Do Keyers Ruin Fist Skills?

Discussion in 'Straight Keys - CW Enthusiasts' started by N1BCG, Jan 16, 2019.

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  1. N1BCG

    N1BCG Ham Member QRZ Page

    Apologies in advance if this topic has been covered ad nauseam, but it's brand new to me...

    I was gifted a 1980s vintage Heathkit uMatic SA-5010 Memory Keyer at the end of a hamfest a few months back. The guy was packing up and identified me as someone who might be interested. The unit isn't very heavy or large so he lacked the usual "I don't want to lug it home" reason for its gifting. Yikes.

    Not wanting to pass on a free offer I enthusiastically thanked him for his generosity, partly in earnest as he included the original Heathkit manual so I at least had a chance at getting it to work barring any failed Reagan-era unobtaineum chips.

    I finally decided to try it out a few days ago, and after some initial confusion over the power source (the manual says it takes a special 8.6 VAC Heathkit supply but later suggests any 12 VDC 250mA supply will work) I encountered an endless beeping no matter what button I pressed on the membrane keypad. It turned out to be an over sensitive "dit" setting for the capacitive paddles and it was easily adjusted with a trimmer.

    I'm a 15WPM straight key op on a really good day, but after playing around with this keyer, I've discovered that unheard of speeds can be attained with focus and practice. BUT, and this finally brings me to my question, it takes merely a tap for dits and what seems like the same for dahs. If I tap the dah paddle with (what I think is) a dah, I get two or more so now I tap both paddles with dits.

    Did the previous owner go insane because of this and now I own the instrument of his demise?
    Am I going to start sending nothing but dits on my straight key??

    The only comfort is the possibility that the keyer *does* allow "dah" length presses and that my "dah length" is lingering down at my straight key speed, thus causing the multiple dahs.

    By the way, this SA-5010 seems to me to be a remarkable device by today's standards and absolutely incredible by 1981 standards. I'd like to have an amicable relationship with the items in the shack so any advice is appreciated.
    KM6VOV likes this.
  2. KG7WGX

    KG7WGX XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    I have found the motions are different enough between using a straight key and paddles that one doesn't affect the other.

    If anything, using a paddle helps me hear the correct timing generated by the paddles/keyer. If my straight key characters sound the same, I know I'm doing it right.

    I am not familiar with the keyer you are describing, but most keyers provide automatic dit and dah completion (that is, you can't send a short dit or a short dah) as well as enforcing inter-element spacing. So, a correctly sent F always sounds like di-di-dah-dit and not didi-dah-dit. It should be noted that you can pause too long between elements and create a bad character. Like di--di-dah-dit. A Morse decoding program would likely show this as ER instead of F.

    The keyer generates elements of the correct length, too, and automatically generates a "string" of dits or dahs until you release the respective paddle. (As well as iambic or "squeeze" keying behavior, with is usually supported by modern keyers. Squeeze keying requires double paddles and is supposedly of questionable value. A lot of folks ignore it and operate the double paddles as a single paddle.)

    As you discovered, the keyer doesn't know you want only one dah, for example. If you hold that paddle down too long you will get a second dah. I think the answer to that is to lower the keyer speed. Then your dahs will sound "right length" to you and the dits will also be the correct length for that speed.

    If your straight key sending has slightly longer dahs than the standard 3 dit length, you may not be able to get the keyer to sound the same, unless it has a "weight" adjustment.
    KM6VOV likes this.
  3. KA0HCP

    KA0HCP XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    Have you checked the weighting?

    I built a uMatic keyer back in 1983. It does everything marvelously except work as a key. I found the touch sensitivity to be completely unreliable varying particularly with air humidity and the moistness/dryness of my skin. I even went so far as to get a tube of Brylcreem hair dressing to put on the aluminum paddles to increase conductivity. Brylcreem was reputed in my youth to be a great conductive grease for backstage electrical contacts. shrug. I grew tired of having to moisten my hands in water before operating and repeat for longer sessions.

    Great idea, when it worked it was nice, poor implementation. Maybe I should have tried Top Brass cream instead...

    "A little dab will do you!"
    Last edited: Jan 16, 2019
    KM6VOV and WB5YUZ like this.
  4. N1BCG

    N1BCG Ham Member QRZ Page

    I suspect that my straight key habits should probably be brought in-line with the keyer rather than adjusting the keyer to my questionable straight key skills.
    KM6VOV and W9RAC like this.
  5. K7TRF

    K7TRF Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    If the keyer is weighted properly a dah is three times the length of a dit, not the length of three dits in a row with the spacing between them, just the length of three dits if you could send them all in a row without spaces. Is that about what you try to do with the straight key?

    The Heath SA-5010 supports programmable weighting that allows you to change the dit to dah length ratio. Push the Wt key without entering a number first to reset the unit to factory 3:1 dah to dit weighting. Enter numbers from 0 to 4 prior to hitting the Wt key if you want to stretch the dahs relative to the dits (weighting of 0 gives you the longest dah to dit ratio) or enter numbers from 5 to 9 prior to hitting the Wt key to make the dahs shorter than the dits.

    It's explained on page 54 of the manual:
    KM6VOV likes this.
  6. N1BCG

    N1BCG Ham Member QRZ Page

    The keyer defaults to 1:3:1 according to the manual. I’m sure my fist could be better but ops have been able to figure out what I’m sending.
    KM6VOV and WA7PRC like this.
  7. K7TRF

    K7TRF Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    Assuming a different weighting wasn't previously stored in memory. Best bet is to hit the Wt key to restore the default.
    KM6VOV likes this.
  8. N1BCG

    N1BCG Ham Member QRZ Page

    Actually, the memory batteries were dead, and fortunately did not leak, so every time I turn it on it restores the default settings. I'd have to leave it plugged in or get new memory cells if I want to save settings or store strings of characters. For a straight key user, sending stored strings is quite a luxury!
    KM6VOV, W5BIB and K7TRF like this.
  9. K7TRF

    K7TRF Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    Makes sense. Just as a learning experience you might try some weighting adjustments, for instance try pressing 0 then the Wt key for roughly a 4.4:1 dah to dit ratio. See if that sounds more like the code you're currently sending with the straight key.
    KM6VOV likes this.
  10. N1BCG

    N1BCG Ham Member QRZ Page

    Time for a competition. I’ll send my call a few times by hand then try again using the keyer. Whichever yields more spots on the Reverse Beacon Net will be the style to emulate.
    KM6VOV, W1BR and K7TRF like this.

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