Morse Code

After passing the general class amateur radio license test, my wife is learning morse code. She has learned to recognize seven letters at a speed of about 13 words per minute.

She has been working on this for about two weeks and at the rate she’s going, it will be less than a month for her to be able to know the full alphabet, numbers and punctuation characters. She has tried sending, and that needs some work, but I think that will quickly be learned. It requires a sense of timing to send and her music skills should be quite helpful with this.

Another Bug

This is a telegraph key I used when I needed to send Morse code more slowly than the one I talked about in The bug.

This key, apparently made by several Japanese companies in the early 1960s, works well for sending Morse code at speeds between 10 and about 25 words per minute. The key shown in the other post works best at speeds between about 20 and 45 words per minute.

The skill of the operator, and radio conditions “at the other end”, determined which telegraph key I would use. Since I didn’t know what speed I might need to send, both keys were wired in to the same circuit and set side by side. That way, I could just move my hand to use whichever one I needed to use.

Like the other one, this key had also been boxed up and sitting on a shelf. When I saw the box, I took the key out and gave it a try. It wasn’t working. After unsuccessfully trying to adjust it, I took it apart and found flat spots on the little steel balls making up the bearings that allowed the lever to pivot sideways.

The picture below is my first finger next to one of the 1/16 inch diameter bearings. I can’t say they are tiny, but they certainly are not huge.

This key needed 10 of these bearings and fortunately the local hardware store had 15 of them in the back stock room. The store owner laughed when he looked at the box holding them and noted that the box had been put into the stock room in 1992. I bought all 15 just in case I lost a few while installing them.

It took about 10 minutes, some patience and some “mumbling” to get the 10 steel balls in place. I am also very glad I thought to put the key and bearings in a shoe box before doing the work. If the balls fell onto the floor and rolled across the room…… Then came the adjustment phase. That took another 15-20 minutes and it’s once again, able to make the music.

There are no longer any paying jobs (that I know about) that require the use of Morse code. Fortunately that was not the case in the early 1980s when I was working to pay my university tuition fees.

The bug.

bugToday, I took this off the shelf and played with it for a little bit.  I used it a lot “back in the day” and the old habits came back pretty quickly.

It’s officially a semi-automatic telegraph key.  Unofficially it’s called a “bug”.   One sends Morse code with it.

This helped me avoid college loans.

In a few minutes I was back to about 20 words per minute, which was the speed used for the licensing exams.

I find it yet another example of me being a high tech Luddite.  I spend all day working on LTE wireless networks, yet the 150+ year old Morse code and century old “bugs” are not strangers.

If you’re interested in this stuff, check out