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Understanding Morse Code

Updated on September 14, 2020
Krishnabee profile image

Just a writer playing with your ideas with my wild perspectives.

I presume if you are here, you are either an exuberated greenhorn trying to add another feather to your hat or a tetchy who has tried and failed but still can't stop giving it yet another shot. So if you are the later, skip to PART-3. And the rest, read away!

For the reader's ease, this article consists of 4 parts.

PART-1 History of Morse Code

PART-2 Use of Morse Code in today's world

PART-3 Easiest and fastest way of learning Morse Code

PART-4 Surviving with the help of Morse Code

Feel free to navigate. Let's drop!

PART-1

During the 18th-century long-distance communication was the extreme need due to industrialization. The fastest means of communication was the fastest horse. And so the telegraph was invented. The first commercial telegraph was developed by William Forthergill Cooke and Charles Wheatstone in 1837. They developed a device which could send messages using electrical signals to line up compass needles on a grid containing letters of the alphabet. Just a year later Samuel Morse and his assistant, Alfred Vail demonstrated a different telegraph device which sent messages using a special code, the Morse code.

Samuel Morse began work on the electric telegraph in 1832, developed a practical system in 1844, and patented his technology in 1849. In initial stages Morse Code only transmitted numbers. The transmission’s receiver would then have to use a dictionary to translate the numbers into words. But the entire process indeed was as monotonous as it sounds. To the beneficiary's relief, soon Morse Code included letters and even punctuation. The code was converted into electrical impulses and sent over telegraph wires. A telegraph receiver on the other end of the wire would convert the impulses back into dots and dashes and then it would deliver out a string of paper with indentations on it. Short indentations were called “dits” and the longer ones “dahs.”

The beauty of Morse Code lies in its versatile nature of usage. Apart from printed text, light and sound are also a medium of communication through Morse Code. A short beep counts for a dit and a prolonged beep counts for a dah. Similarly, a small flash is for a dit and a longer flash is for a dah.

Morse Code allowed for ships at sea to communicate over long distances using large lights. Morse Code was especially pivotal during the Second World War because it greatly improved the speed of communication. Naval warships were able to communicate with their bases and provide critical information to each other. Warplanes also used Morse Code to detail locations for enemy ships, bases, and troops and relay them back to headquarters.

Anyhow due to extraordinary discoveries in the field of radio technology and the invention of the telephone in the late 1870s, use of Morse Code for long-distance communication gradually decreased.

PART-2

If Morse Code just vanished with increasing technology, Joyce Byers could have never known that her son Will Byers is alive and is stuck in the upside-down, Will Robinson possible could have never figured out that his dad John Robinson is alive and is stuck in space, Murph would have never known that Cooper is alive and is stuck in some other part of the universe.

The honest conclusions that we can draw from the above examples are: first, only Hollywood is utilising Morse; second, if you are stranded, Morse code can be your best resort of sending distress signals; and third, every Hollywood kid that knows Morse code has the name 'WILL'. So yes, Morse is not being used as the primary medium of communication anywhere in the world. But it would be utterly wrong to say that Morse code has lost its credibility. With the advancement in technology, telegraphs got shelved but having the knowledge of Morse code is being encouraged throughout by several departments. Members of scouts and defence forces are suggested strongly to have basic knowledge of Morse code, in fact, the US Navy and Coast Guard still use signal lamps to communicate via Morse Code. Radio operators throughout the world are required to know basic Morse because radio navigational aids such as VOR's and NDB's still identify in Morse Code. Morse Code has also been used as an alternative form of communication for people with disabilities or who have their abilities to communicate impaired by a stroke, heart attack, or paralysis. There have been several cases where individuals have been able to use their eyelids to communicate in Morse Code by using a series of long and quick blinks to represent dots and dashes.

Morse Code may not be an essential knowledge to have acquired in any profession anymore but it indeed is a game-changing survival skill.

PART-3

Learning the Morse Code for digits is simple because it follows an easy pattern. Morse code of every digit consists of five characters. 1 is denoted by a single dit from the left and the rest are dahs, similarly, 2 is denoted by a double dit from the left and the rest are dahs. This uniform pattern continues till 10 and hence we find Morse Code for digits easy to remember.

While learning Morse for alphabets we look for similar patterns but we don't find any, yet some people try to form some random pattern and hence they end up making this entire learning process very complicated. The most frequently used alphabets are denoted by the simplest of the indentations, that's how Morse Code is designed. So obviously, there are no patterns.

Then how do we learn it without breaking no sweat? Let's shuffle through the basics first. Any symbol can be identified visually or phonetically. For the purpose of understanding, let us consider all alphabets as symbols.

There is no pattern between the symbols 'A', 'B', 'C' and the other symbols that comes next, yet somehow we have no problem identifying them, that is because we know these symbols by the sound of it. First, we visualise the symbol and then we link it with its phonetic identification. But when we start learning Morse Code we try to link each symbol with its corresponding alphabet because that's how the entire code is generated. Rather one shall try to learn these codes with its sound. The way we know how the symbol 'A' sounds we should learn to know how the symbol '.-' sounds. If identifying code with its corresponding alphabet's visual identity is not working for you stop letting your eyes do the memorising job and put your ears at work. So that when you hear a dit dah combination you know that that symbol is pronounced as 'A'. By learning Morse code with sound you'll know the pronunciation of each symbol and since you have the prior knowledge of identifying alphabets with its phonetic identification, you are simultaneously learning the alphabetical counterparts of each code.

One can pronounce a combination of certain alphabets quickly but same is not the case with Morse code. Even the most experienced person can decode just 20 to 30 words per minute. So if you are able to identify all symbols well but you feel that you are slow, I'd say don't bother, it's just how it is.

Another reason why people fail to decode accurately is that they always tend to neglect gap-time between individual indentations, alphabets and words. And the only way to not make that mistake is to know it.

The Morse Code time rules are as follows:

  1. A dot is a 1-time unit.
  2. A dash is 3-time units.
  3. The space between symbols (dots and dashes) of the same word is a 1-time unit.
  4. The space between letters is 3-time units.
  5. The space between words is 7-time units.

PART-4

If you are contemplating whether or not to learn Morse Code, this section will help you decide.

Back in 2006, an amateur sailor who was travelling to Thornham Marina from Emsworth in Hampshire, England, noticed that his 28-foot boat had started to take on water. All he had to save his life was torchlight and knowledge of Morse Code. He started flashing his SOS signal and was spotted by a coast guard sailor, from nearby Hayling Island. The amateur boater was picked up, shortly thereafter.

Another jaw-dropping example of efficient use of Morse Code was set by Navy Pilot Jeremiah Danton. In 1966, about one year into nearly eight-year imprisonment, Denton was forced by his North Vietnamese captors to participate in a video interview about his treatment. While the camera focused on his face, he blinked the Morse code symbols for “torture,” confirming US fears about the treatment of service members held captive in North Vietnam.

Morse Code may not be useful in obtaining any career achievements anymore but undoubtedly it's an important knowledge to have. And after all, as the saying goes, the fine line between inching towards uncertain redundance and survival is drawn by active knowledge and basic intelligence.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Krishna

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