Head Copy
by Ron Chester ★ Sunday, November 29, 2020

I was gonna make that last posting the end of my Morse Code series. But Google reminded me that there is one more topic I still need to address. Google did what? I'll explain. I was using the Internet before Google existed. But I started using their search engine soon after they created it. I had been using Alta Vista before that. And soon after they created Gmail, I started using that too. I was very happy using their tools for "free." I believed their motto about "Don't be evil." When I started reading blogs, I was using Google Reader, which I loved, like so many others. I was quite shocked when they pulled the plug on Reader and some doubts about Google began to creep in.

Gradually I learned about how Google was making a fortune selling ads on the Internet, thanks to all the data they were collecting about us through their search engine and through all the emails we were all exchanging using Gmail. Soon I was no longer convinced about their motto. And then I learned about the IndieWeb movement and how it was important to own your own domains to maintain control over your own writing on the Internet. I started doing that with my blogging about three years ago. That has all worked out well.

The next obvious evolution was to replace Google with other tools that wouldn't be spying on me so much. But when I looked for other tools for email, I didn't find anything that seemed as easy as Gmail. Plus I had started reading articles on the web that Google had suggested to me. Some of these suggested articles were really good. There was a turning point when Google suggested a podcast to me about Bob Dylan having won the Nobel Prize. It featured Christopher Ricks, a brilliant professor of English, the first person in academia to compare Dylan's life work to that of Shakespeare's. It was by far the best commentary I ever saw on Dylan's music. And there had been a million articles about Bob and his music. The podcast by Ricks about the prize was by far the best discussion of the event of them all. And to top it all off, my best friend in the Dylan community, a Sanskrit scholar at Cambridge University who runs the best Facebook group about Bob had not heard about that podcast! I'm sure he has one of the biggest collections of Dylan material in the world and he has a huge network of Dylan fans from all over the world. And yet he had not heard about that podcast from anyone! And yet Google had suggested it to me, because it has learned over the years that I am big into Dylan. And it had probably learned from my emails in Gmail that Ricks had become a friend of mine in 1989 when I had recommended that Stanford should have him give the keynote address at the 1989 International Conference on Bob Dylan held at Stanford. So Google put 2 & 2 together. I then had to accept that Google was providing me good value with their suggestions.

And now, the day after I posted Mastering the Code, Google suggested an article that reminded me I had left out an important topic on Morse Code: Head Copy. So here we go.

As you follow whatever routine you adopt for learning the code, your code speed will naturally increase & there will be times when you stop writing down all of what you're copying. This is what is called head copy. For me, this began to occur when I was having QSO's on 40m at 10-15 wpm. Those QSO's had a pretty common format with certain topics coming along in the same order: RST, name, QTH and so on. Eventually I found myself just noting down those key points, without bothering to write down all the connecting text. That is head copy, with notes taken for the logbook. It's a natural progression.

The article above suggests that you can specifically practice copying whole words, rather than individual letters. There are word practice videos that play the 100 most common or 500 most common English words at various CW speeds. Three years ago I was playing around with software that would convert plain text to Morse Code MP3 files. This allows you to roll your own practice files. I've linked to the one I was using, but Google can provide you with a ton of other programs for the same purpose. And here you can find lists of the most common words used in ham radio.

There is one danger here and that is that you might now get wound up in picking the absolute best text-to-CW converter, designing the perfect word lists and creating tons of practice MP3 files. Keep it simple. Remember, the purpose here is to learn CW. And remember Don Wallace originally suggested you could get your practice receiving Code by listening on the radio. So no practice files are even needed in that case.

If you find yourself getting distracted off the main purpose, I suggest you take a quick look over the nine articles I've written here on Morse Code. They're all together in order. The most important one is A New Sound System, which describes the system of learning the Code described by Don Wallace in his 1936 short wave manual, and probably in his 1933 first edition of the manual as well. Going back to that article is equivalent to going back to the basics of the subject. Focus on that system and keep it simple. You want to learn exclusively by sound and then practice, practice, practice. It should be simple, fun and effective!