KOB stands for “key on board” or “key on base”. A KOB includes a key and sounder and is typically used by students for practicing Morse code—to get used to the feel of the key and the sound of the sounder. A KOB can also serve as a portable instrument, since it’s not permanently fastened to a desk.
I developed the MorseKOB program for much the same purpose as the traditional KOB. It served me well as a Morse practice set while I was learning the code, and I use it regularly to communicate with other operators over the internet.
MorseKOB works with Windows 98 or later. The program includes the following features:
Once you’ve installed the program and have it up and running, try the following:
Note: if you press a key and the program doesn't do anything, make sure the KOB window is active. In other words, the KOB window's title bar must be highlighted in order for it to recognize any keyboard input. To activate the KOB window, click the left mouse button on the window's title bar.
Go to the File menu and select Open. A file browser window appears on the screen, allowing you to select any text file on your computer. For now, choose The quick brown fox from the default folder. The text of the file appears in the code sender window. Note that the Code Sender is set to Off.
Press the Pause key to toggle the Code Sender to On. The code sender starts sending the text in Morse, starting from the current cursor position: in this case, the beginning of the file.
When the code sender reaches the end of the file, the code sender is still active. If you type on the keyboard, the text will be added to the end of the code sender window (because that’s where the cursor is) and it will be sent immediately. Try it.
Press the Pause key to toggle the Code Sender to Off. Press the Home key to return the cursor to the beginning of the code sender window. (Similarly, the End key can be used to send the cursor to the end of the code sender window.)
The Code Speed setting determines the speed in WPM of (a) the keyer, (b) the code sender, and (c) the approximate speed expected by the code reader. You can reduce the code speed by pressing function key F4, and increase it by pressing F5. (See Appendix A for a complete list of the program’s keyboard commands.)
Press F4 five times to reduce the code speed from 25 WPM to 20 WPM, and then press the Pause key to play the file again at the new speed.
You can pause and restart the code sender by pressing the Pause key, and you can restart from a new point by clicking on the mouse to reposition the cursor.
Another way of sending code is to copy text from some other application (a web browser or email program, for example) to the Windows clipboard, and then paste the contents of the clipboard into the KOB program’s code sender window by pressing the Insert key. Press the Pause key when you’re ready for the program to start sending the text as Morse.
you can use your computer’s right arrow key to simulate a straight key—and
even use the left and right arrow keys to simulate the paddle of a bug—at some
point you’ll probably want to start using a real key instead. You can do this
by hooking up a straight key, bug, or keyer paddle to your computer’s serial
|Warning: Connecting a key directly to a serial port can expose your computer to possible damage if you touch the key when your body is charged with static electricity. Although unlikely, it has happened, so take appropriate precautions. For example, using a USB-to-serial adapter cable instead of connecting directly to the computer’s serial port can limit the extent of possible damage.|
The easiest way to connect a key is to take a serial cable with a female DB9 connector on one end and simply cut off the connector at the other end. You can buy a Belkin F2N209-06-T serial extension cable for $5 or less at CompUSA.com or Buy.com. See Appendix B for details on which connector pins to use.
But what if your computer doesn’t have a serial port? The simplest solution is to buy a USB-to-serial adapter. The Cables To Go model 26886 adapter cable is available for about $15 at CompUSA.com, Buy.com., or (in Canada) TigerDirect.ca. See Appendix C for a discussion of USB adapters. As mentioned in the above warning, using a USB adapter may be a good idea anyway, even if your computer does have a serial port.
Serial cable and USB adapter for connecting a key
Once you’ve connected a key to your computer, you’ll also need to tell the program which COM port you’re using. To do this, go to the Tools menu and select Preferences, then pull down the Port menu and select your COM port.
For the ultimate in realism, nothing beats having an actual sounder connected to the serial port, but this is a bit more difficult than just hooking up a key. You’ll need an interface circuit such as the one described in Appendix D.
While we’re on the subject of sounders, you can change the sound of the simulated sounder. Go to the Tools menu and select Preferences, then pull down the Sound menu and select one of the alternate sounders. If you’re used to CW, then the Tone option will sound more familiar at first. The Mixed option provides a combination of tone and sounder, to help you make the transition to copying Morse by sounder alone.
Once you have a key hooked up to your computer, you can see how well the code reader copies your fist while you’re sending American Morse. The code reader gives a rough indication of the quality of your sending, but it sometimes misinterprets even well sent code, so don’t get discouraged if you see it making lots of errors. It does do an excellent job of telling if you’ve sent too many or too few dots, however.
The code reader is kind of like training wheels: useful while you’re first learning, but unnecessary once you get the hang of it. However, I still find it nice to have while I’m on the wire—as a “second opinion” when I’m not sure if I copied something right or to “take notes” if I’m called away momentarily.
When you’re using the code reader, the program’s code speed should be set
to roughly the same speed as the Morse that it’s trying to decode.
Unrecognized code is displayed within brackets (for example
Practicing Morse code by yourself can get boring after a while. It’s a lot more fun to use Morse as it was originally intended: as a way of communicating with other people. Using the KOB program, you can do this over the internet.
Before you start, you should enter your name, and optionally your office call and location, into the small text box just above the Circuit Closer control. This is your ID, and it’s how you’ll be identified to other operators on the wire.
Once your computer is connected to the internet—via a dialup, broadband, or wireless internet connection—simply click on the Connect button. Within a second or two, the connection indicator above the Connect button should go from white to red, showing that you’ve successfully connected to the KOB server. The server acts as a “hub”, tying together any number of offices into a common telegraph circuit.
If the connection indicator flashes red and white instead of showing a steady red, that means the server isn’t responding to your connect request for some reason.
The number above the Connect button designates the wire number that you’re connected to. You can enter any wire number from 1 to 32000, where each “wire” is the equivalent of a different telegraph circuit. The No. 1 wire is most commonly used.
Within 10 seconds after connecting, in the text box in the upper right part of the KOB window you’ll see a list of the IDs for everyone connected to the same wire that you’re on. Whenever someone transmits, his ID is moved to the bottom of the list, so the station at the top of the list is the one that has waited the longest since his last transmission. About 60 seconds after a user disconnects from the wire, his ID is removed from the list.
Once you’ve successfully connected to the wire, you can listen to other operators or you can open your key and make a transmission, just as if you were on a real telegraph circuit. Remember to close your key at the end of each transmission, or press the Escape key to toggle the Circuit Closer to the closed position.
Note: If some other operator on the wire leaves his key open, when you open your key and try to send, your sounder will remain silent. To regain control of the wire, press the Escape key twice to cycle the KOB Circuit Closer closed and then open again.
When you’re ready to end your session on the internet “wire”, simply click on the Connect button again to disconnect from the server. The connection indicator changes from red to white.
|Escape||Toggles the circuit closer open and closed|
|Pause||Starts and stops the code sender|
|Insert||Copies text from the clipboard to the code sender window|
|Home||Moves the cursor to the beginning of the code sender window|
|End||Moves the cursor to the end of the code sender window|
|Left arrow||Sends dots|
|Right arrow||Sends dashes (manually)|
|F4||Decreases the code speed|
|F5||Increases the code speed|
|F11||Clears the code reader window|
|F12||Clears the code sender window|
The following table identifies the RS232 lines used by the program to interface with an external key or sounder.
|Manual key or
|Manual key or
*The color code shown is for the Belkin model F2N209-06-T serial extension cable. Some other cables follow the same color code, some do not.
If your computer has a 9-pin serial port connector, then you can connect a straight key or bug to pins 4 and 6. Be sure to set the Mode option in the Preferences window to Normal.
Keyer paddles can be connected to pins 4, 6, and 8. Set the Mode option in the Preferences window to Keyer.
The dot paddle (normally the left paddle) sends dots automatically at whatever speed you specify in the Code Speed setting, while the dash paddle is used for sending dashes manually. This allows you to use a keyer paddle (either “iambic” or single lever) to simulate a traditional bug, giving you a way to send longer dashes for L and zero.
USB-to-serial adapter cables have a reputation for being “quirky”, and that’s been my experience too. The KOB program requires good performance on the RS232 control lines (specifically, DSR, DTS, and RTS), whereas it doesn’t use the serial data lines at all. Consequently, a product that performs well for general applications may not be suitable for use with the KOB program.
I’ve had good luck with two adapter products. My favorite is the 13-inch Port Authority USB Serial DB9 Adapter Cable, made by Cables To Go (product #26886). I like it because it’s economical, compact, and convenient.
Another product that has worked well for me is the Radio Shack USB-to-Serial Port Cable (catalog #26-183). It’s more expensive than the Cables to Go model and it’s a bit bulkier, but it does have the potential advantage of being readily available at local Radio Shack stores.
If you have a desktop computer with no serial port, an alternative to the USB adapter is to install a serial port card in one of the computer’s spare PCI slots. I bought a StarTech 2 Port 16550 Serial PCI Card, model number PCI2S550. It took just a few minutes to open my computer, plug in the new card, and install the device driver software. With its dual ports it has the advantage that you can have two keys and/or sounders connected simultaneously, which is handy for using the program on two separate KOB wires to simulate a multiline telegraph office.
In order to drive an external sounder from the serial port, you’ll need an interface circuit like the one shown below. The circuit can be built from parts available at Radio Shack for about $6. The components can even be made to fit inside a DB9 serial port connector, although you may prefer to build it in a project box.
|RS Catalog #|
|TIP120 NPN Darlington transistor||276-2068|
|10 Kohm 1/4 watt resistor||271-1335|
|1N4005 micro 1 amp diode||276-1104|
|9-pin D-sub female connector||276-1538|
|D-sub connector hood||276-1539|
Serial port connector with sounder interface circuit inside
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