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Short Takes #5: New "Dummies" Book and 3 New Paddles!

By Dave Jensen, W7DGJ

Ham Radio for Dummies


As I’m sure you know, many books have been released over the years by the publisher Wiley under the “For Dummies” banner. I’ve carefully avoided buying anything with that designation and have therefore never been labeled a Dummy. However, a 4th Edition of one of these books has been published that I can’t avoid, as it’s too good to pass up. That is, Ham Radio for Dummies by H. Ward Silver, NØAX. You’ll remember Ward from years of his written materials across our hobby, including the ARRL Handbook.


This brand of books is famous for material that provides a general overview and introduction to a topic, but not much more than that. What I like about Ward’s book is that it not only provides this general introduction needed for newcomers, but it has some seriously in-depth content as well that even an old-timer can appreciate. So many of the Dummies titles are filled with large type and lots of white space to take up room, but this Ham Radio edition is chock filled with content – over 400 pages worth – which makes it something to use as a reference as well as one that you might pass on to a newcomer.


I’m going to recommend this outstanding title to anyone expressing interest in the radio hobby, but I will also caution them that it gets a bit technical in certain areas. They will love that content later in their ham hobby but some of it could feel a bit intimidating at first. While this book is not intended as licensing prep, I’m absolutely sure that if you digested this entire title you’d be ready for your ham ticket. Ward’s section on licensing is great . . . his description of where to find help, how to study, how to find testing and so on . . . it is complete and very helpful.


My only negative for this book lies in something you’d never see in a book review –  a poor “build quality” rating! These 'For Dummies' books feel like they’re published on the lowest grade of commercial paper you can find. Luckily, the content is so good that you’ll soon forget about this. You can find this title on Amazon or in any book store.


All Keyed Up for My Next QRP Run


We had great feedback on a recent review of the Mountain Topper radio and the topic of travel with a QRP portable radio of this size. It’s been a blast since then, and the only problem I’ve had has been to find the right key to bring along with me on outings. I started by taking my Kent dual-paddle with me into the field, but the thing weighs about three times as much as the radio. So, I purchased a few keys to find my new favorite, and I have them reviewed here for your info.


It's easy to find a cheap key if you look on Amazon, eBay or AliExpress. Finding a cheap key is easy, but finding a GOOD cheap key . . . that’s a lot harder.


My first attempt was a tiny paddle offered on eBay (photo at left) which looks great, because it has a magnet on the bottom and is extremely compact in size. I could see how this little guy would mate up nicely with my Mountain Topper. And the price couldn’t be beat, at around $35 with shipping. It's a no-name product, manufactured in China.



Well, as it turns out, the price CAN be beat, in fact quite easily! That’s because what I received didn’t even work. It was literally a piece of junk that required me to pull out a soldering iron to repair it before I could put it into use. (If you are a reader of my articles, you’ll know that I’m not pleased when I have to put a soldering iron in my hands.) Once I could get a “dit” and a “dah” generated, I found out that the magnet on the bottom of the key was so weak that it would slide all over the surface of whatever I attached it to. It turns out to be completely unusable, and a waste of my $35. The return force uses a cheap spring that must cost less than a penny, leading to an overall build quality rating of D, with the user experience rating another D. If you own one of these, my guess is that you eventually glued it to something with some weight. Good luck pounding out code on this thing!


For a few dollars more, I acquired the good looking Putikeeg mini-key for a serious improvement in performance. The issues I had with the cheapie disappeared, as this one actually worked from the onset. It came with a removable cable and a “right/left” switch to easily change it over if you are left-handed. It’s a modern-looking key that has a magnetic return, not often seen on an inexpensive unit.


The adjustments are made for paddle travel by two tiny nuts requiring the use of an included tool. I couldn’t get them quite the way I like them, but it became at least usable with a few minutes of adjustment. The magnets are so strong that they lock onto your surface and you will won't be able to remove it without scratches, which I found out the hard way. That’s why several rubber pads are included to go over these extra-strong magnets and reduce the impact on your radio or desk. I would rate the build quality of this unit at a B, primarily due to a few blemishes on the finish and the difficulty to get the fine-tune that I am used to on the paddles. My experience was rated a B as well. It’s a bargain at $35 from Aliexpress, and sells for anything from $62 to $150 when you buy it on Amazon or eBay. The steel plate it is mounted to in the photo is my own, and not included.


I felt like I was still searching for the perfect paddle for my upcoming POTA and SOTA trips, so I took some advice on the Mountain Topper Facebook forum and invested in the American Morse brand key called the Ultra Porta Paddle, which I have attached to a leg strap. This isn’t even in the same category as the other two keys . . . this baby is built. It’s produced in California (versus China on the other two) and constructed of Mil-Spec anodized aircraft grade aluminum in a rose-gold color, looking much like the construction quality of an Apple iPhone. It uses a Neodymium super magnet return along with sealed ball bearings, all protected within a full enclosure.


The gap and closing force adjustments are easy to use and located on the outside of the key. It weighs just a tad over 2 ounces, but feels like it is constructed extremely well. I had it up and running on my leg within minutes, with the perfect travel distance on the paddles.


Doug at American Morse tells me that he gives an unconditional lifetime guarantee along with his keys. This one rates an A in both build quality and user experience! When using it, I felt as if I were at my home shack, pounding away on a Kent or Bencher or something of that quality. Even the leg mount accessory, which is one of several optional mounts, is made out of powder coated aircraft grade aluminum.


Once again, you get what you pay for as this one retails for $169 delivered. You can find it at the website of American Morse.



If you have comments and would like to join the discussion, please CLICK HERE and join the Short Takes forum!

Dave Jensen, W7DGJ

Dave Jensen, W7DGJ, was first licensed in 1966. Originally WN7VDY (and later WA7VDY), Dave operated on 40 and 80 meter CW with a shack that consisted primarily of Heathkit equipment. Dave loved radio so much he went off to college to study broadcasting and came out with a BS in Communications from Ohio University (Athens, OH). He worked his way through a number of audio electronics companies after graduation, including the professional microphone business for Audio-Technica.  He was later licensed as W7DGJ out of Scottsdale, Arizona, where he ran an executive recruitment practice (CareerTrax Inc.) for several decades. Jensen has published articles in magazines dealing with science and engineering. His column “Tooling Up” ran for 20 years in the website of the leading science journal, SCIENCE, and his column called “Managing Your Career” continues to be a popular read each month for the Pharmaceutical and Household Products industries in two journals published by Rodman Publishing.

Articles Written by Dave Jensen, W7DGJ

This page was last updated March 21, 2023 23:30