A Beautiful Morse Key From A Hard Drive Actuator

Morse code, or CW, is a subject that divides the amateur radio community from top to bottom. For some it’s a faded anachronism, while for others it’s the purest form of the art. With it no longer in significant commercial or military use it is radio amateurs who keep it alive, and those for whom it is a passion devote considerable effort to its continuing use.

With well over a century of history behind it there are a huge array of morse keys available to the CW enthusiast. From vintage telegraph keys through WW2 surplus military keys to sideways “bug” keys and modern boutique handcrafted keys, many operators will amass a collection for the love of it, and regularly use them all.

Just one of the hand-drawn illustrations for this project.
Just one of the hand-drawn illustrations for this project.

Other operators create their own keys, either crafting them from raw materials or using whatever materials they have at hand. Keys have been made from every conceivable piece of junk that will conduct electricity, and made contacts to all parts of the world.

[H. P. Friedrichs, AC7ZL] has produced such a home-made key from surplus material, but it has nothing of the junkbox about it. He’s used the head actuator from a surplus hard drive as the arm of a straight key, and the result is an item of beauty.  The actuator bearing is the pivot point, and the business end of the key replaces the hard drive’s heads. The spring is provided by the repulsive force between magnets, the connection at the rear is provided by a piece of guitar string, and the contacts themselves are taken from a surplus power relay. Even his write-up is a thing of beauty, a compelling read with hand-drawn illustrations. If you are not a Morse enthusiast it’s still an engaging project.

We’ve featured many keys here over the years, and this isn’t the first one using a hard drive actuator, as this mint tin paddle shows. Among others we’ve linked you to a collection of unorthodox keys, and of course shown you a vintage telegraph key with a Raspberry Pi decoder.

Need an enclosure? Try Scrap Wood with Toner Transfer Labels

This utilitarian-looking device takes an unusual approach to a problem that many projects face: enclosures. [Jan Mrázek] created a device he calls the Morse Thing for a special night’s event and used what appears to be a humble two-by-four plank for the enclosure. The device is a simple puzzle using Morse code and was intended to be mounted to a railing, so [Jan] milled out the necessary spaces and holes for the LCD and buttons then applied labels directly to the wood via toner transfer – a method commonly used for making PCBs but also useful to create clean, sharp labels.

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Minimal Computer and Operating System: One Button, One LED

DUO BINARY is a very, very small computer system in every possible sense. It runs on an ATtiny84, which has even got “tiny” in its name. The user interface is a single button for data entry and a single LED for feedback, making this binary keyboard look frivolously over-complicated. It uses a devilish chimera of Morse code and a truncated ASCII to enter data, and the LED blinks the same back at you.

We’re guessing that [Jack Eisenmann] is the only person in the world who can control this thing, and you can watch him doing so in the video embedded below. Continue reading “Minimal Computer and Operating System: One Button, One LED”

Morse Code: Paris in the Mint Box

TinyLilyThumbnail[Rob Bailey] likes to build things and he likes ham radio. We are guessing he likes mints too since he’s been known to jam things into Altoids tins. He had been thinking about building a code practice oscillator in a Altoids Smalls tin, but wasn’t sure he could squeeze an Arduino Pro Mini in there too. Then he found the TinyLily Mini. The rest is history, as they say, and 1CPO was born.

The TinyLily Mini is a circular-shaped Arduino (see right) about the size of a US dime. most of the pads are arranged around the circle and there is a small header that takes a USB programmer. A small rechargeable battery can run the device for a long time.

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Morse Code Waterfall is Cooler Than Your Fifth Grade Science Fair Project

For her science fair project, [David]’s daughter had thoughts about dipping eggs in coffee, or showing how dangerous soda is to the unsuspecting tooth. Boring. Instead she employed her father to help her build a Morse Code waterfall.

A more civilized wea-- tool from a more elegant age. Young Jed--engineer.
A more civilized wea– tool from a more elegant age. Young Jed–Engineer.

[David] worked with his daughter to give her the lego bricks of knowledge needed, but she did the coding, building, and, apparently, wire-wrapping herself. Impressive!

She did the trick with two Arduinos. One controls a relay that dumps a stream of water. The other watches with an optical interrupt made from an infrared emitter and detector pair to get the message.

To send a message, type it in the keyboard. The waterfall will drop spurts of water, and then show the message on the decoder display. Pretty cool. We also liked the pulse length dial. The solution behind the LEDs is pretty clever. Video after the break.

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Spark Gap and Coherer Meet Beagle Bone

Getting back to basics is a great way to teach yourself about a technology. We see it all the time with computers built from NAND gates or even discrete transistors. It’s the same for radio – stripping it back to the 19th century can really let you own the technology. But if an old-school wireless setup still needs a 21st-century twist to light your fire, try this spark gap transmitter and coherer receiver with a Beagle Bone Morse decoder.

At its heart, a spark gap transmitter is just a broadband RF noise generator, and as such is pretty illegal to operate these days. [Ashish Derhgawen]’s version, which lacks an LC tuning circuit, would be especially obnoxious if it had an antenna. But even without one, the 100% electromechanical transmitter is good for a couple of feet – more than enough for experimentation without incurring the wrath of local hams.

The receiver is based on a coherer, a device that conducts electricity only when a passing radio wave disturbs it. [Ashish]’s coherer is a slug of iron filings between two bolts in a plastic tube. To reset the coherer, [Ashish] added a decoherer built from an electromagnetic doorbell ringer to tap the tube and jostle the filings back into the nonconductive state. He also added an optoisolator to condition the receiver’s output for an IO pin on the Beagle, and a Python script to decode the incoming Morse. You can see it in action in the video below.

If this build looks familiar, it’s because we’ve covered [Ashish]’s efforts before. But this project keeps evolving, and it’s nice to see where he’s taken it and what he’s learned – like that MOSFETs don’t like inductive kickback much.

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Breathing New Life Into An Old Key

For most of us who have experimented with Morse code, the oldest key we are likely to have used will have been a piece of military surplus kit from the Second World War era. [Kyle Gabriel] however is a lucky man. His grandfather left him his key-on-board telegraph practice set, a vintage key and telegraph sounder arrangement used to learn Morse code in the days when the telegraph was king. Rather than keep the set merely as an heirloom, [Kyle] set about bringing it up to date by interfacing it to a Raspberry Pi and writing a Morse reader program.

Along the way [Kyle] had to contend with debouncing the switching signal from the key, considering an RC network before settling on a software debounce timer. He provides a brief synopsis of the mechanics of Morse decoding software, and a demonstration of the code in action which you can see in the video below the break.

[Kyle’s] decoding software, beatbybeat, is on GitHub. We can see it will be a useful tool for anyone interested in Morse, or who is writing their own Morse software.

Morse code has featured on these pages more than a few times over the years. Of relevance to this piece are an Arduino decoding Morse code, a more up-to-date practice oscillator with a home-made key, and a couple of other vintage telegraphs reading RSS feeds and reading emails.

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