03 May, 2013

Is the ultimatic Morse keyer really that efficient?

Vintage Ten-Tec Ultramatic Keyer KR50. Nice name but the
similarity to ultimatic seems to be coincidental.
Iambic keying with a dual-lever paddle is by far the most popular form for Morse keying. But in recent years an old alternative has reemerged. This is the Ultimatic mode which goes back to W6SRY in the 1950's.

The experience seems to be that it needs less timing precision than the iambic mode for letters like A, N, R, and K (· —, — ·, · — ·, — · —). When both paddles are squeezed, the last one to be pressed takes control. So when right-left is pressed one gets a dah followed by dits, not the dah-di-dah-dit of the iambic keyer.

It is very simple to add code for an ultimatic keyer to an iambic one. In recent years this has led to an ultimatic option in some stand-alone keyers, such as:
I have yet to hear of a single integrated keyer in a rig that supports the ultimatic mode, and that is probably why from time to time a request for a software upgrade to the Elecraft rigs is sent to the Elecraft reflector. If you really want that, and you don't want to use a stand-alone keyer, then an alternative is to build the ultimatic adapter for iambic keyers by W9CF. It can be built with two logic ICs or with a microcontroller.

In "Using an Iambic Paddle" Chuck Adams, K7QO, compared the iambic paddle, the single-lever paddle, the bug, and the straight key with respect to number of movements. He counted the number of strokes if all 26 letters of the English alphabet and the numbers from 0 to 9 are sent.

I found it interesting to add to the analysis of K7QO by doing the counting for the ultimatic mode also. There are only 3 letters which have to be sent differently compared to an iambic keyer: P (· — — ·), X (— ·· —), and C (— · — ·). The P and the X are simpler to send with the ultimatic keyer, but the C takes more effort. A table of right and left movements and number of presses is:

L-R-L = 3
L-R = 2
R-L-R = 3
R-L = 2
R-L = 2
R-L-L = 3

Add up the number of movements and what do you get? 8 for the iambic and 7 for the ultimatic mode, one less! A table combining K7QO's results with mine gives the number of strokes for sending all 26 letters and all 10 numbers as:

Straight key:
Single-lever paddle:
Iambic mode, dual-lever paddle:
Ultimatic, dual-lever paddle:

This was an eye-opener for me.

It should be said though that in the ultimatic mode it requires much less coordination to send the letter C than if one is using a single-lever paddle with its four movements. Also, since three is the maximum number of presses for any letter in iambic mode, this may be one of the reasons why the iambic mode took over. But this was before my time, so I am only speculating.

Now that I have discovered the virtue of the ultimatic mode, I have used my K1EL WinKeyer with ultimatic mode more. I could need the greater tolerance to timing errors. So far I find it hard to remember to send the C differently and have a tendency to end up with a D (— ··) instead. The same goes for the letter Ä or Æ (· — · —) which we use in inter-Scandinavian contacts (as German-speakers also do) and which easily ends up as a W (· — —) instead. I'll just practice P, X, and in particular C and Ä to build confidence.

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  1. Hi, thanks for a nice article about the Ultimatic mode. I have also tried this on my WinKeyer but I opted to stay with Iambic mode due to the fact that so few built-in keyers offer this mode. I was afraid I would never be able to use another setup than my own. Perhaps we should try to raise the Ultimatic mode again on the Elecraft user groups. It is a pity Elecraft does not offer this. I would have thought it is a simple thing to add, but as you say probably have low priority.
    73 Frode, LA2RL

  2. Thanks for a nice comment, Frode. I guess the simplest thing to do is to make an adapter. It is much simpler than to wait for a company to decide for such a change.

    I have thought about making an adapter which is battery-operated so that it is easy to move from rig to rig. The advantage over a stand-alone keyer is that all memories in the rig will still be useable.

  3. You know, it’s beyond ridiculous that Elecraft still refuses to implement ultimatic mode in their firmware updates. All that bullcrap about “Ooooo….it’s an SDR, so it’s SOOOOOOOO EASY to add WHATEVER NEW FEATURES!!!!!” Yeah, whatever. All that hype is pretty much worthless drivel if the manufacturer is puggishly stubborn and won’t implement even the simplest feature addition. F*** elecraft.

    1. It's pretty simple to make an ultimatic to iambic adapter, so it must not be implemented in the rig: https://la3za.blogspot.com/2014/01/single-lever-and-ultimatic-adapter.html