Learning Morse Code The Ludwig Koch Way

Most countries have dropped the requirement for learning Morse code to become a ham radio operator. Because of that, you might think Morse code is dead. But it isn’t. Some people like the nostalgia. Some like that you can build simple equipment to send and receive Morse code. Others like that Morse code is much more reliable than voice and some older digital modes. Regardless of the reason, many people want to learn Morse code and it is still a part of the ham radio scene. The code has a reputation of being hard to learn, but it turns out that is mostly because people haven’t been taught code in smart ways.

I don’t know if they still do, but some youth organizations used to promote some particularly bad ways to learn the code. The second worse way is to learn “dots and dashes” and many people did learn that way. The very worst way was using an image like the adjacent one to try to map the dots and dashes into letter shapes. This chart dates back to at least 1918 when a Girl Guides handbook printed it.

Even if you are a visual learner, this is a bad idea. The problem is, it is nearly impossible to hear sounds at 20 or 30 words per minute and map them to this visual representation. Another visual method is to use a binary tree where left branches are dots and right branches are dashes.

If you only need to master 5 words per minute to get a merit badge, you might get away with this. But for real use, 5 words a minute is very slow. For example, this sentence would take about 3 minutes to send at that speed. Just that one sentence.

So what are the better ways? Let’s take a look.

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Machine Learning System Uses Images To Teach Itself Morse Code

Conventional wisdom holds that the best way to learn a new language is immersion: just throw someone into a situation where they have no choice, and they’ll learn by context. Militaries use immersion language instruction, as do diplomats and journalists, and apparently computers can now use it to teach themselves Morse code.

The blog entry by the delightfully callsigned [Mauri Niininen (AG1LE)] reads like a scientific paper, with good reason: [Mauri] really seems to know a thing or two about machine learning. His method uses curated training data to build a model, namely Morse snippets and their translations, as is the usual approach with such systems. But things take an unexpected turn right from the start, as [Mauri] uses a Tensorflow handwriting recognition implementation to train his model.

Using a few lines of Python, he converts short, known snippets of Morse to a grayscale image that looks a little like a barcode, with the light areas being the dits and dahs and the dark bars being silence. The first training run only resulted in about 36% accuracy, but a subsequent run with shorter snippets ended up being 99.5% accurate. The model was also able to pull Morse out of a signal with -6 dB signal-to-noise ratio, even though it had been trained with a much cleaner signal.

Other Morse decoders use lookup tables to convert sound to text, but it’s important to note that this one doesn’t. By comparing patterns to labels in the training data, it inferred what the characters mean, and essentially taught itself Morse code in about an hour. We find that fascinating, and wonder what other applications this would be good for.

Thanks to [Gordon Shephard] for the tip.

Learn Morse Code, Clockwork Orange Style

You might have to provide your own wrist straps and eye clamps, but if you want to learn Morse code, [Seth] has a web site for you. You can get code practice using the Farnsworth method and each letter is flashed before you as it is sent, which we assume will burn it into your brain.

Why learn Morse code now? Just about all countries now have at least some no code ham licenses and many have taken code off the tests completely. However, there are still many hams that use the code even today. Why? The personal challenge is part of it and perhaps nostalgia. However, it is also true that Morse code transmitters and receivers are dead simple to build and can get through where other simple radios can’t.

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Morse Code Catches Google Swiping Lyrics

We think of Morse code in terms of dots and dashes, but really it’s a kind of binary code. Those symbols might as well be 0s and 1s or any other pair of characters. That attribute is exactly what led to a sting operation a music lyric site called Genius.com pulled on Google. At issue was a case of song lyrics that had allegedly been stolen by the search giant.

Song lyric sites — just like Google — depend on page views to make revenue. The problem is that in a Google search the lyrics appear on the search page, so there is no longer much incentive to continue to the song lyric site. That’s free enterprise for you, right? It is, but there was a problem. It appears that Google — or, according to Google, one of their partners — was simply copying Genius.com’s lyrics. How does Genius know the song lyrics were copied? According to news reports in the Wall Street Journal and other sources, they used Morse code.

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Morse Code Keyboard 1939 Style!

If you want to learn Morse code and you don’t have a teacher, you’d probably just head over to a website or download a phone app. Before that, you probably bought a cassette tape or a phonograph record. But how did you learn Morse if you didn’t have any of that and didn’t know anyone who could send you practice? Sure, you could listen to the radio, but in 1939 that might be difficult, especially to find people sending slow enough for you to copy.

Wireless World for August 3rd, 1939, has the answer in an article by [A. R. Knipe] on page 109. While you probably wouldn’t use it today, it is a great example of how ingenious you can be when you don’t have an Arduino and all the other accoutrements we take for granted today.

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NTP Morse Code Clock Powered By ESP8266

We’ve featured a great many unique clocks here on Hackaday, which have utilized nearly every imaginable way of conveying the current time. But of all these marvelous timepieces, the Morse code clock has the distinct honor of simultaneously being the easiest to construct and (arguably) the most difficult to read. As such, it’s little surprise we don’t see them very often. Which makes this latest entry into the field all the more interesting.

[WhisleyTangoHotel] has taken the basic concept of the Morse clock, which at its most simplistic could be done with a microcontroller and single LED, and expanded it into a (relatively) practical device. With both audio and visual signaling, and support for pulling the time from NTP, this is easily the most polished Morse code clock we’ve ever seen. Using it still requires you to have a decent grasp on Samuel Morse’s now nearly 200 year old encoding scheme of course, but on the bright side, this clock is sure to help keep your CW skills sharp.

For those following along at home, [WhisleyTangoHotel] provides a hand-drawn diagram to show how everything connects together in his Morse timepiece, but there’s nothing on the hardware side that’s likely to surprise the Hackaday reader. A single momentary push button represents the device’s sole user input, with the output being handled by a LED “tower” and speaker on their own respective pins on the microcontroller. Here a Adafruit Feather HUZZAH is used, but any ESP8266 would work in its place.

Of course, the advantage of using an ESP8266 board over your garden variety MCU is the Wi-Fi connectivity. This allows the clock to connect to an NTP server and get the current time before relaying it to the user. Some might think this overkill, but it’s really a critical feature; the lack of a proper RTC on the ESP means the clock would drift badly if not regularly synchronized. Assuming you’ve got a reliable Internet connection, this saves you the added cost and complexity of adding an external RTC.

[WhisleyTangoHotel] wraps up his blog post by providing his ESP8266 Arduino source code, which offers an interesting example in working not only with NTP and time zones on the ESP, but how to handle parsing strings and representing their principle characters in Morse code.

Interestingly enough, in the past we’ve seen a single LED clock that didn’t use Morse code to blink out the time, which might be a viable option as an alternate firmware for this device if you’re not in the Samuel Morse fan club.

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Morse Code Blinking Jewelry

With the size of electronic parts and batteries these days, very small items are obviously becoming more and more viable. [Yann Guidon] has made some awesome pieces of LED jewelry using a minimal number of surface mount parts and a small lithium-ion battery. To make the jewelry stand out a bit, other than just blinking on and off, these LEDs blink a short message in Morse code.

This is an update and open sourcing of some work that [Yann] did a few years ago, and the iterations have resulted in a smaller design. But the main part of the latest version is the addition of the Morse code blinking using a small microcontroller. The microcontroller [Yann] used is the SMD version of the PIC10F200, a small, 8 pin PIC microcontroller. This, a resistor and a metal clip are soldered to pads on a Luxeon Star LED.  The LEDs are undervolted so they’re not too bright, so the heat sink isn’t really needed, but it’s a good size for the components. Because the LEDs don’t generation much heat, the back of the aluminum frame that the LED is on is carved out a bit so that the small lithium-ion battery can go there.

The final component is the code itself, and [Yann] has released it as an assembly file. An associated text file contains the text of the message that you want the earrings to blink. The text file can contain up to 190 bytes. A shell script converts the text to a file that can be included in the asm file. After that script is run, assemble the code and flash it to the PIC and you’re done!

We’ve seen a couple of other LED jewelry projects done, including this LED engagement ring, and these tiny light-up earrings. You can see video of [Yann]’s project in the video below:
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