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Morse Code

The content below is from Episode 122 of the Who’d a Thunk It? Podcast

RECOMMENDATION SEGMENT

  • This week I recommend you go to your local farmers’ market
    • Shannon and I go every Saturday morning and we have a blast.
    • We don’t usually fulfill all of our grocery needs there, but we do get a lot of the essentials like bread, meat, dairy, vegetables, fruit, coffee, honey, hummus, and there is this Mushroom stand that just sells delicious mushrooms.
    • It is a fun experience because there are a bunch of stands that make food to eat right there. You can get freshly fried pierogies, baked goods, and an entire assortment of fresh Greek fusion food.
    • Not everything at the farmers’ market is the right price. Some things you can buy for a bargain and other items cost like 3 times what they would at a grocery store, so you just buy what you can.
    • So every Saturday morning we eat, shop, and enjoy each other’s company. It is delightful. Plus, our money is going right back into our local economy instead of a big grocery chain.
    • So check out your local farmers’ market. It has become one of my most cherished additions to our weekly routine.

NOW FOR THE MAIN EVENT

  • This week’s episode is about Morse Code
    • What is Morse Code? Oxford Languages defines it as an alphabet or code in which letters are represented by combinations of long and short signals of light or sound.
From Merriam-Webster
  • Morse code is an efficient way to communicate about emergency situations since you can send such messages via ham radio transmitters with little power and less bandwidth than other standard voice communication tools.
    • Morse code transmits letters using 2 different kinds of signals: short duration and long duration, or sometimes referred to as Dots and Dashes.
    • As morse code requires limited bandwidth, it was ideal for transmission via Short Wave Radio (HF). A skilled morse operator could still ‘read’ the text even if the signal was noisy and disturbed. Morse code was heavily used for (secret) transmissions during WWI and WWII.
    • Morse code is a VERY effective communication tool and my interest in communication is only cemented by my Master’s Degree in the subject. So yeah, I find this stuff pretty interesting.
      • I better, I’m still paying for that damn degree LOL

Samuel Morse with his Recorder by Brady, 1857
  • It was created in the 1800s and has a rather remarkable origin story.
    • Samuel Finley Breese Morse was born in 1791 and died in 1872. You might be able to tell by his name that he was the inventor of Morse code… but he did so much more.
    • He was born in Charlestown, Massachusetts, the first child of the pastor Jedidiah Morse[1] (1761–1826), who was also a geographer, and his wife Elizabeth Ann Finley Breese (1766–1828)

Birthplace of Morse, Charlestown, Massachusetts, c. 1898 photo
Dying Hercules, Morse’s early masterpiece
Jonas Platt, New York politician, by Morse. Oil on canvas, 1828, Brooklyn Museum.

The Chapel of the Virgin at Subiaco,
 1830
The Gallery of the Louvre 1831–33
  • His painting career was going well. He was commissioned to paint a portrait of Marquis de Lafayette.
    • SIDE NOTE: If you don’t know who that is, you should. His name is all over America. Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de La Fayette, known in the United States as Lafayette, was a French aristocrat and military officer who fought in the American Revolutionary War, commanding American troops in several battles, including the siege of Yorktown. There are countless towns, buildings, colleges, etc. named after Lafayette. He was a badass and a true ally to the American people.
  • Anyway, I digress. Morse was tasked with painting a portrait of this badass Frenchie Lafayette.
    • This prestigious painting project started out with a simple study of Lafayette’s face to get the details down, but the portrait was never finished.
Morse’s portrait of Lafayette
  • It was never finished because While he was working on Lafayette’s portrait, Morse received a letter from a messenger on horseback that his wife Lucretia was ill.
    • Morse rushed away from his unfinished portrait to be by his wife’s side. She was quite far away and people traveled by horseback at the time so it was days before he reached her.
    • Before Morse could reach his wife Lucretia, she died. Lucretia died on February 7, 1825, of a heart attack shortly after the birth of their third child.(Susan b. 1819, Charles b. 1823, James b. 1825).
    • Not only did Morse arrive too late to be there for his lover’s final moments, but by the time he arrived, she had already been buried.
    • Stricken with grief, Morse was so upset by how slow the message took to reach him on horseback that he set his sights on a faster form of communication. He got to work developing his own electronic communication device, a telegraph. In this process, he created Morse code, the most efficient form of long-range communication the world had ever seen.
    • On May 24, 1844, Samuel F. B. Morse dispatched the first telegraphic message over an experimental line from Washington, D.C., to Baltimore. The message, taken from the Bible, Numbers 23:23 and recorded on a paper tape, had been suggested to Morse by Annie Ellsworth, the young daughter of a friend.
  • I don’t know about you, but I think that is ONE HELL OF an origin story for a form of communication.
    • I don’t know his personality or how exactly he reacted when he found his wife buried, but my mind imagines a man so frustrated with the way the world works that he changed it.
    • I like to think his grief was turned into such a powerful form of anger and determination that he used his earlier education at Phillips Academy and Yale to create a form of communication so efficient that it is still used today, almost 200 years later.
  • Morse code isn’t the easiest to learn or memorize because the sequence of dots and dashes per each letter doesn’t go in the same order as the alphabet.
    • Meaning that it does NOT go in the order of the letter A having 1 dot, B has 2 dots, C has 3 dots, D has 1 dot and 1 dash… no
    • Morse designed the code to be efficient as possible right… so he designated the shortest sequences of dots and dashes to the most frequent letters used in the English language.
      • A source for this podcast is the Youtube channel D!NG where Michael (aka VSauce) in his uniquely delightful and quirky self breaks down some of the easiest ways to memorize Morse Code. The video is at the bottom of the blog. I would tell you the title for the video... but it is written in Morse Code lol
      • • − − • • • − • − • • • − − •
  • Michael also highlighted some of the more interesting uses of Morse Code in our world throughout history
    • Such as how the Capitol Records building in Hollywood blinks in Morse Code every night
  • The Colonel Jose Espejo put Morse Code into a pop song.
    • He hid the message because of a hostage situation. The Colonel was trying to save hostages who he was fairly certain had access to radios and knew Morse code. The Colonel was also fairly certain that their captors (the Farc Terrorists) did not know Morse Code.
    • The message that the Colonel hid in the song translates to: “19 rescued. You’re next. Don’t lose hope.”
      • The song was Better Days by Natalia Gutierrez Y Angelo
    • On the blog I included a 2 minutes Youtube video that explains this situation and shows the Colonel’s briefing. The video by “DDB Worldwide” had this in the description: “In Colombia, kidnapped policemen and soldiers have been held by guerilla forces for more than 12 years, hearing only the news that the guerillas want them to hear. As prisoners are allowed to listen to music on the radio, DDB Colombia created a song with a hidden message. The beat was actually Morse code, letting prisoners know how many victims have been rescued and that they will soon be as well. For the first time in over a decade the voice of the Military Forces of Colombia broke through guerilla enemy lines with the power of information and gave their men strength and hope.”
  • In World War II Major Alexis Casdagli, a British POW, was held captive in a bunch of different Nazi Prison camps.
    • He was held prisoner for 4 years.
    • He was captured at the battle of Crete and marched up Greece for six weeks before being flown to north Germany.
    • Having run a textiles company before the war he knew a little about sewing, so when he was given a canvas by another prisoner he started stitching for something to do.
    • In December of 1941 he sewed a canvas that reads in plain English:
  • However, when you take note of those dots and dashes in the border around the message you notice it is Morse code.
    • Instead of spotting the comments, his Nazi captors put the canvas on display in the castle where he was being held and subsequently three other prison camps.
    • There are two hidden Morse Code messages.
      • One reads: God Save the King
      • The other: Fuck Hitler
  • During the Vietnam War there was a guy named Jeremiah Andrew Denton Jr.
    • He was serving on USS Independence (CVA-62), when he was shot down on July 18, 1965 on a combat mission over North Vietnam. He was captured by local Vietnamese army troops shortly after being shot down near Thanh Hoa, about seventy miles south of Hanoi. That was the day Denton became a POW of the Vietnam war.
    • On May 2, 1966, as part of a propaganda campaign, the North Vietnamese arranged for him to be interviewed for television by a Japanese reporter. 
    • While speaking on camera, he blinked in Morse code the word “T-O-R-T-U-R-E.” Eventually, the videotape was widely circulated and reviewed by U.S. Naval Intelligence. Denton’s one-word report, delivered in Morse code, was the first clear confirmation received by U.S. Intelligence that American POWs were, in fact, being tortured.
  • Morse Code is cool. At one point as a kid I wanted to memorize it because I thought it would be a neat little party trick. LOL
    • But I realized that wasn’t really necessary. As long as I could recognize a message being in morse code and then google the translation I would be able to read it without hours of practice.

THANKS FOR LISTENING WHO’D A THUNKERS!

UNTIL NEXT WEEK

CREDIT

VSauce breaks down Morse code in his usual quirky way.
Notice how his blinking is irregular… that is Morse code

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