devices.

Here is a quote from the Assembly Transportation Committee bill analysis:
“The author believes AB 1785 inadvertently included devices that were not intended to be included in the wider cellphone ban. Devices such as two-way radios functioning on business band or civilian band (CB) radios which have a more limited scope of functions, and thus, a more limited potential for distracting a driver. … According to guidance issued by the California Highway Patrol, a radio installed and mounted in a vehicle with a wired hand microphone, for example, business band or CB radio, is not considered to be wireless communication device, nor is it considered a specialized mobile radio device, and therefore not subject to enforcement under AB 1785.”

Many thanks to the local ARRL chapters who reached out to their state representatives and made sure this important clarification was passed. The quote above was taken from a useful post about AB-1222 by Andrew Silvester KC6O of the Sacramento Valley chapter. (They also have a post about how pot grow lights interfere with ham radio because, you know, Northern California.)

Don’t do this though.