Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Spacing - the most important thing.

I don't know about you guys, but for me, "written" Morse is almost impossible for me to decode. Someone posted this to one of the Amateur Radio groups that I belong to in Facebook:

It took me a while to figure out that this said "Merry Christmas". At first, I thought it was starting with a "g" - to me the spacing was off. So. of course, I had to comment - which I shouldn't have done. I always get in trouble when I comment.  I posted, "Same to you, but your spacing is off.". Which probably went over like a lead balloon.

So the person came back a little later with:

Which to my eye was a whole lot better. Morse is hard enough for me to "read", but when it gets jumbled up, it makes it even harder.  But then someone posted this:

"It was great the first time also. A good CW operator can copy no matter what the spacing of the characters. Thanks for sending."

Really? Wow - then I am definitely not as good a CW operator as I had thought myself to be.  To me, spacing is everything. If the Morse is "run on", whether it's typed or pounded, then I can't read it and I can't copy it aurally, either. I wonder .... am I alone in that?

So here's a question, a hypothesis for you, if you will. Feel free to comment, The gentleman who posted that comment may have a very valid point. Have we (I) gotten spoiled by keyers and paddles? Do we (I) expect more "perfect" code than we used to get in the days when straight keys and bugs dominated the landscape?  Have our ears (at least maybe my ears) gotten to the point where they're spoiled by perfectly produced electronic dits and dahs?

Maybe back in the days when almost everyone was mechanically sending Morse Code, it was easier to decode a fist that was less than perfect - because less than perfect was the norm. Spacing as well as the length of dits and dahs was all over the place and ears were used to copying Morse sent "all over the place" - especially on the Novice bands  In fact, this is how we came up with the concept of someone's "fist". Do you think this is a reasonable theory? That a really good CW operator should be able to copy a variety of fists, even lousy (sorry!) ones?

I think I can do that, at least I used to think I could do that, but I have to admit - when the spacing is terrible, and sometimes it is, I am at an utter and complete loss. If I hear Morse that soundsmorelikethis,allditsanddahsrunningonwithoutanyspaces - then it's as hard for me to copy as it was for you to read that last little bit. And to be honest with you, if it's that bad, than I simply would rather not even try. I hope that's not perceived as uppity or condescending - it's probably more of a lack of ability on my part. I marvel at the stories of the "pros" who could copy Morse at 40 WPM while making coffee, eating breakfast, walking the dog and chatting with the mailman.  I'm lucky if I don't get distracted by a mosquito or an itch or the urge to sneeze - all of which can totally mess me up. I wish I was that good - sadly, I am not. Maybe I'm just getting old, and my powers of concentration are not what they used to be.

Anyway, skipping to a different topic, I had two nice short little "ragchew" type conversations during lunch today.  One was with Mike WB0AGU near Kansas City, MO and the other was with David N4IVE in NC. The QSO with David was 2X QRP. He was using an OHR homebuilt kit radio to a full sized 20 Meter loop antenna. His 3 Watts was coming in like gangbusters. I told David that I used to have the OHR 20/40 and thought it to be an excellent radio. OHR offers good stuff.

Then David asked where my OHR went. Truth be told, it was sold to provide financing for other radio purchases. Another point of wondering ..... I wonder how many of us (if any of us) are lucky enough to have every radio ever purchased?  I think the norm is to buy, sell and buy up - at least that's been my experience. How about you?

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!


  1. I totally agree Larry - code without proper spacing is very difficult to read, I feel it was never meant to be written down in such a manner, it's a language of rhythms and rhythms rely completely on proper time-spacing and character length. I also saw that post and struggled for a moment to decode it until I realized what it was.
    73 de K9PLG

  2. Hello Larry, I can't decode CW myself so how can I comment. But even a computer does not know what to decode when morse is sent without spacing. About selling/buying. I still own my Alinco handheld I bought when I just became licensed. And still have my Icom-706. But sold my Kenwood TM707 VHF/UHF radio to buy the FT-817. 73, Bas

    1. Hallo Bas, CWskimmer is intelligent software and can recognize words when spacing is incorrect. 73 Paul PC4T

  3. Hi Larry, I do agree with you. It's very difficult to decode CW when spacing is bad. 73 Paul PC4T

  4. Hello Larry, I still have every QRP radio I ever bought. I can't bear to part with them. I had sold my novice radios; a DX-20 and a Viking Valiant. I ended up buying replacements of the same models! Then I had to move earlier this year. Ohhhhh, myyyy. Don't collect radios unless you own your own home! I enjoy your postings. Keep up the good work! 73, Ron W6AZ

  5. I totally agree Larry, it's my pet peeve now that I'm spending more time on CW. After all Morse Code is made up of dots, dashes, and spaces (several sizes). If you run the first 2 N's of NN6 together, then you have C6. So, the only way the listener can hope to sort out the sending error is by context. If the band is open to California, but not open to Florida, then the sender is probably in California, unless of course he has relocated to another call area and kept his old call sign. By the time I have thought that through, I've missed my signal report and his name. Two N's run together equal a C, NM becomes Y, etc. And many other run together characters make nonsense characters. Try sending to your computer CW reader program (such as CW get). If the computer can't read your sending maybe a little off the air practice is in order. 73 Grant AA9LC

  6. Larry, I am a relatively new CW op and struggle to copy operators who run thier code into one long prosign.

    I really try to properly space and when I work a station that does not I will intentionally exaggerate my spacing to give them a hint.


  7. Larry, I am a relatively new CW op and struggle to copy operators who run thier code into one long prosign.

    I really try to properly space and when I work a station that does not I will intentionally exaggerate my spacing to give them a hint.


  8. Anonymous12:40 AM

    The key is not in the character spacing, it is in recognizing words. If you recognize words, you don't get hung-up on the character spacing. Efficient operators know this. For one simple example, consider the Morse "Prosign" AR (with a line over it, indicating the two characters are run-together intentionally). AR stands for "All Received" or "All Rendered". AR can just as easily be interpreted as RN or EQ etc., but you "recognize" it as AR. In my opinion, teaching and/or learning Morse by concentrating on letters is crippling in the long run, I do not recommend it. Best 73's & Merry Xmas, David WB4ONA

  9. Spacing is important. If you can copy your own recording of what you send then just maybe you have it right! I don't answer sloppy CW.

  10. With all due respect, WB4ONA, I think you are missing the point that Larry was making in his original post. Spacing is obviously critical to understanding Morse, as we do not always deal with 'words' as you claim. A callsign can easily be misinterpreted, either because it was mis-sent with bad spacing (for example) or because QSB has meant that one element of a character was not received. There is no word one that can be conjured up in the receiver's mind that would help in this situation. I frequently have to correct stations who copy my suffix as WPZ or JPG, instead of JPZ, not (I believe!) because I have sent them wrongly, but because they have not read the characters properly, or my signal was subject to fading and/or interference at a critical moment. Once they have read it wrongly it is sometimes impossible for them to accept the proper spelling as their minds are already made up and they refuse to change. This is part of the phenomenon of people hearing what they expect rather than what was sent, which results in people's name being copied as Dan when it is in fact Din, Timothy instead of Timofey etc. I agree that we should try to learn to copy (read) words as such, but there are times when we need to copy random letters/numbers, in which case spacing is absolutely key to being read properly. Best 73, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Colin GM4JPZ/N6OET

  11. David,

    I still maintain that spacing is the key. Particularly if you are listening for words instead of individual characters.



  12. Larry, the funny thing is that it's actually not hard to read what you wrote there, because understanding English requires understanding words whole, and that's no problem for the average speaker - even with no word boundaries. With CW, bad spacing screws up the individual letters (as you said in your original post), and that can make it impossible to even guess what word is meant (let alone understand an arbitrary callsign combination). Your first word BECAUSE could come out as T S E T R A I T H if sent wrongly, and we've all heard this kind of thing (even if this is an exaggerated example). I can see that there are some of us who are so interested in the code that we can think (and talk) about it for hours. Long may that be the case! 73, Colin

  13. Anonymous8:06 PM

    Larry, I agree that poor spacing makes copying code a chore. What's the point of having this skill if not to send the best code we are capable of. It is a matter of integrity and consideration of the receiving operator. Case in point, a bug operating with too fast dots is much more difficult to copy as a weak signal than a keyer with autospacing. A properly adjusted bug or well sent straight key is a joy to copy! Even a keyer with autospacing can achieve a unique rhythmic sound by increasing spacing slightly. More open spacing may decrease the actual data transfer speed but still be easy to copy.

    Merry Christmas and 73