Ham Radio: now with Morse Code

This entry was posted by on Sunday, 18 July, 2010 at

OK, I got my level 2 (General) license. I’ve got the 50′ wire going across the backyard, from top of my house to a tree, and I’ve chatted with folks from my ham shack^H^H^H basement now — several eastern seaboard states, and last night even someone in SF. But hey, the ionosphere is kinda random. Lots of noise and static. And yet somehow, those morse code conversations I’m hearing seem to cut right through the static.

So even though it’s no longer a requirement, I’ve started learning morse code for fun. Yes, for fun. My mentors tell me it will allow me to make longer-distance contacts through even the worst environmental conditions. And even cooler: you can build pocket-sized tranceiver kits that send and receive morse. Just throw a wire out your hotel window, plug it into your altoids tin, and soon you’re chatting with folks in Australia. Okay, you may still be chatting in binary, but it’s still chatting. 🙂 So I’m busy listening to some tapes that teach me one letter at a time, slowly building up my vocabulary. It’s slow going, but amusing and satisfying in the same way learning to arpeggiate a banjo once was.

What’s also fascinating is all the ergonomic research that has gone into devices for sending morse. It’s like the whole qwerty/dvorak/maltron insanity all over again! While most people are told to start out with simple telegraph keys, it seems that what’s ubiquitous are these things called ‘paddles’. It’s two little levers that you push toward each other — one with your thumb, one with your index finger — and it’s hooked up to an electronic tone generator. One paddle makes a continuous series of ‘dits’ when you push it, and the other makes a continuous series of ‘dahs’. So you get the sounds by wiggling your two fingers back and forth, sometimes holding levers longer, sometimes not. You can adjust the speed of the auto-repeat as well, depending on how fast you want to go. Here’s a video that shows an expert in action: