What’s the worst thing about traditional Morse keyers? If you ask us, it’s the fact that you have to learn how to do two distinct things with one hand, and switch between them quite quickly and often.
This set of Morse code foot pedals is meant for those who are unable to use traditional methods of keying. It uses a retrofitted wireless keyboard to read Z and X as dit and dah, respectively, and convert the Morse code into text.
[Tevendale_Engineering] started by getting the controller out of the keyboard and figuring out which combination of pads sends Z and X. Then they wired those up with copper tape. The pedals themselves are made from 1/2″-thick wood, foam core board, and Nerf bullets to provide springiness.
There’s no solder here; it’s all copper tape and alligator clip test leads. So if this isn’t your hack for the day, we don’t know what is.
If you are a ham radio operator of a certain age, you probably remember ads for “The Instructograph,” a mechanical device for learning Morse code. [Our Own Devices] has an ancient specimen of the machine and shows us how it works in the video below. The machine is a model of simplicity. You wind up a spring-driven motor like you would for an old record player or music box. A slider sets the playback rate, and paper tape starts to spin.
The paper tape looks like computer tape, but since it only has literal long and short notches, it has two distinct sides. When you learned one set of messages, you could flip the tape over and get more practice that way. How did the machine read the paper tape? With a mechanical contact. Literally, if the paper had a hole in it, you made the circuit. If it didn’t, the circuit was broken. A buzzer and batteries or some other kind of sounder was all you needed.
The company was in business for 50 years. The newer versions had more electronics, but they always used the paper tape mechanism to store the code practice sessions. A 1962 ad noted that the machine could play back the tapes from three words a minute up to 40. You could buy or rent the machine, and we always assumed it was pretty pricey for its day. Around 1965, a new unit would cost $53 but did not include a headset or a key. So that was actually more reasonable than we expected. In 1965, a brand-name clock radio cost about $50, so it wasn’t any more than that.
For those with strokes or other debilitating conditions, control over one’s eyelid can be one of the last remaining motor functions. Inspired by [Jeremiah Denton] blinking in Morse code on a televised interview, [MBW] designed an ESP32-based device to decode blinks into words.
While an ESP32 offers Bluetooth for simulating a keyboard and has a relatively low power draw, getting a proper blink detection system to run at 20 frames per second in a constrained environment is challenging. Earlier attempts used facial landmarks to try and determine, based on ratios, whether an eye was open or closed. A cascade detector combined with an XGBoost classifier offered excellent performance but struggled when the eye wasn’t centered. Ultimately a 50×50, 4-layer CNN in TensorFlow Lite processes the camera frames, producing a single output, eye open or closed. For debugging purposes, it streams camera frames over Wi-Fi with annotations via OpenCV, though getting OpenCV to compile for ESP32 was also nontrivial.
[MBW] trained the model using the MRL dataset and then quantized to int8. Getting the Bluetooth and Wi-Fi stacks to run concurrently was a bit of a pain, as was managing RAM. After exhausting SRAM and IRAM, [MBW] had to move to PRAM. The entire system is built into some lightweight goggles and makes for a fairly comfortable experience.
Morse code might seem obsolete but for situations with extremely limited bandwidth it’s often still the best communications option available. The code requires a fair amount of training to use effectively, though, and even proficient radio operators tend to send only around 20 words per minute. As a result of the reduced throughput, a type of language evolved around Morse code which, like any language, has evolved and changed over time. QRP initially meant something akin to “you are overloading my receiver, please reduce transmitter power” but now means “operating radios at extremely low power levels”. [MIKROWAVE1] explores some of the earlier options for QRP radios in this video.
There’s been some debate in the amateur radio community over the years over what power level constitutes a QRP operation, but it’s almost certainly somewhere below 100 watts, and while the radios in this video have varying power levels, they tend to be far below this upper threshold, with some operating on 1 watt or less. There are a few commercial offerings demonstrated here, produced from the 70s to the mid-80s, but a few are made from kits as well. Kits tended to be both accessible and easily repairable, with Heathkit being the more recognizable option among this category. To operate Morse code (or “continuous wave” as hams would call it) only requires a single transistor which is why kits were so popular, but there are a few other examples in this video with quite a few more transistors than that. In fact, there are all kinds of radios featured here with plenty of features we might even consider modern by today’s standards; at least when Morse code is concerned.
QRP radios in general are attractive because they tend to be smaller, simpler, and more affordable. Making QRP contacts over great distances also increases one’s ham radio street cred, especially when using Morse, although this benefit is more intangible. There’s a large trend going on in the radio world right now surrounding operating from parks and mountain peaks, which means QRP is often the only way to get that done especially when operating on battery power. Modern QRP radios often support digital and voice modes as well and can have surprisingly high prices, but taking some cues from this video about radios built in decades past could get you on the radio for a minimum or parts and cost, provided you can put in the time.
The Baader-Meinhof effect is the common name for what scientists call frequency illusion. Suppose you are watching Star Trek’s Christopher Pike explain how he makes pasta mama, and you’ve never heard of it before. Immediately after that, you’ll hear about pasta mama repeatedly. You’ll see it on menus. Someone at work will talk about having it at Hugo’s. Here’s the thing. Pasta mama was there all along (and, by the way, delicious). You just started noticing it. We sometimes wonder if that’s the deal with Morse code. Once you know it, it seems to show up everywhere.
One of the strangest places we’ve ever heard of Morse code appearing is the infamous case of Tojo’s teeth. If you don’t remember, General Hideki Tojo was one of the main “bad guys” in the Pacific part of World War II. In particular, he is thought to have approved the attack on Pearl Harbor, which started the American involvement in the war globally. Turns out, Tojo would be inextricably tied to Morse code, but he probably didn’t realize it.
The Honorable Attempt
At the end of the war, the US military had a list of people they wanted to try, and Tojo was near the top of their list of 40 top-level officials. As prime minister of Japan, he had ordered the attack that brought the US into the war. He remained prime minister until 1944, when he resigned, but the US had painted him as the face of the Japanese enemy. Often shown in caricature along with Hitler and Mussolini, Tojo was the face of the Japanese war machine to most Americans.
When Americans tried to arrest him, though, he shot himself. However, his suicide attempt failed. Reportedly, he apologized to the American medics who resuscitated him for failing to kill himself. Held in Sugamo Prison awaiting a trial, he requested a dentist to make him a new set of dentures so he could speak clearly during the trial.
Have you ever felt the options for Morse code communication were too limited? Well, look no further than [marsPRE]’s open source WristMorse communicator that can connect over WiFi, can act as a Bluetooth keyboard or just be used as a Morse Code trainer.
[marsPRE] uses the M5StickC Plus as the base device and attaches a custom “hat” consisting of a 2.5 mm plug for a radio connection and two capacitive touch paddles that act as the Morse Code keyer. The add-on is housed in what looks like a custom 3D print and hangs off of the end of the M5StickC Plus, connecting the hat through an eight 0.1 inch pin header.
Using the M5StickC Plus allows [marsPRE] to focus on the software, providing different options for training, communication and even using the device as a Bluetooth keyboard. The two touch sensors allow for a semi automatic keying, with the top sensor used for long dashes and the bottom sensor used for short dashes.
[marsPRE] took inspiration from the Morserino-32 and has made the wrist morse code trainer open source software and available through GitHub for anyone wanting to take a look. Morse code may an old encoding method but it’s one that’s worthy of respect. You never know when you might need to send a message from your dreams or to translate spoken word Morse code.
It may be hard to believe, but it’s time for the Hackaday Prize again! The 2023 Hackaday Prize was announced last weekend at Hackaday Berlin, and entries are already pouring in. The first-round challenge is all about “Re-engineering Education,” which means you’ve got to come up with a project idea that helps push back the veil of ignorance somehow. Perhaps you’ve got a novel teaching tool in mind, or a way to help students learn remotely. Or maybe your project is aimed at getting students involved and engaged. Whatever it is — and whatever the subject matter; it doesn’t just have to be hacking-adjacent — get an entry together, build a team, and get to work. The first round closes on April 25, so get to it!