High-speed morse code with a straight key

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2020/05/04/high-speed-morse-code-with-a-s.html


That’s how you do it.

(Ages ago I looked into HAM radio, decided it wasn’t for me, but met some interesting people.)


A human UART!


I remember when it was Novice class licenses that needed 5 wpm, and Extra class was quite a bit higher. (20 wpm?)

In Canada, it was 10 wpm, which I didn’t make and never got around to retaking. (Passed theory and regs. VE2/3rds, that’s me!)


I was taught to rest my forearm on the table and operate the key with just wrist action.This technique is a bit unusual, but maybe with practice higher speeds are possible.

Since it’s clear that the key is not connected to anything, how do we know what is happening here? I’ll accept that he’s sending actual Morse (much too fast for me), but at what wpm? How many errors? Is the rhythm correct to make it readable? The video doesn’t tell us much.


So how many people are there left in the world for whom this is intelligible communication? In other words, how many people can sit on the other side of the table and transcribe that grid of letters out?

I notice that my brain recognizes that there are dots and dashes in what I am listening to, but I would need to spend a lot of time learning to transcribe at a much much slower speed before my brain could get used to listening at this speed for the dots and dashes.

Is there enough living memory of a time when morse code was used over the radio that there are still millions of living people with this level of transcription skill? Thousands? Hundreds?


Back in my EE undergrad days we had to design a Morse code decoder using a Motorola 68HC11. Two-wire input only, and it would display the result in a terminal window. The trick was it had to translate accurately even with varying input speeds. Really made you appreciate modern data transmission methods.


Telegraphy enthusiasts will enjoy the FUNKSPIEL scene in Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon:

Two more people come into the room and take seats: Colonel Chattan, and a young man in a disheveled tuxedo, who (according to a rumor that makes its way around the room) is a symphonic percussionist. This latter has clearly made some effort to wipe the lipstick off his face, but has missed some in the crevices of his left ear. Such are the exigencies of war.

… Elmer turns and blinks twice in Waterhouse’s direction. “The game is simple,” he says in a more normal, conversational voice. Then he gets excited again and begins to crescendo. “All you need is a radio and a couple of players with good ears, and good hands!” Now he’s hollering. He waves at the corner where the albino woman with the headset and the percussionist with lipstick on his ear have been huddled together. “You want to explain fists, Mr. Shales?”

The percussionist stands up. “Every radio operator has a distinctive style of keying–we call it his fist. With a bit of practice, our Y Service people can recognize different German operators by their fists–we can tell when one of them has been transferred to a different unit, for example.” He nods in the direction of the albino woman. “Miss Lord has intercepted numerous messages from U-691, and, is familiar with the fist of that boat’s radio operator. Furthermore, we now have a wire recording of U-691 's most recent transmission, which she and I have been studying intensively.” The percussionist draws a deep breath and screws his courage up before saying, “We are confident that I can forge U-691’s fist.”

Turing chimes in. “And since we have broken Enigma, we can compose any message we want, and encrypt it just as U-691 would have.”


Same question here… what WPS is this and is another human able to translate it back.

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During the Vietnam war, I was a codebreaker for the Army Security Agency and we also had morse code intercept operators that could copy at righteously fast speeds - they were called “Hogs” due to the last letter of their MOS - 05H. Knew some guys that could easily copy this guys speed. Hard partying bunch that often served weeks or months in a row without a day off. Many are still with us. Google “7th Radio Research Field Station” for more info on one of our posts (I was there for a year). We all wore red ball caps that had “Cobra 7” on them. And as a note to back up a previous comment, there were, in fact, women hogs that served there.


The key is connected to a sounder. You’re hearing a coil tapping out the message.
You know what message he’s sending by being the other half of a human UART.


All I see is a twisted pair wire connected to the key and terminating in a plug lying on the floor. What am I missing?

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American Morse is landline or telegraph Morse listens to the spaces between the clacks. This is rarely heard in the real world.
International Morse listens to the sounds of the radio signal when the key is depressed.
This is more common.


Most operators moved from straight keys to semiautomatic keys (Vibroplex bugs) to reduce carpal tunnel and increase the speed.
Modern operators often move to iambic keys (one side generates dits, the other dahs and can alternate is held together) or keyboard. Both of these required electronics or a computer to connect to the transmitter.


Come on, Rob. if you’re just going to make stuff up, then you’ll have to make it more believable than that.


From the comment thread on YouTube:

Top 10 rappers Eminem is to afraid to diss


I advocate that everybody learn Morse Code and try to both send, and, especially, interpret it coming at them; now that computers can be your teachers and drill instructors, it just takes time and free software you can get for phones, and everything else.

It’s not that its useful, though who knows, in some extreme circumstance, it might be. (Everybody loves the YouTube of the Korean war prisoner blinking TORTURE with his eyes as he “confessed” to war crimes. You don’t always need more than one word per minute…)

What it’s good for is impressing you with how good these people are. Getting to five words a minute is HARD, just a couple of hours a day of practice. I got to about four before packing it in. The only way to do even that was to be in such a trance that you had no idea what the message was until you looked down at the sheet with your copied letters on it; my brain had no time for the words as it just wrote down letters.

I still check that I have the whole alphabet memorized, a few years later. The little-used letters like X and Q and J (yes, J is rare) slip away on you. And, hey, I might need it some day.


In 1972 it was 10WPM for the amateur license in Canada, I can’t remember how fast for the Advanced, but 15 sounds right.

That stayed till restructuring in 1990, when things were rearranged and a simple Basic license added, 5WPM for that. Until code was dropped, I forget what year.


Watching this I was seriously tempted to get one of these things, spam it as fast as I could, and see how viral it would get before a radio codger exposed me as having tapped out salidkujghaisuerbvlaiusdfbvliasdufbgasdrfhgaerhadfoubaslikughleiwugnlIasdfbliuhlvi


Aren’t their programs that translate MC clicks to letters?

Could someone strip the audio of this and feed it into that? Because I can’t do it.


Kinda a starting point…but I think you’d have to slow it down a bit and then feed it to the translator.