back to article .. ..-. / -.-- --- ..- / -.-. .- -. / .-. . .- -.. / - .... .. ... then a US Navy fondleslab just put you out of a job

For over a hundred years, navies around the world have messaged each other at the speed of light – signal lamp light. Communicating using Morse code and lamps has been outpaced by modern radio and satellite transmissions, although every US Navy ship still carries one of these lights. The problem, however, is that no one is …

When all else fails

you can still use your eyes...in theory - http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-navy-asia-exclusive-idUSKBN19H13C

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Vulture: .... .- --..-- / .-- .... .- - / .- / -.-. .-. --- -.-. -.- / --- ..-. / ... .... .. - . / - .... .- - / - .... . -.-- / .- .-. . / --. . - - .. -. --. / .-. .. -.. / --- ..-. / -- --- .-. ... . .-.-.- / .. / .-. . -.-. .- .-.. .-.. / .- -. / .- -. . -.-. -.. --- - . / .- -... --- ..- - / -- --- .-. ... . / -... . .. -. --. / -.-. .-. .. - .. -.-. .- .-.. / --- -. / - .... . / -... . .- -.-. .... / .-.. .- -. -.. .. -. --. / .- - / -. --- .-. -- .- -. -.. -.-- / -....- / .-. .- -.. .. --- ... / ... .... --- - / --- ..- - / .- -. -.. / .-- . - --..-- / --- -. .-.. -.-- / .... .- -.. / .- / ... .. --. -. .- .-.. / .-.. .. --. .... - / - --- / .-. .- -.. .. --- / .- .-. - .. .-.. .-.. . .-. -.-- / -.-. --- .-. .-. . -.-. - .. --- -. ... / -.--.- .- ..-. - . .-. / --- -. . / -... .- -.. / ... .... --- - / .-- .. .--. . -.. / --- ..- - / - .... . / -.-. --- -- -- .- -. -.. / ... - .- ..-. ..-. -.--.- .-.-.- / -. .. -.-. . / - .... .. -. --. / .- -... --- ..- - / -- --- .-. ... . / .. ... / - .... .- - / -.-- --- ..- / --- -. .-.. -.-- / -. . . -.. / .- / ... --- -- . - .... .. -. --. / ... .... .. -. -.-- / --- .-. / .-. . ..-. .-.. . -.-. - .. ...- . / - --- / ... . -. -.. / .. - .-.-.- .-.-.- .-.-.- / .- -. -.. / .- / -... .-. .- .. -. / - --- / .--. .-. --- -.-. . ... ... / .. - .-.-.- / - --- --- / . -..- .--. . -. ... .. ...- . / - --- / - .-. .- .. -. / -- -.-- / .- ... ... / -....- / .. ..-. / - .... . -.-- / -.-. .- -. .----. - / - .-. .- .. -. / .--. . --- .--. .-.. . / - --- / .-.. . .- .-. -. / .- / -.. .. ..-. ..-. . .-. . -. - / .-- .- -.-- / --- ..-. / - -.-- .--. .. -. --. / - .... . / .-.. . - - . .-. ... / - .... . -.-- / .- .-.. .-. . .- -.. -.-- / ..- ... . / .-- . / .- .-. . / ..-. ..- -.-. -.- . -.. .-.-.-

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Pint

It was a skill that some were very good with

The WWII signalman who taught my father morse code decided he would join a typing contest run by the towns office supply place. The first prize was one of the brand new daisy wheel typewriters. The guy brought his manual typewriter and managed to out type all the local secretaries and then tried the new electronic typewriter and it couldn't keep up with him. He would routinely communicate for hours at time in the 100+ WPM bands and he could do bursts to the limits of the equipment.

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Bronze badge

you can bet GPS will be the first thing targeted during a world war.

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Anonymous Coward

>you can bet GPS will be the first thing targeted during a world war.

If WW3 happens then having a non functional satnav is going to be the least of my worries.

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I can lend the Navy a slide rule in case they need one.

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Silver badge

Nothing wrong with sliderules (or Subjects^WTitles)

I have, and use, several on a near daily basis. My .fav:

http://sliderulemuseum.com/Hemmi/S071_Hemmi_255.jpg

Now THAT's what I call a Sun Workstation!

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Silver badge

Re: Nothing wrong with sliderules

Before I was a PFY, I used sliderules and log tables. I could never get them to store equations and repeat a calculation with different inputs.

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Silver badge

Re: Nothing wrong with sliderules

What's your point, Flocke?

A sliderule's more accurate than guestimating for fencing, fertilizer, seed, roofing, paint, roadbase, DG, working loads on beams and the like ... and I keep a circular slide rule in each of the aircraft and larger boats. Just to really make you think, I also use an abacus nearly daily. It's in the feed barn. I use it to calculate livestock feed & supplement needs. Electric calculators tend to die in a matter of weeks in that kind of environment.

Horses for courses and all that ...

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meanwhile...

The kids are learning Morse code on their phones so they can pocket-message each other... you know, like during a test. 2 button keyboard, vibrate on receive.

So, a decade from now the new recruits will be showing the old timers how to do it right.

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Re: meanwhile...

Had some visiting youngsters tell me a few days back that in schools where cellphones are banned, kids set them to ring at a high frequency, such that they can hear them but annoying older people can't. I could imagine kids communicating with Morse code pitched high enough to get past teachers.

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Anonymous Coward

A fucking GoPro?

Seriously?! I'd expect these to have columators(?) infront of the beams or something... but no a shity "go pro", there are better no-moving-parts solutions surely?

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Coat

Joke Alert

She was only a radio operator's daughter,

But her Da Da Did It

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Anonymous Coward

Kids today

In my day we would navigate by the stars and watch for sea monsters.

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Silver badge

One advantage of morse

Is that it is universal. So when your ship can't communicate with the ship next door because you have different versions of super-secret-secure-system, or they are a different navy - you can use morse.

Except they can't read your 200wpm computer morse and your system can't cope with manual traffic

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Modern naval warfare is a high tech business. If the ship has lost all the more advanced tech than a flashing lamp and mk1 human eyeball, pretty much the most useful thing it's going to be able to do is return to port for repairs. Beyond ... --- ... I'm not really sure what useful role in a naval warfare environment this bit of legacy kit will offer.

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You don't want ...---... you want -.-. --.- -..!

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FAIL

Fitzgerald?

I recall that the container ship that collided with the Fitzgerald was trying to contact them with the flashing light when radio didn't work. Apparently no one on the bridge knew Morse.

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Re: Fitzgerald?

What a shame that they did not have a bunting tosser

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Re: Fitzgerald?

If they had stuck to the Collision Regs as taught in college they wouldn't have needed to signal...

We were always taught to use the rules and never try to communicate with another ship when it came to making decisions on avoiding collisions as comms could be misconstrued.

Just use the rules Luke.

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Silver badge

Motorized shutters?

If you're gonna do this, why not opt for LEDs? Better still, a laser, to make the beam difficult to see off-angle, e.g. from a nearby periscope?

And if your adversary hacks into your tablet, what messages will really be sent?

I have this nasty scenario in mind, like BSG's miniseries - western ships entering combat against Chinese or Russians, and Windows for Warships goes BSOD ...

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Silver badge

Always a good idea to have a fallback method for communications.

Assuming that they will also start to offer Heliographing 101

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Silver badge

"Assuming that they will also start to offer Heliographing 101"

How do you think troops communicated in the Falklands when it turned out that the MoD hadn't considered that the new fangled radio telephones might need battery chargers?

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Megaphone

Just you wait

Many years ago (1979) I was doing O-Level seamanship with a view to joining the Merchant Navy.

Just before the exam there was an incident where a ship was in trouble with no power.

Semaphore was brought back onto the curriculum as a means of communicating without electricity.

Luckily never needed it in the four years I worked for BP but it seemed an eminently sensible decision.

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Silver badge

Almost off-topic

The last time I passed by Shoreham airport (Brighton Hove and Worthing Joint Municipal Airport for the purists) it still had it's airport beacon light flashing it's ident code in Morse

Ah, the good old ye Olde Days

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Backup

Morse doesn't take that long to learn and they could teach it on board to save time/money.

Sextants & celestial nav are a tad more tricky and do take longer. With a sextant I could find my position anywhere on the planet within half a mile or so (fine in the middle of the oggin, and you have land & bearings for anything closer to shore). Never did really understand figures on the plane of the rational horizon and haversine proofs though, but my nav was accurate :-)

I have long thought that abandoning some of these systems is not always a great idea. GPS is clearly a good system to target to incapacitate your opposition so having some backup would be sensible.

Mines the bag with the Nories tables and a Nautical Almanac

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To answer the question posed, the morse for LOL is generally .... .. .... .. for HI HI (on ham HF at least).

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Is it still flashing in Morse code?

Is the light still flashing in Morse code? (It wasn't clear to me from the article.)

The reason I ask is that if you're going to have electronics on both ends, then why not use them to do something useful, like encode the data with a protocol that includes error correction?

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Anonymous Coward

The Morse Code Blues

BENS BEST BENT WIRE

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Anonymous Coward

Race to the bottom?

The US Navy has no one on board who knows morse code.

The UK Navy has a brand new aircraft carrier....with no aircraft!

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Morse Code.

Now with Crypto Load.

Break out your crazy eights...

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Bronze badge

I joined the Royal Signals in 1997, they'd stopped teaching morse but there were a number who knew it. The distance that morse could travel when voice couldn't was impressive.

I also had a trip on HMS Illustrious. Officers there could read some morse as they didn't have to wait for the signallers to translate it for them. Orders were passed to ships during a RAS via lamp, these were course corrections so needed to be relayed quickly, I don't know if doing this via a tablet would have been achievable.

It was pointed out that smaller ships only had HF sets, they didn't have satellite communications. If the reception was poor then data/voice wouldn't get through but morse generally would. I doubt the Royal Navy will be stopping using it soon.

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Silver badge

Trained != practiced

The trouble with having someone who knows Morse code is that learning a skill isn't enough, you have to actually use it otherwise you'll lose it. That's even more the case for something like this as an emergency backup, since it really needs to be second nature to be useful in that kind of situation. And that means constant practice of probably hours per week just for something that will probably never be used, taking time away from work and training that is much more useful.

In addition, humans are rather squishy. It's all very well to complain about unlikely events like EMP, but in the real world systems like this are far more likely to be used for boring reasons like a broken radio set. A rugged tablet stored in a secure locker is far less likely to be damaged by shooting, explosions and collisions than a human. And, indeed, as long as the locker is metal it won't be affected by an EMP either. A tablet controlled system could well be more robust and reliable than one that relies on a couple of squishy, out of practice meatbags.

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Vic

Re: Trained != practiced

And that means constant practice of probably hours per week

Only if you want to stay in the uber-proficient class...

I've not used my Morse for over 30 years. It's nowhere near as good as it was back then - but I can still get by. And that's with *almost* no practice in the intervening years...

Vic.

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Silver badge

Re: Trained != practiced

"Only if you want to stay in the uber-proficient class..."

Such as someone taking responsibility for communications during an emergency situation, quite possibly international communications during wartime? That's exactly the point; if the navy wants to use trained meatbags as their emergency backup communications system, they need to actually do it properly and take the time and effort to make sure they will be capable of functioning competently when needed. Being able to just about get by in unimportant civilian situations is not at all the same as being a critical part of an emergency response plan. Not having your communications specialists fluent and up-to-date in their language would be as insane as having your medics with no more qualifications than a 30-year-old first aid certificate.

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Silver badge

Re: Trained != practiced

"Only if you want to stay in the uber-proficient class..."

Such as someone taking responsibility for communications during an emergency situation, quite possibly international communications during wartime?

Voice and data coms are down. You need to communicate.

Do you 1) Have someone who can do a fair bit of morse at a fair rate, even if only 5wpm or 2) have nothing?

May not be the greatest or the most reliable. Hang on a minute, if it's all you have then by definition it is the most reliable, unfortunately.

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Silver badge

Re: Trained != practiced

"Voice and data coms are down. You need to communicate.

Do you 1) Have someone who can do a fair bit of morse at a fair rate, even if only 5wpm or 2) have nothing?"

Obviously neither. Instead, you go with 3) Use exactly the kind of system this article is about, which is significantly better than both 1) and 2).

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Nothing really new here

A while back I did a patent search for any patents of my grandfather and found a pair of them from the late 20's when he worked for the Western Union Telegraph Company. One was a device with a keyboard that used a rotating cylinder with a slot cut in it, a light, and a photo detector to turn typed letters into Morse, then there was the companion device which converted Morse into text.

This is pretty much a 21st century version of the same thing... and I sure wish I could tell him about it. (never mind how I found out about his patent, that would really blow his mind!.

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Silver badge
Facepalm

No one is very good at using Morse code these days

"no one is very good at using Morse code these days, so the US Navy has turned to a technological fix."

That's because some time back, the US military dropped the requirement for operators to be trained in Morse code. What happens when someone blows holes in your tablet and no one know how to sends a signal the old fashioned way.

If you can read this then a US Navy fondleslab just put you out of a job young people today, eh?

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Silver badge

Remember: When all else fails...

Morse code will get through. Easy to send, easy to receive. How fast is a matter of practice, etc...

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Silver badge
Thumb Up

Re: Remember: When all else fails...

Morse code will get through. Easy to send, easy to receive. How fast is a matter of practice, etc...

Yup. Turning on/off the signal (even if the mic is stuffed), a torch, build a fire on the deck and wave a blanket in front of it.. I've always maintained it should remain, even though it is so very rarely used these days.

Last time I used it was some 30 years ago, on a farm - me with the farm bike's headlight and the boss with the shed lights across a distance of a couple of miles at dusk. Afraid I only recall a couple of letters these days.

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Older Nokia phones (3310/6250 era) had a tone for when a SMS was received. Not sure if this was the default. Anyway, the tone went SMS in morse.

In later years, when colour screens got introduced this message tone was changed to say MMS.

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