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In Morse Code, Timing Counts!

Well-sent Morse code is a pleasure to listen to. If the timing is right, the Morse code engine will run well. This class will cover timing. It takes some practice but it is possible to be mistaken for sending on a keyboard when doing it by hand. One way of accomplishing it is to send at a slower speed and concentrate on perfection.

LESSON 3 — Timing Counts!

Properly-sent Morse code has to do with timing — the short story is that accuracy should take precedence over speed. We will get into the particulars in this chapter.

I practiced my sending at a slower speed on a straight key and got the timing down right, and sometimes I was asked if I was sending from a computer keyboard. Now that's a compliment!

The devil is in the details: The short sound in Morse code, that we call "dit" in our teaching materials, is one-third the length of the long sound that we call a "DAH." Further, the space between elements that make up a character is the same length of time as the "dit." The letter I (pronounced "eye") is made up of the sound sequence, "di-dit." The letter T is made of the sound "DAH." The sound of both the I and T are three time-units long, just considering the audible sound, not worrying about the word-space after.

Say we are sending Morse code at an incredibly slow speed, where each time unit is one second, the first dit will be one second, followed by a one-second silence, followed by a one-second "dit." The "DAH" will be three seconds long.

Spacing between letters within a word is three time units long, or in our slow code example, will take three seconds. Spacing between words will be seven time units.

In our one-second example, the words "IT IS" will take exactly 34 seconds; Most Morse code messages are at least ten times this speed, and proficient operators can be 20 times this speed or more. Let's break-down this one-second example:

  1. > 3 seconds for the I, followed by 3 seconds for the letter-space = 6 seconds;
  2. > 3 seconds for the T, followed by seven seconds for the word-space = 10 seconds;
  3. > So far, the word "IT" takes 16 seconds;
  4. > 3 seconds for the I, 3 seconds for the letter-space, 5 seconds for the S comes to 11 seconds;
  5. > And before we can send another word, we must let 7 seconds pass for the word-space.
  6. > We have 16 plus 11 plus 7 equals 34 seconds.
  7. > Of course, we only have 27 seconds from the beginning of the first sound of IT to the last sound of IS.
  8. > At 12 words per minute, the time unit is 1/10th of a second, so at 12 wpm, this phrase will sound out in 2.7 seconds and in 3.4 seconds before the next word can be sent.

Speed check

The word "PARIS" plus the word-space after is 50 time units long. At 12 wpm, it takes 5 seconds to send "PARIS" and the word-space after, and "PARIS" will be sent exactly 12 times in one minute, ready to send the thirteenth at the start of the next minute.

A scheme to calibrate the words-per-minute speed of a sending device is to repeat the word "PARIS" and count how many come in one minute over a 2 or 3 minute run.

Farnsworth Method

The Farnsworth Method involves sending at a higher speed and padding the letter- and word-spacing to result in an overall slower speed. By sending characters at a higher speed, then leaving a larger gap between characters than normal, the student cannot count the number of "dots" or "dashes," but instead recognizes the characters as we recognize words in the English language.

If one wants to learn to recognize the code at 20 words per minute, a Farnsworth setup consisting of 20 wpm characters spaced at slower overall speed will be a perfect ticket. As the student progresses, the letter speed will remain at 20 wpm but the space-padding will be reduced to make for speeds faster and faster, until all padding is removed, and the code is now being sent at an overall speed of 20 wpm.

On the "To-do" list as this goes up, is Morse audio files

The lesson audio found on the site menu and used on the net is run at 13 wpm with overall spacing padded down to 4 or 5 words per minute.

American Radio Relay League code practice is sent over W1AW on 160, 80, 40, 20, 15 and 10 meters on a regular schedule, with a 15-wpm code speed at 5, 7-1/2 and 10 wpm Farnsworth, then 13, 15, 18 and 20 wpm regular style. When 13 wpm comes up it both speeds up and slows down, which was a bit of a kick in the pants in my experience — the overall speed jumps from 10 to 13, but the character speed drops from 15 to 13! While I found the double-switch to be a bit disconcerting, the FCC was testing at a straight 13 wpm with no Farnsworth padding involved.

It was always a good idea to practice at up to at least 15 and get that down before going in for a test.

Sending code at 1/25 word per minute?!

Yes, the world's radio amateurs said "HI" to a passing spacecraft in Morse code.

The NASA Juno spacecraft fly-by of Earth

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory explained the purpose of the fly-by: "When NASA's Juno spacecraft flew past Earth on Oct. 9, 2013, it received a boost in speed of more than 8,800 mph (about 3.9 kilometers per second), which set it on course for a July 4, 2016, rendezvous with Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system." And during that fly-by, the ARRL said the amateur radio community was invited to celebrate: "[The] Juno mission is inviting Amateur Radio operators around the world to say 'HI' to Juno in a coordinated Morse code message. If enough operators participate, Juno's 'Waves' radio and plasma wave experiment should be able to detect the message." And the ARRL reported that it was a success.

At an incredidibly slow pace of four words per every 100 minutes, radio amateurs sent "di-di-di-dit, di-dit" in a coordinated fashion beginning at the exact same minute, to-the-second. Each "dit" was sent for 30 seconds. Inter-element spaces were 30 seconds off time between dits, and 90 seconds off between the letters H and I. Three and a half minutes off for the word space resulted in each "HI" lasting 10 minutes from the start of the word to the next start.

By the way, NASA released this YouTube video, with what the spacecraft heard in passing the Earth. Based on an experiment I ran, the video was speeded up about 450 times real time, shortening those 30-second dits down to the short bursts heard here. The pitch of the space noise and Morse code was similarly raised about 450 times their originally recorded pitch, bringing the sounds up into the audible range from single-digit cycles-per-second.

My experiment involved recording the sound off the video into a 192 kHz sample-rate audio file, and reducing the sample rate by a factor of 400 to 500 times. I was able to stretch the time back into the 9-to-11-minute time frame from the start of an H to the next start of an H. Actual time was 10 minutes. In real time, all of the weird noises heard on the speeded-up NASA recording are all too low in pitch to be heard. And of course, by speeding it up, the Morse code can be heard at a normal speed and pitch.

Next page: Lesson 4 — Practice, Practice, Practice!