How Google+ Works

Saturday, July 9, 2011 Posted by
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I’m working hard to convert my social media life away from Twitter and Facebook and over to Google+ instead.

Why? Well, I work for Google and want to see Google+ succeed — the best way to do that is to actually become a daily user. Also, I want simplicity. I can’t deal with three separate social networks; I want just one, and Google+ is a superset of the other two.

A lot of friends have been asking me how Google+ works. “What’s the sharing model?” Here’s my explanation, to the best of my understanding:

  • The basic unit of reading and writing is a circle. You need to spend some upfront time defining these circles, but the UI makes it easy to do and the payback is well worth the effort. (And due to Google’s Data Liberation Front, you can take your circles with you if you decide to leave!)
  • Reading: You only see posts from people in your circles — nobody else. You can either look at all the circles at once (“your stream”), or you can look at posts coming from just a single circle.
  • Writing: Any post you create can be published to 1 or more circles. This provides nuanced sharing — something that’s really hard to do in Facebook. For example, in real life, you wouldn’t necessarily share the same stories with your parents, your co-workers, or your drinking buddies. 🙂 Remember, however, that the people you post to won’t actually see your post unless you happen to exist in at least one of their circles!
  • Being public: Circles can be totally circumvented by publishing to the “public”; in which case, everyone in the world could conceivably see your post when they read “incoming” messages rather than their stream.

This model is nice, since it captures both the Facebook model and the Twitter model.

It captures the Facebook model of sharing via reciprocal friendship, but without explicit friendship requests in either direction. If two people happen to have either other in each other’s circles, then they see each other’s posts. Very simple. No more hurt feelings from unanswered friend requests; no more posts from people you don’t care about.

It also captures the Twitter model. You can do a public post to the world. You can also “follow” the posts any famous person you want (without bothering them) by simply adding them to a “people I wanna follow” circle.

If you haven’t signed up at yet, you really should. The Android app is awesome. Any photos I take with my phone are instantly available for posting; no need to explicitly upload them. It’s amazing how big a barrier to entry this used to be!

First cross-ocean contact!

Saturday, April 23, 2011 Posted by

I’ve been a ham almost a year now, but due to my extremely low antenna (a dipole only 20′ high across my tiny urban backyard), I’ve never been able to make contacts outside North America. I’ve managed to reach 33 U.S. states so far — as well as Canada and a small Carribean island, I still haven’t hit another continent yet. The fundamental problem is that wires strung low tend to reflect energy off the ground, and thus the radiowaves hit the sky straight above the antenna; for real long-distance ionospheric skipping, one needs the radio energy to shoot toward the horizon. This is why I’ve been planning on putting up a higher loop antenna this summer.

In any case, today I made my first breakthrough — a voice contact from Chicago to Italy. Finally!

I thought it would be fun to participate in a low-power “backyard” contest today, so I set up my Buddipole in the center of my backyard, using the same 20 meter vertical configuration that I used on the Silicon Valley hilltop a couple of months ago. I’m still surrounded by other houses and buildings, but heck, a vertical antenna is known to hit the horizon easier than a horizontal one. Worth a shot!

If you look at the photo, you can see the antenna is about 25 feet high. It’s not easy to see that there are also two wire radials sloping down to the side-fences, as well as three guy-lines. The winds were gusting to 20mph today, but the guys held the thing securely, despite the antenna swaying in the breeze just like the tall trees.

At first I used low-power (5 watt) morse code using my tiny radio and a lead-acid battery, and made a nice contact with Salt Lake City, Utah (a new state for me!). I then made a basic voice contact with a guy in South Dakota; there was a busy contest going in that state this weekend. After that, just for kicks, I decided to drag out the BIG radio from the shack and run an extension cord for AC power. I turned up to 100 watts of transmission, and discovered a guy in Italy taking calls. After 20 minutes of hoping he’d hear my callsign, he finally acknowledged me and gave me a 5 & 7 report –not bad for 100 watts! The ionosphere was good for 20 meters today, and you can tell the sunspots are really picking up compared to a year ago when I first started out. In any case, this was a new distance record for me: about 4800 miles.

In the picture below, you can see both my radios, with the tuner in the middle.

Watching your brain change

Tuesday, March 8, 2011 Posted by
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A late night blog meditation!

Thesis: I seem to get crushes not just on hobbies, but on the bizarre skills required for them.

Take a look at banjo: is there anything more bewildering than listening to Earl Scruggs play a solo at top speed? To a bystander, it’s an astounding blur of continuous arpeggiation, with accents in just the right places. It’s a bit like watching a tap-dancer go nuts with his fingers instead of feet. When I started listening to bluegrass, I fell in love: I must learn to do that crazy thing.

And so I practiced. And took lessons. And practiced. And practiced. Arpgeggios everyday. I would listen to clips of Earl’s recordings slowed down to half speed, analyzing — note by note — each little trick and lick. After a few months, I noticed one day that Earl was starting to slow down whenever I listened to his albums. Was something broken in iTunes? Wait, no… Suddenly my brain was starting to decompose the stream of notes in real time. The blur was actually a bunch of distinct phrases, some which I knew how to play already. And the more I practiced, the slower his recordings became. It’s fascinating to watch your own brain adapt!

And now ham radio. Morse code is clearly a useful tool — it cuts through static like a katana through whipped cream. It propagates much farther than voice and requires almost no power. But ugh — listen to those folks on the air doing it! It’s a cacophony of irritating high-speed beeps. It’s like my kids banging windows with their little toy wooden hammers. Make the noise stop!

But hey, let’s jump in anyway. Listen to a tutorial CD, learn one letter at a time. Practice hearing each character at slow speeds. Practice, practice, practice, for several months. At some point, I gain the courage to reach out and have a slow speed conversation with a stranger over the air. Never mind that I’m shaking and sweating and so nervous that I’m only able to copy half of the characters coming back to me. Over time, the more I do this, the less nervous I get, and the fewer characters I miss.

Then the same revelation comes back this week: “Man, why is it so hard to find people doing high speed morse on the airwaves these days?” Is everyone slowing down? Oh wait. It’s me. My brain is changing again! Morse code doesn’t sound irritating anymore. The beeps are obviously broken into clear section, clear characters. The tones are haunting… almost relaxing. The whole experience is a bit like a calming vacation.

I turn on the radio, and in voice (sideband) mode, the filter is quite wide. I hear endless grating hiss.

I narrow my filter to 1/6th the width, which is best for picking up code. Suddenly the hiss turns into a whispering valley of calm. It’s a bit like being in an indoor swimming pool: endless harsh echoes of screaming families reverberating around you — and then dunking your whole head underwater. A beautiful solitude. A sound of deep watery solace.

Then turn the dial till a code conversation appears. Listen to the letters float by! Like tiny drumbeats of beautiful tone, perfectly spaced. It almost puts you in a trance.

I know my brain has changed, because I can no longer read emails while listening to morse code. It used to be background noise, but now it’s actively messing with my language centers, competing with my ability to read text.

First Amateur Radio “DXpedition”

Wednesday, February 16, 2011 Posted by

As my buddy Fitz will testify, I burn through new hobbies like flies on a hot dog. When I got my extra-class amateur radio license only six months after starting the hobby, my co-workers asked me if I had “won yet”, and asked to see my “achievement badges”. I guess there’s some truth there.

My job at Google requires that I do about 8-10 short trips per year (to other offices or conferences). Back when I was in my banjo phase, I obsessed about carrying a banjo on every plane so that I might seek out local bluegrass jams (I even had a folding banjo!). In my photography phase, I carried a giant DSLR and heavy lenses in my carry-on bag, and would taking photographic walking tours of each city. And now, in the era of Ham Radio, I obsess about how to carry an entire portable radio station with me in a gymbag.

And so that’s exactly what I did last week when I visited Mountain View (Google’s headquarters in Silicon Valley.) Into my gymbag went the same stuff from my trip to North Carolina:

The final gymbag was ~20 pounds, and was thoroughly swabbed and inspected by the TSA in both directions of travel. I guess they’re ok with sealed lead-acid batteries, because, well… they’re sealed.

The real star of this writeup is the Buddipole. After my own homebrewed antenna experiments failed to pan out in hotel rooms last autumn, I discovered this product. It’s not so much an antenna, but an erector set for improvising any sort of antenna you wish. It comes with a fantastic cookbook (written by fan NE1RD) that shows a zillion different tested configurations. Within a tiny little 2-foot long bag, you get a tripod, 10 foot mast, multiple radiator elements, counterpoise wires, guy lines, and changeable coils.

(This is not me, but the creator of Buddipole, holding the bag:)

The idea is that you can build a straight horizontal dipole (up to 26 feet long!), and “tap’ the coils to change the electric length. Or you can build a vertical antenna, with either rigid or wire counterpoises at random angles. Or you can make up your own Y or L shaped designs — whatever works for you! With an antenna analyzer at hand to adjust your invention, you can get it tuned perfectly. Or if not tuned perfectly, the autotuner helps span that last little bit of impedance mismatch.

Hams love to see how far they can reach with their signals — what they call ‘DXing’. They also love to take trips to remote islands or jungles and set up portable stations, what they call a “DXpedition”. My own DXpedition started when I got up at dawn and headed over to a tiny salt-water lake in the public park just north of the Google campus. Some folks at Ham Radio Outlet had recommended it to me, since an antenna over salt water gives nearly perfect ground reflection.

View Larger Map

I showed up and started by building a 10 meter vertical antenna, with two 30 degree counterpoises.

And here you can see me holding the tiny radio, hooked up to the antenna.

Alas, the 10m band was mostly inactive, and I had to start my workday. So after 7 hours of meetings, I teamed up with another ham co-worker (N1VF) and we scaled the hill just between the campus and the lake. Quite a view up there! We then built a full-sized half-wave 20m vertical antenna, since vertical antennas tend to have low takeoff angle and hit the horizon better than horizontals. Of course, on the hilltop we already had a 360 degree view of the horizon. 🙂 In the photo below, you can see my buddy next to the antenna. We have 3 guy lines coming off of it, and 2 wire counterpoises (about 17′ long each) drooping down to the ground.

We then sat on the hilltop for an hour, as the sun slowly set over the ocean. Nobody replied to our CQ hails on morse code, but we did hear a guy in Colorado talking to a guy in Australia, both with directional beam-antennas. Pretty neat. Eventually we made voice contact with a guy in Wisconsin; apparently he was able to pick up our tiny 5 watt signal because he too had a beam-antenna pointed towards his friend in Hawaii. The highlight of the hour, however, was when we made voice contact with a ham just outside Fairbanks, Alaska — that’s about 2500 miles away. For 5 watts, not too shabby!

After packing everything away, I managed to grab a snapshot of the setting sun as we went down the hill.

Overall, I consider the expedition a success. Alaska is a hard state to “achieve” in the game of ham radio, and I’m proud to have it in my logbook. The Buddipole really impressed me to no end. I will heartily recommend it to anyone who ever travels, camps, whatever. I plan to use it quite a bit for Field Day next June.

First successful homebrew gear

Tuesday, January 11, 2011 Posted by

As I mentioned before, one of the joys of ham radio is to invent engineering challenges and then solve them as cleverly as possible. And it’s a great excuse for hardware hacking. Over the weekend, I built a teensy morse-code radio (on a single fixed frequency!) called the Rockmite… but I’m still trying to debug why it’s not working.

Meanwhile, a much simpler project arrived at my door: a tiny circuit board that turns any two pieces of metal into morse code paddles. By simply making touch-contact with the metal, the resistance triggers the ‘dits’ and ‘dahs’. My goal was to combine this with my existing keyer (a device that creates perfectly-timed morse code, which sits between your paddles and your radio.)

Here’s a short video showing the two circuit boards hooked up by temporary wires:

I first tried fitting the keyer board, paddle board, and a 9V battery all into an altoids tin, but alas — the keyer board’s controls were too tall for the tin, and I didn’t feel like disconnecting them and mounting them directly to the walls of the tin. But then I had a great idea! If the paddle board only needed 6V to operate, I could stack two coin-cells together. And then the coin cells and paddle board could be stuffed into the keyer’s existing black plastic enclosure!

Notice how the two coin cells are tucked into a slitted styrofoam peanut. To change the batteries, I just yank the electrodes out of the peanut, drop new batteries in, then re-stuff the elecrodes back in. Meanwhile, I hooked up the batteries to a toggle switch added to the back of the device. I had to drill an extra hole for the paddle wires to come out as well. Here’s the finished product:

And finally, a short video where I demonstrate how it works:

A huge thanks to Dale N0XAS for the picokeyer circuit and to Sumner WA1JOS for his touch keyer board. Great fun to combine them!

WANdisco, ur doin it rong

Monday, January 3, 2011 Posted by

Author’s Note: These opinions are my own. I’m one of the original folks that started the Subversion project, but no longer work on it. These thoughts do not reflect the official position of either the Subversion project or the Apache Software Foundation, which are located here on the ASF blog.

Subversion has reached the realm of Mature software — it’s yesterday’s technology, not cool or hip to work on anymore. It moves slowly. It is developed almost entirely by engineers working for corporations that need it or sell support for it. Alpha-geeks consider software like this “dead”, but the fact is that something like half of all corporate programmers use Subversion as their SCM (depending on which surveys you read.) This is a huge userbase; it may not be sexy, but it’s entrenched and here for the long haul.

Subversion isn’t unique in this position. It sits alongside other mature software such as Apache HTTPD or the GCC toolchain, which are famous projects that are similarly developed by corporate interests. There’s a tricky line to walk: none of these corporations “own” these projects. They understand that they’re acting as part of a consortium. Each interest sends representatives to the open source project, contributes code, and allows their engineers to participate in the full consensus-based evolution of the software. IBM, Apple, Google, and numerous other companies have figured out how to do this correctly:

  1. Let your engineers know what’s important to work on.
  2. Let them participate individually in the community process as usual.
  3. Profit. 98% of the time the corporations eventually get the features they want.

Today, however, we have a great counterexample of how not to participate in an open source project. Subversion was initially funded and developed by CollabNet; today at least two other companies — Elego and WANdisco — are employing numerous engineers to improve Subversion, and are just as vested in selling support and derivative products. CollabNet and Elego continue to function normally in the community, but WANdisco recently seems to have lost its marbles. Last week, they put out a press release and a CEO blogpost making some crazy statements.

It’s clear that the WANdisco CEO — David Richards — is frustrated at the slow pace at which Subversion is improving. But the two posts are simply making outrageous claims, either directly or via insinuation. David seems to believe that a cabal is preventing Subversion from advancing, and that “debate” is the evil instrument being used to block progress. He believes users are crying for the product to be improved, that the Subversion developers are ignoring them, and his company is now going to ride in on a white horse to save the project. By commanding engineers to Just Fix things, he’ll “protect the future”of Subversion, “overhauling” Subversion into a “radical new” product.

Is this guy for real? It sounds like someone read my friend Karl’s book and created a farce of “everything you’re not supposed to do” when participating in corporate open source.

Even weirder, he’s accusing developers of trying game statistics by creating lots of trivial commits. This is staggering proof that he has no knowledge of the svn developer community or its culture. If he did, he would know that nobody counts stats at all or even cares about them. David appears so desperate to prove that his company is the “leader” that he accuses a community of behaviors that he’s doing himself. (”We have the most active developers of any other company on staff” — who’s counting stats here? The svn developers, or David?)

OK, fine. So Dave Richards is a salesperson, and perhaps what he wrote is generic PR sales junk in order to get his customers excited. Unfortunately, in attempting to woo customers, he’s had the side-effect of making his company appear both clueless and antagonistic to the project:

  • Clueless: It’s obvious he has no technical knowledge of Subversion’s design, has no idea why certain features have or haven’t been written yet, and hasn’t actually brought any new technical proposals or insights to the table. All he’s done is repeat descriptions of features that everybody wants. And he actually seems to believe that all one needs to do is throw more developers at the problems. Suuuuuure.
  • Antagonistic: He’s insulted two-thirds of the active developers (and embarrassed his own employees) by declaring them to be incompetant stewards. There’s no simpler way to garner hate and come off like an ass than to say “everyone move aside and let me fix this” — it’s the opposite of consensus-driven development. It’s a juvenile, conceited behavior that completely disrespects the people and the process.

The Subversion developer community (and ASF) are known for their cool, calm-headed responses to provocations like this, which they’ve just posted. They know not to feed trolls. But speaking as a private developer, I just had to point out WANdisco’s insanity and hold it up as a textbook example of how to Fail in the open source community process.

Pursuing the perfect “portable” ham radio setup

Friday, November 26, 2010 Posted by

The joy of amateur radio seems to be to create new engineering problems and then solve them cleverly, thus fulfilling the MacGyver fantasy of every hacker and maker. The reward is the ability to have conversation with other such geeks, and swap stories about how clever you were. About 80% of on-air conversations seem to be about what kind of antenna each party is using, how they got it up, and what sort of equipment they rigged it to.

There seem to be three main types of amateur radio “setups”. The most important is the base station: this is your home base, with your Big Antenna attached to your Big Radio, running into your main “ham shack”. Just as popular, however, seems to be the mobile rig: the radio and antenna you build into your car. Most folks set up UHF/VHF antennas with a range of a few miles, and thus chew the rag with local hams while stuck in slow commutes. Sometimes folks will install much larger 6-8′ antennas on the backs of their cars, so they can do long-distance communication (hundreds of miles) using longer wavelengths… at the expense, of course, of making their car look ridiculous.

Finally, there’s the portable rig. This setup combines with MacGyver fantasy with the Wilderness Explorer fantasy. Put on the hiking boots, sling a tiny pack over your shoulder, then scale a mountain and see how many far-away folks you can reach. Because such tiny radios have tiny batteries, the amount of power they produce is tiny as well. But heck, the lack of power is an attraction — it’s another engineering challenge to overcome, right? 🙂 When you’re running at very low power (5 watts or less), you’re very much at the mercy of the ionosphere. You transmit and hope radio-wave propagation is on your side. This is also why morse code still thrives as a strong subculture within the hobby — despite the fact that it’s no longer required for any license. Morse code propagates extremely efficiently; it’s goes the most distance per watt, and is so much easier to pick out of noise than a human voice.

So where do I stand now, six months into this hobby?

My base rig is great. I have a nice mid-level radio attached to a basic 100 watt end-fed half-wave dipole. It only speaks on a single ham band (40 meters), but this is more than enough for me to make great contacts and practice my skills.

Mobile rig? No way. Not only would my wife kill me if I put a big ugly antenna on the car, it’s probably not safe. If talking on mobile phones while driving is dangerous, it stands to reason that talking to hams is just as bad.

But portable rig, aha! Yes. I go camping a couple times a year (as does my radio mentor), so I’ve been steadily building up a “go pack” for my outdoor adventure reverie. I finally got to test it out when visiting eastern North Carolina this week. Here it is, all unpacked:

The thing is attached to a 40′ wire antenna whose far end I strung up in the air (onto the a 40′ branch of a pine tree):

For indoor use, I can attach a 15″ VHF antenna and a 6′ whip for long wavelengths:

And best of all, everything fits into a tiny little REI mini-pack (except the big battery):

At last, I have a kit that not only works for camping, but can be carried on a plane for my many business trips.

Here are the essential components:

  1. The radio: a Yaesu 817ND. This amazing little unit can do all amateur HF frequencies, as well as VHF/UHF. So tiny!
  2. Antennas: for FM UHF/VHF, a Diamond SRH320A whip, or alternately, a 6′ roll-up 2m J-pole from MFJ; for indoor HF, a WonderWand whip; for outdoor HF, a PAR Endfedz 40/20/10m dipole (in a separate grocery bag.)
  3. For input/output: a Heil Dual-Sided Traveler headset, and Kent TP-1 morse code paddles. If I don’t want the weight of the heavy brass paddles, I have tiny Bulldog BD-1 paddles that magnetically stick to the radio and weigh only an ounce.
  4. For power: the radio comes with a rechargeable NiMH battery, but it barely lasts an hour or two. Also, the radio has a dirty secret: it claims to do 5W of transmit power, but this only happens when attached to a power supply. When running on internal battery, it only transmits 2.5W. So when indoors, I use a MFJ portable switching power supply (a glorified wallwart) designed just for the 817. When outside, I use a Werker 12V 9AH lead-acid deep-cycle battery, purchased from a Batteries Plus chain store; the battery and the end-fed dipole wire are the only things that don’t fit in the travel bag.

I suppose the result here is that I now also have an “go” bag for emergencies. When the zombie apocalypse comes, I just grab the pack and run!

My own QSL cards

Friday, September 17, 2010 Posted by

All (sub)cultures have rituals, and ham radio is rich with them. Before the Internet, the only way to talk to someone in another country was to either (1) get a pen-pal, or (2) pay megabucks to talk long distance. It was thrilling to throw a wire in your backyard tree, solder some circuits, yell into the void, and be answered by a random geek across the sea!

It was such a big deal, in fact, that a whole tradition of exchanging business cards rose up around it. Except it’s not exactly a business card, but more like “I’m a radio geek” postcard. After chatting with a stranger, you send him a card with your callsign, a picture of your city, and a bunch of details confirming the contact (date, time, frequency, signal strength, etc.). He sends the same thing back to you. Then you both hang the cards on your walls next to the dozens of others, a virtual trophy case of how l33t your radio communication skills are. They’re also often the proof required to win certain communication contests.

They’re called QSL cards, and you can read all about them on wikipedia (and see even more examples of them if you do a Google image search. It can be a real art form.

Well, after making a couple dozen contacts, somebody finally sent me a QSL card from Mississippi. So I was forced to design and print a bunch of my own. I’ll be sending my new design back to the guy tomorrow. Here’s what the front and back look like:

(I did the whole thing in Inkscape on Linux, and I’m crazy impressed… it’s just as powerful as Illustrator!)

First homemade antenna

Saturday, September 11, 2010 Posted by
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I take business trips about 6 times a year now — never more than 2 or 3 days at a time. But now that I’m a radio ham, I love to take the hobby with me to random hotel rooms. For the last few trips, I’ve carried a little handheld VHF/UHF walkie-talkie, and this allows me to meet new hams within a few miles radius. But now that I’ve been learning morse code, I’m excited to create a real long-distance setup that I can effortlessly tote in my backpack on these hotel trips.

What are the main ingredients? Very simple:

  • a tiny low-power radio, 5 watts or less (called “QRP” in the ham-verse)
  • a set of morse-code paddles and electronic keyer
  • a portable antenna capable of picking up lonnnnnng wavelengths (like 20 or 40 meters)

The first two things aren’t a big problem; I’ve already been practicing morse code on my paddles, and there a zillion tiny radios to choose from that I can buy. But a portable long-distance antenna? That’s a black art. Luckily I found this very cool site that describes a homemade antenna that folds up into a three ring binder for transport! It’s basically a bunch of parts from Radio Shack and Office Depot, strung together cleverly. After a week, I’ve got it all built. You’ve got two 5′ lengths of wire hanging horizontally, meeting together into a middle connector:

…and each wire end is terminated by a crazy hanging transparency covered with zig-zagging copper foil:

…because the zig-zag copper foil tape is on both sides of the transparency, you get a full 20′ length of accordioned copper on each end! Here’s the whole antenna strung across the width of my basement ham shack:

…and then a 15′ twin-lead feedline is run from the centerpoint and plugged into a balun on an antenna tuner (whose job is to automatically match impedance between radio and antenna for a given transmission frequency.)

Yes, of course, it’s insane to do a first test drive in the basement, but I was too lazy to string the thing outside my window late at night. This antenna will really be strung across hotel rooms, hopefully on as high a floor as possible. But even with crappy basement RF reception, I was still able to immediately hear morse code conversations on 20 and 40 meter bands. And for the first time in my life, I was able to hear conversations on 80 meters as well! (My current outdoor antenna only does 20 and 40 meter.) This was also my first experience with an antenna tuner, and I was amazed to watch it ker-chunk and auto-tune whenever I transmitted 5 watts on different frequencies. Nobody was able to hear my transmissions, but hey, it was in a basement. And the thing didn’t smoke or catch on fire. 🙂

Ham Radio: now with Morse Code

Sunday, July 18, 2010 Posted by
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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: