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June 23rd, 2008

What is Field Day?

Someone asked this yesterday and each person they talked to gave a different set of answers. Here is the list as I remember it:

1. A time to show people what ham radio looks like and sounds like and even let them try it out
2. A fun time for hams to get together
3. A chance to design, build, and use large antennas that a ham wouldn't be able to build alone
4. A chance for hams to practice setting up stations in the field from scratch as a form of emergency training and preparedness
5. A learning experience where hams can learn new skills and technology (in my case, tying knots in ropes and dressing flesh wounds)
6. A contest to see which group can make the most contacts over a 24-hour period
7. The best weekend of the year (according to one friend of mine!)

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How do I make Morse Code?

That's what I always wondered, too.

Of course, the basic tool is the straight key. It's what you see in all the old Spaghetti Westerns. Looks something like this.

Well, I found out that these are pretty hard on the arm after a while. You have to fight a lot of tension to press the key down and close the circuit and you do so by banging it up and down. [Edit (6/25/08 6:30pm): I just discovered that my key was set at a very high tension which made it abnormally hard to press. And I thought it was just me... As advised by my cw friend and mentor, NG3K, I've loosened the tension screw in the middle and now it runs a lot easier! In any case, it is still irritating to go up and down up and down over and over again...] That is hard on the muscles and tendons in the arm, especially if you key code at fast speeds. It is hard to get very high speeds with a straight key considering the motion required to make one sound.

So, most hams that operate cw use other kinds of keys. One is called the iambic paddle. It is a pair of paddles - you tap one to make the DAH and the other to make the DIT. It requires a lot less movement and strain. Also, if you hold both at once, it alternates between DAH - DIT - DAH - DIT so you don't have to. You can see the paddle key in action here at youtube. Guess I will have to get one of these lovelies for my new rig.

I am getting closer to the purchase of my rig, by the way. I was reading the manual today on my break and it looks great. I heard that Yaesu manuals were very well done, and I found that they surely are! The information is clear, concise, large-sized, well spaced, and full of appropriate and useful diagrams that are plainly marked. Each page covers a certain topic and only presents what I, the user, needs to know. Very good document design. The information architect inside me was extremely pleased. I almost want to buy from them just to show my support for their attention to usability and my user need for information. But, well, I think the real reason is cw. :)

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