Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Working CW stations at the end of the year

I've set up an amateur radio station again this week, and worked some stations, including some friends. The transmission feeder is a temporary one, so I will disassemble and reassemble the system soon, after the new year vacation time is over.

Amateur radio for me since 2002 is mostly CW (Morse Code). CW is the most primitive but still practical digital communication form. The bit rate is about 10 to 25 bps (no kilo, mega, or giga) (that is 12 to 30WPM) and it's very slow indeed. You still can send something meaningful over CW, and it has been used for more than 100 years. See how people are using Twitter these days.

CW has already been phased out from the mainstream of professional communication systems, but it's still a viable backup, and ham radio operators still use it over shortwaves to exploit the maximum possibility of communication, to overcome the difficulties of natural and artificial noises, and significant path loss. On the other hand, the latency is minimal; only the path distance between the peers determines the delay time. It's the oldest chat system in the world.

The hardest part of CW is that you need to learn and have a lot of practice to listen to it. It's like learning another foreign language. Some eccentric people including me, however, choose this road less traveled, for many reasons.

Many old operators may find out their younger days of enthusiasm towards radio itself. And many hardware hackers will use CW for realizing the simplest but useful radio system with a pair of home-made transmitter and receiver. Whatever the reason it might be, still quite a lot of people devote themselves to CW. And I am one of them.

Working on CW is simply a good time for me. Learning for a faster CW listening stimulates my mind a lot. And CW reminds me of the very basic issues of digital communication; reliability, bandwidth, stability, latency, and practicality. The procedure of sending and receiving letters by yourself gives you more time to think.

I'm a computer engineer and scientist, and technologically CW is an archaic thing. The principle embedded, however, is still effective to be a fundamental motivation of pursuing engineering and scientific skills; to explore the road less traveled and discover the new world.

The following article of Jeff, KE9V may help you to understand why some old amateur radio operators are still enthusiastic to operate on CW: The Road Less Traveled

73 and have a happy new year 2009.

Kenji Rikitake, JJ1BDX(/3), JO3FUO, N6BDX and JQ2KST