Posts Tagged ‘Morse Code’

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. 😉


Morse Code

26 March 2014

For quite some time now I’ve been thinking of getting into using International Morse Code with my ham radio hobby. I’ve even been “practicing” by tapping on my leg or other surface, trying to memorize the patterns of various letters, prosigns, numbers, punctuation, etc. but not really making an effort to do so.

Recently I came across a mention that apparently many of the newer radios have built-in keyers. Curious, I did some research into “keyers” as such. What I read has me very interested in actually getting on the air using Morse.

I have three straight keys, similar to this one. It’s what most people think of when they think of someone sending Morse. However, I’d been practicing in a way that is more consistent with the use of paddles than a straight key. Not only that, but apparently also I’d been doing it “backwards” compared to the way most are set up. I’d been using my thumb for the dahs, and my finger for the dits. Most paddle setups seem typically the other way around: thumb for the dits, finger for the dahs.

It’s not that big a deal, it’s just a matter of how you wire up the device. It does comes into play if you go to another ham’s shack and use his system, though. This is a situation where, I think, I will conform to the norm. It’s not that hard to switch around, especially if I do so now, but it’s hard to break the habit of thinking of a dah when I tap my thumb against my leg in practice. But it’ll be easier for me to participate in Field Day and other such events using another ham’s gear.

So, why Morse?

Admittedly, I’ve performed no formal research nor spent countless evenings/nights scanning the bands, but it seems that more people regularly run Morse than PSK-31 or the other digital modes for simple QSOs, or chats. When I see discussions of QSOs, usually they’re QRP (low power) Morse contacts. That may just be because Morse users are more fanatical and vocal. 😉

Originally I got into ham radio because I wanted a way to chat with people all over the world. Ironically, I couldn’t wait for the code requirement for a ham ticket (license) to be dropped so that I could get my license and get on the air. My plan was to use the computer to generate and read Morse. Nobody’d know I was “cheating,” right?

Yet here I am, seriously probing what I need to get going with Morse. The appeal to me is the chatting component prevalent in Morse. The other digital modes don’t seem to quite have that level of just chatting about things. I could easily be wrong, but there’s also the simplicity of the system: no computer required, just the radio, key, power, and an antenna.

So, knowing my Yaesu FT-857D has a built-in keyer, I asked around for a single or double paddle to try out. I was able to borrow one from a fellow ham and plan to do a little experimenting with it this weekend. My goal is to find out just what the keyer does and how the output sounds. Does this keyer allow me to select a dit or dah and the keyer generates the proper size output to produce the actual dit vs. dah? Do I need to create the dit and dah lengths by holding the paddle in contact similarly to a straight key? Most of what I see on YouTube and elsewhere imply not…the keyer will generate the dits and dahs but I want to verify that for myself. And see what my crude sending will sound like. I’ll have two people listen to my sending on the other radio and let me know how bad I am. 😉

I’ve also seen various comments about starting with a straight key so that you “learn to properly send a dit and dah” but I’m ambivalent about that. I see the point of both sides but being lazy, I like the idea of the keyer itself generating the proper dit and dah. Besides, I’d have to generate my timing by guess until I learn the correct rhythm and habits. Since I can’t hear my own sending…using a keyer if I have it simply makes sense. Eventually I might switch to a straight key when I’m more comfortable using Morse, but at the moment I’m more curious about the keyer itself. What does it do? How touchy is it? What can I set up?

Once I learn just what the keyer in my FT-857D does and does not do, the next step, obviously, will be to concentrate on receiving. I’m confident that by the time I have that worked out to my satisfaction, I’ll have the necessary skills to get on the air using Morse.

At the moment, my biggest problem with pursuing Morse is still simply being able to identify it when I encounter it on the air. Being deaf, I can’t rely on my hearing to identify it or to judge my sending on the fly and I simply haven’t yet found something that works reliably for me. People have suggested various transducers, LEDs, etc. but none of these have worked out where I am willing to trust them. Of course, part of the problem is that I’ve not stuck with any one method long enough to give it an honest test under actual operating conditions. Part of that is due to me having no true feedback other than that transducer as to whether or not what I am feeling is actually Morse or just static that is very similar.

Let me give you an example…

Using a vibrating transducer, I plug it into the earphone/headphone jack. I adjust the radio to where it’s quiet, i.e. not vibrating. Now I begin to tune the radio and I hit something that feels regular. Not having enough experience, I can’t tell if it’s actually Morse or if it’s some kind of cyclic noise. Since there’s no-one around to ask to listen to it and tell me, should I remain there and see if I can actually detect any letters? Will the letters I detect actually be Morse, or will it be my imagination and desire to find some code to listen to? With no actual feedback, how do I know if I’m actually learning code or just think I am? Should I stay on that frequency or should I move on and hope to find something better (or real)?

That’s my typical experience when scanning the bands by myself. Sometimes I’ll hook up the oscilloscope and look at the waveforms, but mostly I am just playing around and when I’m mobile I don’t have the oscilloscope to play with anyway.

We’ll see how all this works out. I’ll provide an update next week.

Until then, 73.