Friday, April 14, 2017

Its All In Your Head

Learning to "head copy" CW.

Since getting back on the air last year I have discovered that the most fun mode is CW. As I relearned code this time around, I learned it at about 15 wpm using a combination of the Farnsworth and Koch methods. This is a reasonable speed for rag chewing and general operating. As I operate more, I find that I can now copy up to around 20 wpm, and even faster in contests and DX pileups. However, I still need to write down everything as it comes by. This is not a problem at home with a computer, but in the field my hand has trouble keeping up. It also means I have to carry more paper if I want to have some longer QSOs. The solution to this problem is to learn to "head copy" cw, or understand what is being sent without needing to write anything.

This may sound easy, but how much would you understand if someone read a book to you saying each letter. You'd have to remember the letters, then assemble them into words, then assemble the words into sentences. Its harder than it sounds.

Listening to live conversations on the air is a good way to practice, but you then also have to listen to the noise of the bands and the fading. There must be a better way. Somewhere I stumbled across some very helpful sites which contained audio files of books in Morse code. I downloaded them, and have started listening to A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs. This one is nice because it starts out at a slower speed, and every few chapters the speed increases. Once I get through this one, there are a number of others available as audio files. A second option is to use ebook2cw, a program you can download that will convert text to cw audio files. It takes a large number of input parameters, allowing you to finely control the cw.

Progress so far

I've been listening to Burroughs' book and talking on the air, and I can now head copy slower speeds, up to about 15 wpm. On a recent SOTA outing I had a long QSO with W6JL who really encouraged me to put down the pen once I mentioned I was trying to learn to head copy. As we were chatting, he started sending every word twice. This was helpful for head copy, but hearing easy common words and abbreviations twice was tedious. Since then, all of my QRS contacts have been head copy, only writing down the important items. Operating SOTA I sometimes only have a small pad, so not doing head copy is impossible. This really makes me work at understanding what is being sent. I continue to practice to get my speed up, but life tends to get in the way, slowing down the practice.


SKCC Learning Center - A number of files of different lengths and speeds.
A Princess of Mars - Audio book
ebook2cw - Converter.
HamRadioQrp - Well written blog, this page about head copy.

My bug (in a very messy shack).

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