Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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. 😉

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Year’s End 2012

19 December 2012

As I will be on vacation beginning tomorrow evening, this will most likely be my last post to the blog for 2012. I do not expect to post here again until the week of January 9, 2013.

So, allow me to wish you the best of the holiday appropriate to your beliefs and also my best wishes for the coming new year.

I have no New Year’s Resolutions. I tried once to set and follow a New Year’s Resolution but failed miserably…I simply forgot about it until September of that year and by then it was too late for that particular Resolution. So, I simply take the time around January first to evaluate my regular goals and see how I might want to adjust or update or discard or add to them for the year. That way, I seem more able to meet those goals I set. Why that works and a New Year’s Resolution doesn’t I have no idea, but there it is.

Over vacation I plan to concentrate mostly on three things: family, writing, and reading. I have a series or two that I’d like to get into, and that will take a few days. As a Tolkien fan, I want to go see The Hobbit but will do so only if the theater has the closed captioning glasses. If not, I’ll have to bide my time and wait for the BR release to get the captions. I know the story well enough to enjoy it on the big screen but being able to read what they say contributes to the experience. And anyway, I’ve got some other movies I want to watch.

My granddaughter and I have been building a Theremin-like instrument driven by an Arduino. When it didn’t work properly, the first thing I discovered was that she’d put one of the jumper wires into the wrong pinhole. Other than that she did a perfect job wiring it up. However, I found that there was an error in the schematic provided online – one of the connections went to an unused pin on the amplifier chip. On top of that, it turned out that the replacement amplifier chip I used wasn’t really a pin-for-pin replacement so I’ll have to re-do that part of the schematic from scratch. Once that’s done it should work and we’ll just need to box it up for her.

I also want to take care of some ham radio stuff. There are a few antennae I “need” to order for both mobile and home (QTH) antenna systems. QTH wise, I’m currently set up for 40m and 20m receiving but the transmitting side leaves something (a lot!) to be desired. I’d like to fix that and provide discrete 40m and 20m capacity. For both 40m and 20m I plan to use two HF Sticks as center-fed shortened dipoles for the QTH system. I also want to add a 20m HF Stick to my Geo Tracker for mobile ops as that frequency seems more active during the times I’m mobile. I haven’t decided if the 20m will replace the 40m already on the vehicle or will be in addition. With all the reading, writing, and other stuff I have in mind, actually putting up the antennae will probably have to wait until spring, at least.

I also want to monitor the PSK bands for a while, see what I can pick up. I tried that during Field Day and at that time I had a good range of signals from around the world, including Russia, Japan, Florida, New England, Caledonia, California, Canada (Ontario and BC), New Mexico, and a few other states. The next time I tried I didn’t seem to be able to find anything at all. So, I want to play around with this over vacation.

As you can see, I’ve got more plans than time, as usual. It’ll be interesting to see just what of all this stuff gets done.

The Apocalypse is scheduled for the 21st but I have a strong feeling it “aint gonna happen”. (See my last blog post.) But it does give me the opportunity to close this post with…

See you on the other side…

…of the New Year!

Apocalypse 2012

12 December 2012

Apocalypse 2012

Well, it seems an appropriate topic.

Depending on who you side with, next Friday December 21st is Apocalypse Day. Or not.

Personally, I see the Apocalypse timeline running like this:

  • December 20:  People settle down for their final meal. Perhaps enjoy their final pleasures that night.
  • December 21:  People wonder just when the Apocalypse will happen. Maybe just a few minutes/hours more. Be patient.
  • December 22:  Doomsayers start saying they must have screwed up the math somewhere. People begin wanting their stuff back and trying to negotiate about debt they let lapse.
  • December 23:  Doomsayers announce they found a nearly invisible glyph on one of the really old pictures of the Mayan Calendar. It changes when the date is, obviously, but until they can properly decipher this new glyph they can’t say exactly when.

Better luck next time, Doomsayers. On second thought, never mind…hope you have the same luck next time!

What gets me about all this right now are two things. Neither is overly based in research, but it just seems worth thinking about….

First of all, isn’t it curious that of all the shapes possible, the Mayan calendar is on one of the few instances of a wheel? Think wheel of time here. What’s a wheel but a circle? What’s a circle do but go around and around? What’s the smaller cycles do, but repeat?

Not only that, the Maya built their famous calendar upon the work of previous civilizations. So, the observational base has been around for a long time prior to the Maya “publishing” their own, more refined calendar.

If the Maya were intelligent enough to observe over hundreds of years and develop a calendar that tracks the progression of the earth from one point in the sky back to that one point so accurately, don’t you think they would also be smart enough to know that if all went well, i.e. we managed to survive that long, the next b’ak’tun Cycle would simply start over again? Isn’t that why the calendar is on a circular shape and not a square one? To signify the CYCLE of years? Isn’t that why there are already 12 previous Long Counts? After all, the next b’ak’tun starts on 13.0.0.0.0 in the Mayan calendar, so there must have been 12 already and none of them ended in an Apocalypse. Why should this one?

Although it is kind of intriguing how they managed to synch with the Gregorian Calendar such that December 21, 2012, falls on a Friday. Does that make it a Long Count Friday the 13th?

Second, Naysayers are saying there is no planetary alignment. Really? You sure? There’s ALWAYS some kind of planetary alignment in this solar system. The only way you won’t have any planetary alignment would be if this blue marble of a world of ours were floating in the void absolutely all alone. If that were the case, we wouldn’t be here, either because we need the sun to survive and there would be a planetary alignment between the Earth and Sun.

I know, that’s not what they mean by “no planetary alignment”. But if that’s all they say then I’ll shrug and play with the words like anyone else with any remote interest in this Apocalypse.

For sure, my interest is mostly in what the Doomsayers will say the day after. Or will they just quietly slink away back into the woodwork?

For those of you that might need it…I’m watching this entire Apocalypse event with amusement and this post is in that vein.