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 …

  1. NoneSuch
    Coat

    And when the tablet is shot out in battle, how do you call for help?

    Sometimes there's a good reason to have someone with a bit of knowledge on the bridge, especially in the military.

    1. Martin Gregorie Silver badge

      Sometimes there's a good reason to have someone with a bit of knowledge on the bridge, especially in the military.

      Exactly. Having one morse-fluent bridge officer per watch doesn't sound excessive while still saving money by not training everybody. In any case, what about the ship's radio operators, assuming they still carry them: do they still learn morse as part of their usual training?

      Where's El Reg's Naval Correspondent when you need him?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "[...] do they still learn morse as part of their usual training?"

        Recently I was given a guided tour of our local Sea Cadets hut. At one end of the assembly hall was a raised symbolic bridge construct with port and starboard light fittings - from where the senior officers gave their announcements etc.

        Finally I was shown their pride and joy - the engineering and communications room. Its centrepiece was a cut-away car petrol engine that could be cranked slowly to show the various moving parts.

        Where was the comms gear? The morse code key? Ah - they didn't do that any more. However they did still teach semaphore flags - which were essential for some traditional ceremony or competition.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          By comparison, my son has done some Morse and HAM (listening) radio work for one of his Scout badges. Though organised by a local Sea Scout group for the "Jamboree on the Air"

      2. uncommon_sense
        Joke

        This story sounds like a Naval Inspection, something commentards are usually good at!

      3. Sampler

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

        (The post is required, and must contain letters.)

        1. PatientOne

          I'd say you'd have more than that in the Comms room: They should all know Morse as part of their work. Morse isn't just for lamps, after all :)

          (Sorry, can't be bothered translating all this into Morse, as funny as it might be :p )

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Where's El Reg's Naval Correspondent when you need him?

        He got the push because he didn't follow the party line on CAGW.

      5. IglooDude

        "Where's El Reg's Naval Correspondent when you need him?"

        Can I fill in? I was a USN shipboard Communications officer for a few years back in the 90s.

        Bridge officers (aka surface line officers) typically do not know Morse at all, or can fumble out an SOS. Even I was an oddity in being able to read signal flag hoists, to the chagrin of the senior enlisted signalmen. The only ones that know Morse fluently are the signalmen themselves and the occasional old-school radiomen.

        On the whole, this sounds a bit like post-WW2 when radio traffic went from morse to voice and "high-speed" data - you still needed the enlisted folk as operators, even if they weren't tapping a telegraph key directly, and now the officers will be telling the signalmen what to type into the tablet and aim and click Send instead of copying down on paper them grabbing the signal lamp and start flipping. And those signalmen will continue to learn Morse as a backup for tablet failure until the service gets accustomed to the newfangled technology a few decades hence.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          "Bridge officers (aka surface line officers) typically do not know Morse at all, [...]"

          In the 1960s George Tagg G8IX had a treasured piece of paper. As presumably the duty radio officer on a British warship in 1918 he had written down the signal about the armistice.

      6. InNY

        All at sea, using Windows 10 to submit the ... We are interrupting your SOS to bring you a message about an app we know you will like... As soon as these updates have finished checking if you are eligible for these updates... Meanwhile here is a message from one of our sponsors...

    2. Sandtitz Silver badge
      Coat

      "And when the tablet is shot out in battle, how do you call for help?"

      Well, there are the maritime signal flags and the semaphore flags. Wuthering Heights and all that...

      BTW, if the engine fails are the seamen equipped with oars? There's only so many reasonal backup systems. How often these ships need to rely on signal lamps?

      "Sometimes there's a good reason to have someone with a bit of knowledge on the bridge, especially in the military."

      Even a dummy like me with no interest in learning the Morse codes knows the SOS code.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "Even a dummy like me with no interest in learning the Morse codes knows the SOS code"

        ... and getting the Union Jack the right way up - otherwise it is a distress signal.

        1. Uffish

          Union Flag distress signal

          A very understated distress signal I would think. Some countries (France, Belgium, Italy, Switzerland etc) would have an even longer wait flying their flags upside down.

      2. LDS Silver badge

        "are the seamen equipped with oars?"

        If the boat is small enough, yes. If oars can't move it, they are quite useless, I'd say. Anyway, I guess the engines and other mechanical system (i.e. the helm) still have a lot of manual overrides if the automatic control systems get damaged - a ship dead in the water is a dead ship...

        1. werdsmith Silver badge

          Re: "are the seamen equipped with oars?"

          I passed a morse test for Amateur Radio in the 80s, it was easy enough - only 12wpm.

          I still hear morse occasionally because there are enthusiasts keeping it going, it has a longer QRP reach than voice. Repeater ID themselves with morse and so do aviation NDBs.

          Receiving morse and getting the letters down is not a problem, the difficulty is understanding the message as it will likely be all abbreviations and codes.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: "are the seamen equipped with oars?"

            "I still hear morse occasionally [...]"

            IIRC the Morse test was finally removed from the UK amateur "A" licence requirements when it was no longer used by the government agencies to warn people off in an HF band.

            One of the incidental uses of Morse code - apart from the belated Beethoven's 5th Symphony attribution - was in the theme to the TV detective series about Inspector Morse. Can't help reading the letters when I hear it.

            1. Thomas Gray

              Re: "are the seamen equipped with oars?"

              "One of the incidental uses of Morse code - apart from the belated Beethoven's 5th Symphony attribution - was in the theme to the TV detective series about Inspector Morse"

              Also the theme to Some Mother's Do 'Ave 'Em, in which the piccolo part sounds out the name of the show in Morse.

              1. Imsimil Berati-Lahn

                Re: "are the seamen equipped with oars?"

                ... plus "Wichita Lineman" by Glenn Campbell, "Captain of your ship" by Reparata and the Delrons, "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" by Propellorheads and pretty much anything by Alan Parsons.

                1. Imsimil Berati-Lahn

                  Re: "are the seamen equipped with oars?"

                  Oooh, ooh and, of course Planet Claire by The B52s

            2. Richard Scratcher

              Re: "are the seamen equipped with oars?"

              ..Inspector Morse. Can't help reading the letters when I hear it.

              How do you get on with "Some mothers do have 'em"?

            3. D@v3

              Re: "Morse code usage"

              at the beginning of OHMSS by Propellerheads (reworking of the classic Bond theme), the letters are played out.

              Personal favourite though was in the expansion pack for Red Alert, there was a piece of paper with Morse code instructions on how to access some hidden missions against giant ants.

          2. Doctor Huh?

            Repeater ID themselves with morse and so do aviation NDBs.

            And thus we have the Rush classic "YYZ" ...

        2. Rich 11 Silver badge

          Re: "are the seamen equipped with oars?"

          If oars can't move it, they are quite useless, I'd say.

          That's why sailing ships used to be equipped with sweeps. Or they'd send out all the ship's boats and the poor sailors would have the backbreaking job of towing their ship out of trouble.

          I wonder if a couple of RIBs could do that with a Type 23?

          1. MyffyW Silver badge

            Re: "are the seamen equipped with oars?"

            Despite a fondness for Jane's Fighting Ships I've always had a bit of a phobia when it comes to getting splashed by seamen.

        3. Simon Harris Silver badge

          Re: "are the seamen equipped with oars?"

          Every fleet should be equipped with triremes.

      3. Afernie
        Facepalm

        "Even a dummy like me with no interest in learning the Morse codes knows the SOS code."

        Good for you. Presumably you also know the morse code for:

        "Massive contamination. Do not approach without specialist equipment."

        "It's a trap!"

        "False alarm."

      4. collinsl

        CQD isn't it?

        -.-. --.- -..

      5. scm2njs

        "Even a dummy like me with no interest in learning the Morse codes knows the SOS code."

        True, ... --- ...

        But do you know the Morse for "Do not approach. We have drifted into a mine field"

        TBH, I'd say one of the positives about teaching people Morse and to use the sextant would be showing them then when the tech fails they can still survive and function. More and more, and speaking as someone born at the junction between millennial and Generation X, people are becoming completely dependent on technology for everything... the Google effect. Take a smartphone away from a teenager these (ok and maybe me as well) and they go into immediate withdrawal. For that person knowing they can still update the local twitter equivalent via the signal light might just keep them sane.

        "@USSYOU Power down LOL (Crying face) <STOP>, Send help <STOP>, Mind the Mines <stop> HASHTAG NAVYRULES"

    3. Gotno iShit Wantno iShit

      Sometimes there's a good reason to have someone with a bit of knowledge on the bridge, especially in the military.

      It does seem perverse, a skill is in decline due to increased use of modern technology. Solution; more technology to make the skill even less practised.

      1. DropBear Silver badge
        Trollface

        "a skill is in decline due to increased use of modern technology"

        Exactly! We should teach more buggy whip making!

        1. jelabarre59 Silver badge

          Exactly! We should teach more buggy whip making!

          They still make buggy-whips. What else are the S/M folks going to use?

          1. jake Silver badge

            I still use 'em for driving.

            Contrary to popular belief, horses are still with us doing what horses do best.

      2. disgruntled yank Silver badge

        Indeed

        Kids today just don't know how to swab out a muzzle-loading cannon or reef a topsail.

        1. Cynic_999 Silver badge

          Re: Indeed

          Exactly - and there are people serving in the artillery who cannot even change a horse-shoe ...

          1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
            Coat

            Re: Indeed

            ...there are people serving in the artillery...

            One of whom would be my son. Not too many years ago (call it the 'oughties'), when he was in Artillery Officers' school, he was first taught how to calculate the aiming of his artillery pieces using tables and a slide rule. After he passed that test, he was introduced to the computer method. He understood the reasoning behind this very clearly. Computers have a lot of little parts that all have to be undamaged and correctly functioning. Slide rules have three (the two engraved bits and the slidey cursor) and tables just need to be present and readable.

            When everything goes to sh*t, you want to be able to fall back to something more reliable than a fondleslab for communication. I don't think they'll be taking those blinker lamps off the ships too soon. Though my coworker, who's an enlisted radioman in the Marine reserves, says they did not teach him Morse, but still issue semiautomatic keys to radiomen. The brilliance of the military.

            // the one with the Amateur Extra license (20wpm) in the pocket

            1. David Shaw

              Re: Indeed

              indeed, my kid at college was slightly flummoxed this year when they asked him to write a program in C, and just gave a blank sheet of A4. Upon checking, computers/compliers weren't (initially) allowed - just a pencil and a piece of paper. . . it does show if you've been paying attention

              I do personally prefer digimodes/WSPR etc now to my very patchy morse (G8 = 1wpm), just invested in 16-bit DDC/DUC hardware made in EU, and even digital radio mondiale is being decoded

    4. 2460 Something
      Megaphone

      Maybe they will just have to tow a line of tin cans for their backup instead?

  2. Pascal Monett Silver badge
    Coat

    "whether the Navy should be abandoning low-tech backup solutions"

    Might the Admiralty need to have a general session and watch Tomorrow Never Dies ?

    Or should we just ask them what they will do in case of an EMP ? Supposing they know what that is, of course. And supposing that those signal lights are without electronics, so as to be impervious to . . . ah, but motorized signal lights operated by tablets.

    Ok, forget it.

    1. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

      Re: "whether the Navy should be abandoning low-tech backup solutions"

      Odds are that the lamp and the person who knows morse code don't survive whatever kills a ruggedized tablet computer.

      1. Joe Gurman

        Re: "whether the Navy should be abandoning low-tech backup solutions"

        Erm, salt water? Ice?

      2. bombastic bob Silver badge
        Devil

        Re: "whether the Navy should be abandoning low-tech backup solutions"

        whether the operator+lamp survives, it's still better to have a low-tech backup following an EMP. Worst case they can use battle lanterns or flashlights.

      3. LDS Silver badge

        "on't survive whatever kills a ruggedized tablet computer."

        A dead battery? A ransomware?

        1. Rich 11 Silver badge

          Re: "on't survive whatever kills a ruggedized tablet computer."

          And how good is that GoPro at reading a lamp in storm conditions? How many degrees of roll can it cope with, to keep the lamp in its field of view? At least sailors have the advantage of being self-stabilising (except when they've been on the rum, of course).

          1. ZanzibarRastapopulous

            Re: "on't survive whatever kills a ruggedized tablet computer."

            > And how good is that GoPro at reading a lamp in storm conditions?

            They're weirdly luddite these kind of comments, it's not hard to imagine a computer and camera being better at this than a person these days.

            It's just the sort of thing a machine is good at.

      4. PatientOne

        Re: "whether the Navy should be abandoning low-tech backup solutions"

        Your radio ops should also know Morse, so you should have a few people around to help. It's pretty much a required skill for Radio ops in the military, don't you know?

        After all, how else do they send out instructions on how to down those pesky Alien spaceships that hover over our major cities, with their invincible shields, unless you sneak on with a pesky computer virus? :p

    2. DropBear Silver badge
      WTF?

      Re: "whether the Navy should be abandoning low-tech backup solutions"

      You know that fire piston / paracord bracelet / keychain hex spanner kit / nuclear warhead concealed as a handy inconspicuous credit card that you keep carrying in your "survival kit" to be "prepared" for the $INSERT_CAUSE Apocalypse...? One, chances are overwhelmingly you'll never get a chance to need to use it and two, if you ever do, you'll be in so much of so much more life-threatening trouble it will never matter whether you had it or not. Exactly the same applies. Yes, yes it does.

      1. Alan Edwards

        Re: "whether the Navy should be abandoning low-tech backup solutions"

        It's more about the mundane uses of a pocket tool for me.

        Yes I could use my Leatherman to cut the seatbelt in a car wreck, but it's far more likely to be used for slicing a parcel open, cutting up fruit, cutting the top off an instant coffee packet with no perforations, chopping an errant branch off a bush that's about to take a layer of paint off the car. All things I've done with my Leatherman.

    3. handleoclast

      Re: "whether the Navy should be abandoning low-tech backup solutions"

      All this brings to mind something I was told (and could be an urban legend).

      At one point the navy insisted that the on-deck electronic fire control system for some weapon or other be able to withstand the heat flash of a nearby nuclear detonation. The manufacturer questioned that requirement as the heat flash would kill the operator. The reply was that they could always send up another seaman from below decks.

      So EMP hardening isn't necessary as long as they have sufficient spare iMorseControllers below decks.

    4. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: "whether the Navy should be abandoning low-tech backup solutions"

      As a low-tech backup, perhaps they could just have a printed copy of the Morse code?

    5. Eltonga
      Coat

      Re: "whether the Navy should be abandoning low-tech backup solutions"

      But... who would want to keep living if an EMP fries all the entertainment and private communications equipment on board?

      Yes, mine is just two coats behind the gentleman's one.

  3. Number6

    However, it can be superior to other methods because it limits electronic emissions and can be used in an emergency systems crash or after an electromagnetic pulse event.

    So what happens when the EMP takes out the fondleslab? A working hand/arm combination and Mk 1 eyeball coordinated with a human brain can still get something to work even after that.

  4. TDog

    EMP

    " or after an electromagnetic pulse event" leaves the mechanical monster with the ability to flash; but no power.

    Perhaps the USN should invest in some hand generators for the device. All they need then is a hardened set of tablets. Sort of like Very Integrated 'And Generator Running it's Apps

    1. Chris G Silver badge

      Re: EMP

      The answer to EMP is Clacks, all ratings should be trained in semaphore, girl guides are, or at least they were when my sister was one.

      All they would need is to keep enough wood to build a three story tower in the event of an EMP burst.

      1. bombastic bob Silver badge
        Devil

        Re: EMP

        "All ratings should be trained in semaphore"

        semaphore - we used to call those guys "skivvy wavers"

        I'd say all DECK ratings could learn the basics, and they still use flags to communicate on occasion. but yeah, it's not going to help someone in the engine room or a radar operator or a gunner or missile operator.

        That and all officers qualifying Officer of the Deck should know basic semaphore and morse. Just because. And how to use a sextant. If they don't know already.

        1. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

          Re: Clacks

          All messages will start with GNU Terry Pratchett.

        2. collinsl

          Re: EMP

          By "Officer of the Deck" do you mean "Officer of the Watch"?

          1. handleoclast
            Coat

            Re: By "Officer of the Deck" do you mean "Officer of the Watch"?

            I'm obviously losing the plot here. I thought they were using a fondleslab. Now you're saying they've put it onto a smart watch? Does it need the phone or is it operating independently?

            1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

              Re: By "Officer of the Deck" do you mean "Officer of the Watch"?

              The "Officer of the Watch" is the person in charge of remembering what time it is when the big hand is on 12 and the little hand is on Mickey's balls

      2. Robin Bradshaw

        Re: EMP

        How much carbide do the ships carry for the acetylene lamps? Id imagine if the ship has been subjected to a sufficient blast for an EMP to take out the electronics the lightbulb will be quite dickered and electricity may not be available.

        Im not even going to look as is sounds like the sort of stupid thing someone would have made but id be stunned if you cant find a mobile app on google play that does the same thing with the camera on the phone and the led flash to let you send pointless messages at night over distances you could just shout, just add some local bluetooth/wifi sync so one phone acts as master and the rest slaves and have all the sailors line up on deck pointing their phones at the other ship and marvel at them all flickering in sync.

        If this doesnt exist im relying on you good reg readers to make it a thing, the world needs a mobile phone based clacks terminal.

        1. Kiwi Silver badge

          Re: EMP

          How much carbide do the ships carry for the acetylene lamps? Id imagine if the ship has been subjected to a sufficient blast for an EMP to take out the electronics the lightbulb will be quite dickered and electricity may not be available.

          I have an older style "emergency torch". It no longer has any storage capacity (though I expect a couple of minutes with a screwdriver and a fresh set of AA rechargeables will fix that!) but it still functions as an emergency light. So long as I keep working the winder, the small spinning coil next to the small magnet acts as a generator, and basic wire carries that power to an ancient incandescent bulb that only requires electricity to work. That Edison could make such a bulb with the technology available at the time shows it is relatively easy to do.

          A small hand-cranked generator, a small 12v lead acid battery as Eltonga mentions, and you're done. So long as the shutters on the lamps still move (they used louvres rather than turning the light on/off), you have an EMP-proof system that can let you communicate over more than shouting distances reliably. So long as the person at the other end can understand the flashes!

    2. fobobob

      Re: EMP

      * Seek the assistance of a physician for signals lasting more than four hours.

    3. Eltonga

      Re: EMP

      Lead-acid batteries of the kind used in cars, ships and pretty much anything not very finicky with weight are not precisely sensitive to EMPs.

      Of course, the ships should have manual power switches instead of electronic ones but that is also not too difficult to overcome.

  5. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge
    FAIL

    -.. --- / - . .-.. .-.. .-.-.- .-.-.- .-.-.- (Do tell...)

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

    (What could possibly go wrong?)

    1. Mephistro Silver badge
      Angel

      Re: -.. --- / - . .-.. .-.. .-.-.- .-.-.- .-.-.- (Do tell...)

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

      o_0

      1. Vic

        Re: -.. --- / - . .-.. .-.. .-.-.- .-.-.- .-.-.- (Do tell...)

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

        ITYM ".-- . .-. ." ...

        Vic.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

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

    Sarcasm (I had to contain letters, I keep them in a jar)

    1. Tim Seventh

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

      I'm just being Honest.

      1. rjmx
        Boffin

        I must admit that using Emacs' "M-x unmorse-region" has helped a lot today.

  7. vonBureck
    Coat

    The snappily titled Flashing Light to Text Converter...

    Was that invented and named by Leonard of Quirm, by any chance? Yes, yes, I'm just leaving, mine's the one with the Discworld novels in multiple pockets...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The snappily titled Flashing Light to Text Converter...

      Well it was either that, or the competing invention from a certain B.S. Johnson

  8. agurney

    "Odds are that the lamp and the person who knows morse code don't survive whatever kills a ruggedized tablet computer."

    There's a backup for that ..

  9. Robert Moore
    Thumb Up

    Morse code

    I once wrote a bash script to read out El Reg headlines in Morse code. It was kind of fun, and after a few days I could understand them without thinking about it.

    Now I just need a Morse keyboard for my laptop.

    1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
      Megaphone

      Re: Morse code

      @.-. --- -... . .-. - / -- --- --- .-. .

      There's usually one or two incidents that contain the following in a week:

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

    2. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

      Re: Morse code

      Back in the day (circa 1975/76) a colleague of mine needed to learn Morse Code for his Radio Amateur Exam. Another colleague wrote a simple programme to use the beep sound on a Dec VT52 or VT05 terminal to play text for him to practice listening and understanding the message.

      Worked pretty well and he passed his exam.

      1. ZanzibarRastapopulous

        Re: Morse code

        I didn't think the earlier VT's had variable length beeps?

        I suppose you could do it with the gaps, but that would be hard.

  10. Daedalus Silver badge

    I can see it now

    "Signal received, sir. Signal reads 'Send three and fourpence, we're going to a dance' "

  11. I3N
    Pint

    Yup, love those shirts ... at least there was an operational requirement ...

    Need I say more ...

    "Unprecedented levels of performance improvement"

    and

    "Because we have the money"

  12. Joe Gurman

    And how well, exactly....

    ....does the tablet work when 10 m swells send salt spray onto it?

    1. notowenwilson

      Re: And how well, exactly....

      Looks like a panasonic toughpad. Yes they work fine after a heavy drenching. Source: have used them offshore and given them a heavy drenching in salt spray. Not bad in direct sunlight either.

    2. Alan Edwards

      Re: And how well, exactly....

      It's a Panasonic Toughpad, so probably along the lines of "Ah, I seem to have a layer of salt on my screen, I'd better run it under the tap to clean it off."

  13. Empty1

    ...."....does the tablet work when 10 m swells send salt spray onto it?"...

    Or the sun shines brightly?

  14. Dave 32
    Mushroom

    Morse Code

    They could always draft some old ham radio operators. Quite a few of us still know Morse Code.

    Then, again, would you really want a bunch of grumpy old men (and women) sailing around on boats with nuclear weapons on board?

    Dave

    1. Graham Dawson

      Re: Morse Code

      That's the RNs job.

    2. Meph

      Re: Morse Code

      @Dave 32

      Doesn't that qualify you for the XO position? Someone has to make the old man look good.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Good luck with exchange ...

  16. John Doe 6

    ...or after an electromagnetic pulse event.

    No, it can't, a EMP would kill the GoPro and the electronics for the signaling lamp.

    1. EveryTime Silver badge

      Re: ...or after an electromagnetic pulse event.

      An EMP pulse isn't magic. It will be unpredictable, but probably won't kill most small electronics. Especially small devices inside a big tin can that aren't attached to anything (e.g. a charger) when it happens.

      It's hard to foresee the communications speed needed after such an event, but I doubt that there is much of a difference between the 4-5 WPM possible by manual transcription and double that with an experienced operator (I'm don't expect a signal light will support 20WPM.. not that anyone will be sending a lengthy missive.)

    2. Aitor 1

      Re: ...or after an electromagnetic pulse event.

      irrelevant as the ship engines will be dead anyway...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: ...or after an electromagnetic pulse event.

        "irrelevant as the ship engines will be dead anyway..."

        Obviously we need to build a new generation of surface ships with mechanically injected Diesels or steam turbines started by compressed air.

        1. Mephistro Silver badge
          Unhappy

          Re: ...or after an electromagnetic pulse event. (@ Voyna i Mor)

          That would make sense, not only for EMPs, but also for Carrington events. With our present level of readiness a Carrington even would kill as many people as a total(ish) nuclear war, although with several measures similar to this one we could minimize the casualties a lot.

          Alas, I'm afraid our level of preparedness in the future will remain mostly as it's now, this is, NULL. Or it will get even worse, like will all those plans by governments to exclusively use plastic money, so on top of the loss of comms and energy and most transport, we also lose the currency. Sigh...

  17. aregross
    Thumb Up

    LOL at the Wuthering Heights plug!

  18. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    Having removed the need to understand what they are signalling, why stick with visible light? Why risk dazzling these poor Jack Tars with the mega candlepower?

    And fyi Mr Reporter, the correct term for the flashing torch of eye-hurtiness is an Aldis Lamp.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Bah!

      It's a good question, why not go to some kind of infra-red laser system or something else that would support higher bandwidth. I suspect the reason is that while bolting a servo motor and an off-the-shelf tablet to an existing signal lamp can be done quite cheaply, commissioning a new communication system would inevitably become a billion-dollar boondoggle, out of all proportion to its utility.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Don't read this!

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

    Told ya!

    1. DropBear Silver badge

      Re: Don't read this!

      No worries. I didn't. Any of the encoded ones. My life already starts feeling barren and empty for all that I missed. If only people knew of all the smart, eloquent comments I've craftily concealed here along the years in microdots (just like these)...

      1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

        Re: Don't read this!

        smart, eloquent comments I've craftily concealed here along the years in microdots (just like these)...

        How dare you sir! Some of those are quite clearly libellous and I'll see you in court!

  20. jake Silver badge

    Morse ain't dead yet.

    The wife & I use it for short messages when we don't want to be "overheard". If we're in contact physically, nobody knows we're talking ... and even across a crowded room it's easy to get a message across without notice. Granted, it's usually along the lines of:

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

    Archaic maybe, but it works without embarrassing anybody.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Morse ain't dead yet.

      Shades of Modesty Blaise and Willie Garvin. Often followed by Modesty taking off her top for a psychological "stun" effect - thus allowing Willie the chance to administer a physical stun to their captors.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Reminds me of a construction article in one of the amateur radio magazines in the mid 1960s. A small box with ferrite core memory for generating Morse code from alphanumeric keys. Not sure if it could also receive. It was a wondrous thing like something from science fiction. Up to then spring-loaded "speed bugs" were the fastest mechanical aids.

    G3DML used to tell the story of his wartime training in morse code reception. He was failing to reach the required highest speed standard. So his boss sat him down for an intensive training session. He put a packet of 20 cigarettes on the table - and said they would only stop the session when John had smoked them all. He passed the test - although by the time of telling the story he had long graduated to cigars.

  22. jdoe.700101

    When all else fails

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

  23. tim292stro

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

  24. -tim
    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.

  25. razorfishsl

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

    1. Anonymous Coward
      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.

  26. Demosthenes Locke

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

    1. jake 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!

      1. Flocke Kroes 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.

        1. jake 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 ...

  27. fixerdave

    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.

    1. Bill Gray

      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.

  28. Anonymous Coward
    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?

  29. Pangasinan Philippines
    Coat

    Joke Alert

    She was only a radio operator's daughter,

    But her Da Da Did It

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Kids today

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

  31. Yet Another Anonymous coward 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

  32. rcp27

    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.

    1. collinsl

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

  33. Stuart Dole
    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.

    1. ricardian

      Re: Fitzgerald?

      What a shame that they did not have a bunting tosser

    2. John Crisp

      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.

  34. Milton 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 ...

  35. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

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

    Assuming that they will also start to offer Heliographing 101

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "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?

  36. Paul Johnston
    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.

  37. Kevin Johnston

    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

  38. John Crisp

    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

  39. JonnyBravo

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

  40. rgmiller1974

    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?

  41. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The Morse Code Blues

    BENS BEST BENT WIRE

  42. Anonymous Coward
    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!

  43. DagD

    Morse Code.

    Now with Crypto Load.

    Break out your crazy eights...

  44. wyatt

    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.

  45. Cuddles 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.

    1. 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.

      1. Cuddles 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.

        1. Kiwi 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.

          1. Cuddles 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).

  46. StudeJeff

    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!.

  47. Walter Bishop 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?

  48. Herby 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...

    1. Kiwi 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.

  49. Jaap Aap

    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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