Morse in a New Year

25 January 2018

One of the things I’ve done in the past few weeks is build a new keyboard for this computer. It’s what’s called a straight key in radio circles.

Telegraph key being used as a USB keyboard on my computer.

Yep, it’s real. And it works. I actually used it to type (key?) in some of this blog post. It’s literally just an USB cable, a Teensy 3.1, and a Morse code key. I’m going to mount the Teensy in the bottom of the board, but for now it’s on the protoboard until I get all my code changes done.

So, why? What the heck would I do that for when I have a perfectly good computer keyboard?

At the start of 2018 I was once again thinking I wanted to find a way to really make myself learn Morse Code. A way that would guarantee I would learn it.

Among other times, I want to use my mobile radio when I’m out and about but don’t have the computer with me. Normally, I use PSK-31 which is computer-to-computer via amateur radio. For that, obviously, I have to have a laptop with me. The thing is, I don’t always have one with me and sometimes I will be out in the Owyhees at a spot where I’d like to see if I can have a QSO (conversation) on the radio. No laptop, no QSO.

The obvious question is, why don’t I just sit down and learn it?

Well, I could, but I’m lazy and I know it. Also, I already know about half the alphabet and numbers and a punctuation mark or two. So, what’s the problem? It’s no fun for me just sitting and memorizing the International Morse Code. I can, but that’s boring.

I began to wonder if I could somehow replace my QWERTY keyboard with a straight key. I took the path of least resistance and started searching online to see if anyone had done something like this with an Arduino or Teensy. It turns out several people had and made their code and schematics freely available.

After studying a few of them, I zeroed in on Nomblr’s rebuild of her dad’s old telegraph key. Her code was clean and the schematic about as simple as it ever gets so I leveraged off her work. The good thing was I happened to have a Teensy 3.1 in my “hell box” (as in “where the hell is it?”).

I dug out the Teensy 3.1, connected the straight key to the Teensy, plugged the USB cable into the Teensy and the computer. For testing, I simply downloaded Nomblr’s code to the Teensy, opened up Notepad++, and tried the key. I used the programmer’s holy first test: …. . .-.. .-.. — .– — .-. .-.. -..

To my immense pleasure, the letters started showing up in Notepad++ right away: hello world.

OK, so I had to look up two of those letters. That’s the whole point. I can now use the telegraph key to write on the computer, and to do so, I have to learn the Morse code letters I don’t know. Sure, it’ll be slow for a bit here and there but over the next few days or weeks I’ll be up to speed. And I’ll have learned the International Morse Code much faster than otherwise. Much.

I have already made some tweaks to her code and am in the process of adding some extra bells and whistles that I think will be useful to me. For example, I’ve added in a couple of prosigns like CQ and SOS. Keying in SOS, for example, corresponds to pressing F1 on a QWERTY keyboard. I’ve added in the punctuation from the International Morse Code table, and I’ve set up “……..” which is Morse for “error” to mimic pressing the backspace key on a regular keyboard.

Now I’ve got a fun and productive way to learn Morse code. One that not only ensures I’ll learn it, but also lets me practice sending and have fun doing so.

Soon, I’ll be on the airwaves with CW.

Future tweaks to this setup include adding a way to adjust the words-per-minute of the program. Currently it’s hard-coded and to change it to work smoothly with a faster or slower WPM I have to modify the code and dump it to the Teensy. Not difficult, but also not ideal, especially as my speed improves.

I do want to increase my speed, but one caveat is that I need to ensure that I don’t send faster than I can receive. For that reason, among others, another mod is to add a display to show what my actual WPM is as I use the key.

As to why a straight key instead of an iambic paddle…I’m of German descent, which gives me a Stubborn bonus of +4. 😉


Zombie Ramblings

22 November 2017

Right up front, let’s get one thing clear.

This post is MY ramblings, not some dogma, beliefs, laws, or anything serious. Just fun ramblings and musings by yours truly. Got it?

My wife is into and watching the US TV show, “Walking Dead.” I’m not all that into it, but I watch it with her from time to time when I’m not reading or doing something else. To me, watching this show is like reading Westerns…they do the same thing over and over: split up, wander, survive, link up, fight with other groups, repeat. She’s into the people, I’m meh on it.

For those of you wondering, I’ve read a couple Westerns. Some are different, but the vast majority of them are similar except for the type of horse, the horse’s name, the guy’s name, the girl’s name, and the name of the town.

My XYL (that’s ham-speak for wife) and I have had some fun discussions about zombies, though. That’s where the rest of this blog comes in.

Enjoy! Remember, these are just my brain wandering and musing.

One of the ladies had a baby and at one point feared she was going to be stillborn. Apparently, everyone’s infected so if they die they turn into zombies. We wound up talking about if the baby turned into a zombie as a result of that. There were some funny and creepy results of that discussion, such as…

  1. The baby has no teeth, so it’d have to gum it’s way out of the mom.
  2. Going by the way the infection is able to take over animating the body when the brain is destroyed, once out the zombie baby would be promptly up and shuffling, arms out, growling (albeit high pitched and not very loud). If it caught you, it’d promptly set to gumming you. This whole aspect is hilariously creepy in my mind.

Since the zombies lately all seem to be infected, excepting of course those zombies pulled up by voodoo and other such means, can zombies starve to death? They don’t eat each other, and when there’s no more fresh meat around…do they hibernate and slowly decompose? I suppose they could live a long time, like various bugs, fish, lizards, etc. that are comatose for years in ice, dried mud, and so forth until conditions return to favorable for them to live again. But with the bodies so obviously decomposing as soon as they turn I can see the infection starving to death. Especially once the host bodies are gone.

Supposedly, the virus in “Walking Dead” destroys the brain and takes over animating the corpse by taking control via the top of the spinal system. So, how does a poke in the head kill them, and how does cutting off their head at the neck as often as not result in a still animated body and head, only separated? Yet other times, cutting off the head seems to kill the zombie. Hmmm.

When the humans die, say of their wounds, a disease, starvation, whatever, out in the countryside, since they turn so fast into zombies, it must drive those circling buzzards nuts. I can just see it: “Hey, Al! There’s a dead body down there! Let’s eat! Oh, wait, it’s up again. What’s up with that, anyway, Al? How’s a buzzard supposed to know any more?”

The zombies, when they walk, lift up their feet maybe 3 inches at most. As often as not they just shuffle their feet along the surface. Now suppose someone loses their leg, by accident or deliberately as happened. Further suppose they have to make their own. After all, prosthesis aren’t likely to be readily available. The most likely result is…a good, old peg leg.

Now picture the person killed. He or she turns into a zombie with a peg leg. Shuffling along, the peg leg goes into a gopher, ground squirrel, rabbit, whatever hole. Since the zombie doesn’t lift it’s foot up, just shuffles along, that peg leg isn’t going to be coming out of the hole any time soon. How long do you think that zombie is going to be walking in a circle around it’s peg leg?

For that matter, if two zombies are approaching each other and collide, if they somehow get stuck together (I can think of several ways), will they forever shuffle around each other on that one spot?

Ah, well. Those were fun to think about. I’m sure people will come up with perfectly valid excuses and workarounds but I’m not into zombies enough to care, really. I’m just having fun with what little I know and funny circumstances I can come up with.

Here’s one for you.

What if only a certain group of people turned into zombies and instead of craving brains and hot flesh, they craved doing to other people whatever their profession was. Maybe doing that would also turn those people into zombies, too, just to keep things “real”. Heh! OK, so what profession would be the funniest as a zombie?

Chefs are too much like current zombies, they’d try and slice and dice you and serve you up. Mechanics could be interesting. Beauticians? Mimes? Gah! Can you imagine a world of mimes?!?! You’d never hear them coming, though! Dancers?

And please, just leave all this as the thought experiments they are. No need to try and create zombies just to answer the above for once and all. The human race will thank you for your restraint.

Astrophotography Workflow

12 October 2017

Since the last time I blogged about my astrophotography tools things have changed somewhat. I thought I would write up my current workflow, without making it as much an app tutorial as I did last time.

For starters, I no longer use The Photographer’s Ephemeris. Ever since it moved to online only, it’s been pretty much useless to me in the field. It was a great program, and still is, for laying out sight lines, times, and such. Unfortunately, with it being online only, I can’t use it in the field to work out things.

I pretty much rely now on two phone apps and a computer program:

Stellarium: In the field on a laptop or at home, this is my favorite planetarium program. It lets me see what the sky might show on any location, date and time, and conversely allows me to see when a particular sky object might be where I want it for a photograph. Plus it’s great for finding your way around the night sky on site.

Dioptra: An Android only app, it illustrates the adage, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” With it, I can record in one image the desired view from that location, the actual GPS coordinates, and the compass bearing of the view. It records a few other details as well, but those are the ones I focus on.

Sun Surveyor: Available for both Apple and Android, I use this mostly on-site. Its Live View allows me to see the paths of the Milky Way, sun, and moon through the sky superimposed on that location. It’s useful in allowing me to get everything aligned on that spot and ready to take pictures before dark.

Yesterday, I went into the Owyhees with the goal of scouting a location. As can be seen later, the location doesn’t align for the planned photo shoot any time soon but using Stellarium I was able to identify a different possibility that I could take advantage of.

What I list below is pretty much my usual workflow.

Generally, I start out with an idea, which for some reason seems to tend towards shooting from in a canyon to frame the Milky Way or a planet or constellation between canyon walls. This time, I was thinking “Milky Way above Succor Creek.” I know the Succor Creek picnic area is in a narrow canyon (see what I mean?) and there is a bridge that crosses over the creek there. So, off I go into the Owyhees.

A cowboy, in baseball cap, chaps, jeans, jacket, on a brown horse herding three cows and a couple calves under a mostly white cloudy sky alongside the dirt road in the Owyhees.

A working cowboy herding cattle in the Owyhees.

After a relaxing drive, I arrive at the site. I take my camera bag out on the bridge, and position myself centered over Succor Creek. After first turning on the GPS, I pull up the Dioptra app. Once it’s open and I verify I have a GPS lock I wave my phone around in the classic 3 figure 8s to calibrate the compass.

Hmmm. Just had a mental picture of me in a hooded cloak, mystically waving my arms to summon Magnetic and command him to calibrate my compass.


The next step is to simply point the phone camera for the view I want and take a picture. The app then records that view overlaid with all the necessary “notes” I need to work with Stellarium.

A view up a creek with heavy growth of small trees, brush, and grass on both sides. In the far distance a butte sticks up from the horizon visible between the brush, aligned with the center of the creek. Partially white cloudy sky, mostly blue sky. Superimposed is various information from the Dioptra app like a heads-up display.

The output of Dioptra at the bridge over Succor Creek, Owyhees, Malheur County, Oregon.

While it’s hard to see, in the center of the image is a reticle that gives you an aiming point. I usually only use that for direction alignment on some landscape feature that I might want in the end image. Under that is a compass bearing, in this case 138° which is the direction of interest, straight up Succor Creek. Luckily for me, that distant butte is in line with the creek. In the upper left is the latitude, longitude, and altitude of that spot on the bridge. At the bottom is the compass direction. The two angles on the side are useful for getting the camera perfectly level but in this situation I don’t really care about those.

As you can see, one of the current issues with Dioptra is the use of white text and no way to change that. Hopefully, the programmer will be adding an option to change the text color in the future, but for now there are some workarounds. For example, you can change the camera angle to put the text onto a darker background and take a second picture. Or put your hand over the lens. That gives you the first picture showing you the planned view orientation and a second picture that ensures you get all the necessary information.

Similar to previous Dioptra image, but from the middle of a dirt road. Back half of a blue-green blazer visible to left, steep redish brown cliffs to either side of road.

Another Dioptra image, this time on the road to Succor Creek. Note the better visibility of the information upper left.

This is a Dioptra shot at another location. Notice the center information is almost completely lost in the white cloud but the information top left stands out quite nicely. It’s hard to see, but this straight run of the road lines up on 162°, a bit more towards the south and an alternative which would give me those distant rock fingers reaching to the sky.

My next step is to take a few shots with the camera and lenses I am considering using. In this case, I took an image at each end of two zoom lenses, my fisheye (10-17mm) and my regular 18-55mm. I usually use the fisheye for my astrophotography but it’s useful to try the other lenses as well. Sometimes the framing in a different focal length just works better and if you don’t check that, you won’t know that.

Succor Creek test photo, 17mm focal length.

Succor Creek test photo, 10mm focal length.

Succor Creek test photo, 35mm focal length.

Back at the house, I pull up Stellarium on the computer. Using the location function, I enter the latitude, longitude, and altitude. Next, I move the view to the desired compass bearing. I can also set the field of view to match that of the lens I plan to use but I tend to leave that at the default setting unless it’s a site I use regularly and have a landscape for.

Pulling up the time function and setting it to 2300 tonight, I saw that the Milky Way wouldn’t line up with the creek…at all. It would be coming up over the canyon wall to the right. The 10mm focal length image above does show that I could get a decent shot with the fisheye and still be able to have the creek in the image. The creek wouldn’t be going down the middle of the image, though, if I really want to maximize the Milky Way. That creates a potential line that guides the viewers eye away from the Milky Way.

Not good. At all.

So, now I start clicking on the day in the time function, advancing roughly 24 hours per click. As I watch the screen, I notice the moon goes across the scene regularly. A bit of playing with the time and date shows that I could possibly get a shot of the moon high over the distant butte. The creek would guide the eye to the butte and the butte would point up to the moon. With the right moon, Succor Creek would be a ribbon of silver. That’s a decent possibility.

Advancing day by day again, I come up with a shot that doesn’t have the Milky Way, but does have Orion over the distant butte. Hmmm. That’s another possibility. The moon would be up, but hidden by the left cliff wall. The date says 2017/12/6…December 6th. Depending on the weather, that might be fun.

Stellarium, showing Orion above the butte. Succor Creek would be visible vertically in the lower 1/3 center (as seen in previous pictures).

Finally, I get the northern part of the Milky Way aligned…on 2017/12/27. Not as impressive as the main body of the Milky Way, but a possibility. I really want the center band, though, so I continue advancing…to 2018/06/11. Sigh. All the way to next June before I can get that shot.

Hey, Saturn’s there, too, and pretty much right over the butte!

Imagine the 10mm image of Succor Creek above with the Milky Way over it. Saturn would be directly above the butte.

So, now I have a few dates for images that might work at that Succor Creek bridge location. I know what to expect, where to aim the camera, which lens I will probably use, how early I have to be there, and how late I’ll have to stay. It’s a good opportunity to just go camping, too, knowing I’ll have some neat pictures of the night sky as a result.

If the weather cooperates.