Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Learning Morse code in the 21st century (airfactsjournal.com)
72 points by hggh on Dec 23, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 36 comments

I learned Morse code back in 1992 in order to pass the General class amateur radio license. Back then, the test was 13 words per minute. I practiced for a few months with cassette tapes and over the air copy. After I got up to about 18 WPM, I went and took the test. I almost choked, but was able to recover and pass the test. I haven't used Morse code since then.

There's been a bit of a resurgence with the lower solar cycle, for mobile radios such as the KX3/2 and FT-817 which top out at 15W, having a mode that concentrates most of its power in ~500Hz of bandwidth(vs ~3kHz for voice) is a huge advantage.

Aside from FT-8 and related digital modes it has an impressive ability to punch though when few other modes will.

I have nothing against CW, it's just not for me. Also, I don't operate HF any longer. At this stage of my ham radio adventure, it's all about SDR on UHF and microwave frequencies. Current project is wideband (10 MHz) digital links on 10 GHz.

Oh yeah totally, just more for context who might not be aware that there's still some practical benefits along with the historical aspect.

I've learned a bit of morse code from flying. The older VOR navigation systems identify themselves with a three letter code, so to confirm you have the right frequency dialed in, you listen to the dot/dashes getting beeped at you. I cheat - I found a font that would translate the VOR name FCM when I printed it for my kneeboard.

The charts, for example, lists the morse code for the VOR, which translates to FCM


My uncle used to work as a radio guy. I remember visiting The National Maritime Museum with him and he just walked up to a morse machine and started writing stories.

Last weekend when we talked he mentioned being sad that a lot of this knowledge is getting lost. Must be a strange feeling walking through a museum and it being the tools of your trade.

I mean, JS coders now can have that experience after a year or two. Only they don't get their past exhibited in museums.

That's what I experience at the Computer History Museum (near Google). A high percentage of the items behind the glass were part of my daily life decades ago (punchcards, the earliest TI and HP calculators, etc.) I feel like the Highlander walking through that museum.

Does anything have a recommendation of how to learn Morse today? maybe an app? the app the author recommends is only for iOS and I have Android

The best is G4FON's Morse Trainer, requires Windows, works on Wine.


Edit: You'll have to navigate to the Morse Trainer link from the main page.

Also, it's the best because it has knobs for all the variables -- speed, number of characters sent, even options to add QRM (interference) and variable sending speed (imitating very well someone with an unsteady fist).

As an aside, it's pointless to learn code visually. It's only really useable as an auditory messaging system.

only really useable as an auditory messaging system

What? When I was a kid, it was common for camping flashlights to have pressure buttons on the side, which was intended for (and we used for) morse code. Ships used bright, shuttered lights for Morse code, soldiers used it, scouts used it, kids communicated with friends in the neighborhood at night.

OK, yes, but it's still the rhythm of the flashes that are being interpreted, not _ .... .. ...

Plus, I am willing to bet that far more messages using Morse are sent over radio than with lights.

A lot of apps out there using the Koch method which is mentioned in the article. IIRC G4FON also follows Koch.

Note that visual learning is not recommended for the simple reason that you want to have Morse ingrained and recognized automatically when listening, not translate it consciously. It's like learning any other system of symbols for active use: you want to know at once what you're hearing or seeing, not leaf through cheatsheets, even if they're in your brain.

Adding few letters a day, using this kind of picture as a mnemonic help [0] and learning in duo with someone else worked for me (but I lost most of it in a year due to lack of practice)


I have found google's Morse code tutorial very helpful.Also I added Morse code as a language in Google keyboard for becoming familiar by daily usage.


Android has a Morse code keyboard option.

Maybe three years ago I dove into cheap SDR receivers for a few months, exploring different SDR devices, different frequency bands, different decoders, etc.

One really surprising thing was how little morse code was to be found. And when I did find it, the decoders (like fldigi) were unreliable in decoding. I'm not sure if it was because of their decoding algorithms or if the senders simply had too much variance in their timing.

The bit of traffic I did decode was simply exchanges of contact so each could log a new call sign in their books. I'm not sure what I was expecting to find: because the bits seemed to be "secret" due to my ignorance of morse code, my brain heuristically assumed information they hid must be important.

A while ago I dove into ham radio a bit. I think what you saw was the 40m and 80m bands (HF band, very high range) which are used mainly for "competitions" (essentially exchanging callsigns).

I still find it intriguing because it's such a simple way of communicating. You can build the circuits yourself and with a license communicate with others over kilometers (with a good antenna sometimes thousands of kilometers). Think about it, without cell phone towers, satellites and all that commercial infrastructure it's really the only way to reach anyone.

by the way here are the IARU bandplans [0] with the beacon frequencies if you need to find them again.

[0] http://www.iaru.org/regions.html

You would think it would make sense for Morse to be the foundation for computer representation of text, being binary and all. But the real challenge is that Morse code does not use standard lengths for each character.

It's, imo, one of the earliest technologies that shows the divergence between what is easy for humans vs what is easy for machines.

Morse code isn't binary, it's trinary.

You have 3 signals: dots, dashes, and spaces.

Here's the relevant extract from the wikipedia article on Morse Code:

> Each Morse code symbol is formed by a sequence of dots and dashes. The dot duration is the basic unit of time measurement in Morse code transmission. The duration of a dash is three times the duration of a dot. Each dot or dash within a character is followed by period of signal absence, called a space, equal to the dot duration. The letters of a word are separated by a space of duration equal to three dots, and the words are separated by a space equal to seven dots

You can represent it as both binary and ternary

R is: .-. (dit dah dit)

which could be 121 in ternary (0 being pause)

or 1011101 in binary, since one dah is three dits long

In that case we may as well use the alphabet tbh

I remember writing morse code letters with my then girlfriend while in my last years in school. back then I was able to fluently read and write morse. We didn't want others to be able to easily read what we wrote. It was in the late 90ies and we were so sweetly naive.

Today, except SOS, I can't read/write anything in morse.

I recently enjoyed the chapter in "code" about Morse code [1]. After some googling around I also found this morse chat rook which is a good laugh for anyone looking to kill some time struggling to spell profanities in morse :) [2]

[1] https://www.amazon.co.uk/Code-Language-Computer-Hardware-Sof...

[2] http://morsecode.me/?room=1

[2] was strange, keyboard straight key is the worst.

I learned back in 2000 at Ft. Huachuca, it took about 30 8 hour days for me to get through the basic Morse course, I don't remember how long it took to get through the rest of it. I do remember getting a certificate, the Samuel B Morse award, for copying at slightly above the required speed which I think was something like 22 groups a minute.

I wrote a text to morse code converter some time back if anyone is interested:


..././. ./--/.-/-.-./... --/-....-/-..- --/---/.-./..././-....-/.-././--./../---/-./.-.-.-

...- .. -- .... ..

can you fix the quotes rejection?

Morse code is one of the few signal encodings that can be understood by both humans and computers.

I like to hunt Non Directional Beacons on the long wave band. Unfortunately I have read they are being decommissioned.

Are you sure? There are some beacons by the IARU [0] - across the world - that one after the other transmit their callsign. It can be used to test reception and it can be a challenge to receive a signal from 100s of kilometers away without a repeater.

[0] http://www.iaru.org/beacon-project.html

These can be heard out to a few 100 km:


Applications are open for YC Summer 2021

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact