Posts Tagged ‘Homebrew’

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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Time Passes

6 September 2017

It’s true, time passes faster when you’re having fun. It’s also true that if you stop doing something for a while, it’s much harder to resume. At the same time, at least for me, having that break with regular writing and playing on the radio makes it harder for me to start anything else since I have those two things hanging over my time. I want to get back into them, but…tomorrow? And then because of that attitude, I’m not eagerly starting new projects or doing other things that I want to. Not because I can’t or don’t have time, but because I have those two things hanging over me and I can’t get myself going on anything.

Milky Way from Coyote Grade in the Owyhee Foothills.

I did get out and do some Milky Way photography. It turned out OK, and I had a blast. With all the smoke lately, I haven’t gotten back out to shoot more astrophotography. Or any photography, actually. The drive just isn’t there and to be honest, I’m reluctant to just go by myself. Not because I can’t, but because I know my wife doesn’t like me going solo into the Owyhees. And I’ve sort of gotten used to having someone else along.

Excuses. Just excuses.

I do need to go back out with some settings from that shoot and try doing more and specific adjustments to the camera to attempt to get better images. I also want to take one of my telescopes out and use it to track the camera. That way, I can get some images to try stacking and see how that works to get a better Milky Way image.

In spite of that, I did do a bunch of prep for the recent total eclipse of 2017. For that, I built myself a solar filter out of PVC pipe and gold mylar sheet. A preliminary test showed the filter worked, but I am not happy with it and will probably eventually replace the mylar with newer or something else. It’s just not perfect.

My homemade solar filter mounted on the lens I will be using for the 2017 solar eclipse.

 

The sun as shot through my homemade solar filter. It’s two layers of gold mylar secured between an inner and outer PVC ring.

One of my sisters lived right in the path of totality, so it was a simple matter to head to her place 45 minutes away and observe the eclipse there.

My setup while shooting the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse. We had 100% totality here.

I did get at least one decent image that I was really happy with, and one I was sort of happy with. And yes, you can see sunspots in my images, so I guess there actually are other decent images from the event.

Bailey’s Beads from the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse. You can also see some solar prominences.

 

Another shot of Bailey’s Beads as the sun moved out of totality.

 

Sunspots during the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse, along with the moon encroaching. This is early in during the eclipse. They’re easier to see in the full size image.

The same time I did the Milky Way shoot, I took my DJI Phantom 4 along and did some flying. I had been mentally rehearsing the remote controller stick movements for a 180 flyby where you spin around 180 degrees without stopping. Or put another way, you’re flying away from a spot looking back at it and at some point along the flight path you spin around to face the other way while you continue flying in a straight line. I’m happy to report I got the stick movements right and it worked pretty well.

And now we have a Purple Air Quality alert for the valley. That’s the color for “very unhealthy” with the next color being brick red and meaning “hazardous”. So, I’ll leave you with one last image, one that I took last night and that I call the Fire Moon. The color is due to the smoke in the air, of course.

The nearly full moon, discolored from the heavy smoke covering Treasure Valley, Idaho.

A Return Update

5 March 2015

It has been a weird beginning to the year for me.

I fully meant to return to this blog well before now, but somehow writing for my blog just wasn’t a priority. From time to time, I’d think of something to write about, but I just never sat down and actually did so.

From an amateur radio standpoint, I’ve been working to develop something I refer to as The Thumper. It’s based on something I read about in a blog post where the ham described his fondness for CW (Continuous Wave, aka Morse Code) and an on-the-air experience meeting a group of deaf learning ham radio and cw. The original Thumper was mentioned only in passing, and described as “a device that attaches to their forearm and taps them to indicate the Mose Code being received.” I have various issues with LED displays and my current tactile transducer setup leaves much to be desired. For The Thumper, I’d started by utilizing an Arduino driving a RC servo and while that does work to an extent, it has an inherent speed limitation that I don’t like. Almost anything over 10 wpm keeps the servo at the end of travel, making it impossible to detect the characters. I’m now looking at using a vibrator similar to those in cell phones, compliments of a good friend and fellow ham. Although not what I originally envisaged the vibrator does show better promise and a nice theoretical response to faster CW speeds. Coupled with a LED, it may turn out to be the best solution for me to listen to the radio. I know, but the combination might turn out to be better than the parts. Right now, I’ve only got the Arduino driving the vibrator. Still to be done is receiving and converting over-the-air CW signals provided via the audio jack of my radios.

Plans are under way for more Owyhee explorations, and while doing that I fully intend to try HF radio work from way out in the middle of nowhere. I’m building an end-fed, multi-band wire antenna that should be tuned to each band: 10m, 20m, 40m, and 60m. It’s only mobile in that you can easily carry it coiled up in the vehicle, to use it you have to park and deploy it. We’ll see how that works in practice, but I’ve got good expectations. I’ll be focusing, of course, on CW and PSK but when solo. If I have a friend along, I’ll be trying some phone work as well. More than likely, I’ll be band scanning and if I hear anything, I’ll pause on that and see if I can contact the other person.

Photography-wise, I’m currently teaching a beginning photo class, but with a twist. In all my previous classes I noticed that there was never a deaf or hard-of-hearing person attending. This time, I told the community education group that I would teach a beginning class in sign language. When I shared this idea with the few deaf community members I knew, the enthusiasm was outstanding. In the end, due to various reasons, there were only three in my class. We’re having a blast and there would have been at least two more were it not for an age limitation posted on the community education web page. That limitation didn’t apply to my class, but that exemption information was not passed on to the people that wanted to sign up. Word’s starting to get out there about this class, though, and I’ve mentioned I’ll offer it again, the same way. One of the reasons for doing this is that I just felt like turning the tables on the regular offerings…they’re oriented towards hearing people, the deaf have to get an interpreter. This time, though, it’s the hearing that have to get an interpreter if they try to attend.

I have also been investigating the use of the Shutterbug Remote with my Pentax K3 DSLR. Testing with an iOS device showed that the remote works well with the K3, but I’m getting crashes using the Android version of the app on my Samsung Galaxy Note 4. Testing with a Samsung Galaxy S5 shows it works reasonably well with that phone, so now I’m trying to determine whether or not it’s a setting, a FW, or a HW issue with my Note 4. An email to the developers has not provided any response, so I’m very unimpressed with the customer service aspect of their website. Enough that I’m not providing a link to it. It would be really nice to get this remote working with my phone as it’s a great little device which when used as an intervalometer provides better timing control capabilities than the built-in intervalometer mode of the K3. If I can’t get it working, I’ll definitely have to create an Arduino intervalometer or something.

I’ve built a new woodworking bench (above) in my garage along with a DIY woodworking bench vise (below). These will come in handy when I start building the Vardo.

On the Vardo front, I’ve started gathering materials to modify the trailer for the Vardo. It took me a while to figure out the best way to use my flatbed trailer for the Vardo, and still be able to easily use it as a flatbed trailer. One of the things I had to deal with was me being “greedy.” The flatbed trailer is 12’ by 6’ and I had been doing my designing based on that entire area.

Image of a 6 foot by 12 foot utility trailer with one pair of wheels. Sides are an open framework of angled metal. Tail gate is about 4 feet tall when up and contains a metal mesh. Parked next to a blue-green 1992 Chevy Blazer in front of the garage in the driveway.

This is the new utility trailer that will become the base for the Vardo. I’m especially happy to get the all metal bed.

I was going to have a big Vardo that had luxurious room inside. Kind of a contradiction to my original plans for a simple, cozy Vardo, actually. As a result, one of the things I had to figure out a way around was the six tie-downs on the trailer bed near the sides. I finally realized that they provided a perfect way to fastend the Vardo to the trailer, a la pickup campers: straps built onto the framework of the Vardo that connect to the trailer tie-downs via turnbuckles. To do that meant I had to narrow the width of the Vardo box to fit inside the tie-downs enough that I could hook them into place and tighten. It’s only a 6” loss in width, give or take, but it also freed up the solution to another issue: I wanted to put the same kind of mesh that I had on the tailgate along the sides of the trailer. That way, things put in the trailer wouldn’t roll out under the existing side rails. And I could use that now open area to store poles for awnings, and other such gear.

I’ve been doing quite a bit of fishing lately, for rainbow trout. Normally I would catch and release trout, but my wife and I have found that we like the fish. I’ve learned to fillet them so that we don’t really need to worry overmuch about bones while eating. Only about 15 minutes from my house is a great little pond where, so far, I’ve always managed to catch my limit every day. I didn’t use to fish that much, or to enjoy it, but I’m finding I do. I’ll probably go fishing rather regularly while retired, using that to supplement our diet with fresh fish on a regular basis. It’ll be interesting to see how the fishing goes as the weather warms up.