Getting Started With CW
Fred Beatty, K8AJX
Improving Your SpeedBefore we take the plunge on the air, there are other options that will really help with our proficiency. The first is RufzXP – Tancredi by Mathias Kolpe, DL4MM, and Allesandro Vitiello, IV3XYM. You will find it at http://www.rufzxp.net/. This program sends groups of random characters that are great for increasing speed and reviewing characters that may be a bit more difficult for us.
Once you have the RufzXP downloaded and installed, you will see a “Tools” pull-down menu at the upper left. Click on it to begin setting up the program. Click on “Options” and leave the sliders at the default setting, put your call sign in the box at the right, select 10 WPM, and check the “Show Scoreboard” box. Click “OK” to exit the menu. Next click on the “Mode” menu and select “Trainer,” then select “Settings” and click on the appropriate boxes for the letters, numbers, and symbols that you would like to practice. For the other options, we suggest a “Group Length” of 5, “Group Composition” mixed, “Speed” fixed, “Number of “Groups per Attempt” at 20, “Trainer Mode” all, and “Morse Weight” normal. Then click on “OK” and you are ready to go.
To run the program, click on “Start.” Your call will come up. Hit “Enter” on the keyboard and 10 WPM will appear. When you hit “Enter” again, the program will begin sending random characters, which you will enter on the keyboard. After each set, you will see a box at left with the characters that the program sent and one at right with your responses. This provides you with immediate feedback. At the end of the session, a scoreboard will appear listing the character groups that were sent and your responses. As you probably noticed when you set up the program, you have a lot of possibilities that you can select as your proficiency increases.
If you are feeling pretty comfortable at 10 words per minute, this is a good point to “up the ante.” We recommend that you do so in two words per minute increments. You will find that you still will be able to copy most of the characters, but the increase will challenge you a bit. How do you tell when you have reached a point where you should increase the speed? That’s a personal preference, but if you are copying 90 percent or better, it is probably time to raise it.
“Okay,” you say. “Now I am ready to move on to more challenging practice options.” A good way to do that is through the ARRL Code Practice program, for which you will need a receiver or transceiver. The ARRL sends QST text sent on the air at various speeds, depending on the day of the week through the week. For details and a schedule of times go to the ARRL home page (http://www.arrl.org/home) and enter “code practice” in the Web search window. On the League site, you will find a lot of additional information regarding Morse Code. There are even files that you can download for practice.
You are probably feeling pretty good about your code now, and rightfully so. You could move on to “live” operation, but there is one more training aid that you might use before you do . . . Morse Runner” by Alex Shovkoplyas, VE3NEA, which you will find at http://www.dxatlas.com/MorseRunner/ . This is a contest practice program, but it is great for copying calls and signal reports in realistic band conditions. We recommend you download and install it.
When you execute Morse Runner you will get this screen. Put your call in the appropriate box, set 10 wpm or whatever speed you are feeling comfortable with by this point, then enter the CW pitch and bandwidth as shown. Leave the “QSK” (full break-in mode) box unchecked for starters, so that the only sound you hear when transmitting is your side-tone. Full break-in (QSK) CW can be confusing initially.
The “Band Conditions” options are the heart of the program for our purposes, as they will introduce static (QRN), interference (QRM), fading (QSB), flutter, and discourteous operators (lids) . . . in other words just what you could encounter when on the air. You can experiment with the options, beginning with QRM and then adding additional factors to suit your progress. Set the “Activity” at 1 for starters, then increase it as you get more comfortable. We recommend that you set the time limit for the practice run at 5 minutes, which is a comfortable length of time to begin with.
To execute the program, click on “Run.” You will hear the normal background noise of the receive mode. Click on “CQ” at the lower left. The program will send the CQ, your call sign, and the word “test” (short for “contest”). The program will then go to “receive.” If you don’t get a response, call “CQ” again. When you hear a caller, enter his call via the keyboard and hit the “Enter” key. The program will transmit his call, signal report, and QSO number. At 599 will appear in the RST box. When the station comes back to you, enter his QSO number in the “Nr.” box and hit return on your keyboard. When he is finished responding, you can click the “TU” button. The QSO will post in the box above. Note, by the way, that in contests a 9 is sent as “N” and 0 (zero) with a long dash to save time. Some operators use these abbreviations in their everyday QSOs, as well . . . which, by the way, is not good operating practice.
There is a lot more to this program, but these options will get you started and are sufficient for our purposes.
Well, it has been a long road, but you are now ready for the real world. Let’s get on the air.
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