Sunday, October 21, 2007

Morse Code

The Wall Street Journal has an interesting article about a Morse Code aficionado:
RESCOTT, Ariz. -- Nostalgic for simpler days, retired astrophysicist Chuck Adams is translating classics of boys' lit into a language he fears is going the way of kit radios and marbles: Morse code.

Holed up in his high-desert home crammed with computers, radio receivers and a very patient wife, Mr. Adams uses homemade software to download online books with expired copyrights, convert the typed words into Morse code tones and record them on compact discs he sells on the Internet.

So far, Mr. Adams says he has sold or donated thousands of Morse versions of such novels as Edgar Rice Burroughs's "At the Earth's Core," Daniel Defoe's "Robinson Crusoe," and H.G. Wells's "The Time Machine." In about an hour his software can take any book in the public domain and turn it into a string of digital dits and dahs; last weekend, he turned out a version of F. Scott Fitzgerald's - .... . / -... . .- ..- - .. ..-. ..- .-.. / .- -. -.. / -.. .- -- -. . -.. (a.k.a., "The Beautiful and Damned").

For the 65-year-old Mr. Adams, it's a labor of love, mixed with equal parts hope and despair. "Morse code is going to die off unless you can talk someone into coming into the hobby," he says.

* * *
I was a bit skeptical of one part, though:
Many of those who still know Morse code test their skills with a German computer game called Rufz, the standard for determining world transcription-speed rankings. Players listen to coded, five-character call signs, combinations of letters, symbols and numbers that identify individual license holders. The faster and more correctly they type them, the more points they score. (Transcribing regular text is much slower.)

Last month in Belgrade, Goran Hajosevic broke 200 words per minute -- an extraordinary pace. Mr. Adams is tied for eighth in the world, at more than 140 words per minute.
200 words per minute? Back in my early teens, when I spent a lot of time on the ham radio, I qualified for the Very High Speed Club, which requires you to be able to copy and send Morse Code at 40 words per minute, which sounds like this. From the Rufz website, here's what 200 words per minute sounds like. I find it mind-boggling that anyone could comprehend that for any length of time.


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