FAQ

Morse code over very long distances.

 


Why learn Morse code, a 19th century technology?
Who still uses Morse code?
Why is there a resurgence?
What are the advantages of MorseFusion?
Why should I pay to learn code?
I already know code. What’s in it for me?
I get the characters but not the words. Why?
Is Morse code the original digital mode?
What’s the difference between Morse code and CW?
Is the Farnsworth method bad?
Why not slower than 15 words per minute?
Are mnemonics and mental images bad?
Do age and other factors matter?
When should I run my sessions?
Should I listen to code on the ham bands?
Why learn code over a range of speeds?
When should I learn to send?
Should I learn to send with a straight key?
Why is Morse code so effective?
Is MorseFusion just for beginners or for actual users?
What is the hardest thing to learn in MorseFusion?
Do I need to install any software to run MorseFusion?
Help! I can’t type in the CheX characters!
Is there any other audio tone?
Is MorseFusion available in any other languages?
What is the ultimate Morse proficiency test?
When subscribing and unsubscribing…
How do I know if it will work on my platform?
My favorite book is not offered!

Why learn Morse code, a 19th century technology?

There are many reasons:

  • Yes, it is a technology from the romantic age of steam locomotives, the early days of radio, telegraphed press dispatches, and WWII secret agents behind enemy lines. In a way, it feeds the Walter Mitty in all of us! But it’s far from antiquated.
  • It’s a superb brain exercise. You could spend a lot of time and money playing games on various brain training sites like millions of people, or you can push your neurons to the limit and end up with a useful skill like Morse code. And improve your mental acuity in the process. Even the U.S. Government is exploring this area with a major new initiative.
  • You can communicate in an emergency using very simple means: a car horn, a whistle, a shiny object, whatever. Or just knocking on a cell wall to talk with another prisoner in the dungeon of the Chateau d’If and plan your escape.*
  • You can buy or build simple, inexpensive, low power (QRP) radio transmitters and receivers that (with an amateur radio license) will enable you to communicate in Morse code across the world. They will work even when all other more modern means of communication are disabled or rendered ineffective due to natural or man-made causes.

* The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. One of the 20+ books you can select!

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Who still uses Morse code?

Lots of people:

  • Radio amateurs (ham radio enthusiasts) constitute the largest worldwide user group.
  • U.S. Intelligence units still train new recruits in Morse code.
  • Several special military units (such as the U.K.’s elite SAS) continue to use it very effectively.
  • Until recently, U.S. Special Forces Communications Sergeants were required to gain Morse proficiency and many still swear by it.
  • The FCC tests applicants’ ability to receive and send Morse code as part of the requirements for the First, Second, and Third Class commercial radiotelegraph operator’s certificates.
  • Commercial pilots still learn Morse code, primarily to be able to identify navigation beacons.
  • The Boy Scouts of America introduced the Morse Code Interpreter Strip in 2012 as official recognition of Scouts and Scouters who demonstrate an ability to communicate in Morse code.
  • And some severely handicapped people depend on it as their only means of communication.

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Why is there a resurgence?

The resurgence in the interest in Morse code by the amateur radio community is primarily a reaction to the technology shifts of the past couple of decades. There was a time when the fundamental workings of a radio station were in plain view. With some understanding of basic principles, a transmitter and receiver could be constructed on a home workbench with little else than a set of schematics and a soldering iron. Parts were readily available to build equipment whose performance rivaled that of much more expensive commercial gear. Immense satisfaction was derived from these rudimentary tube and transistor marvels that formed the backbone of the hobby.

Then things began to change. The introduction of integrated circuit (IC) chips hid the inner workings of the circuitry and the ability to tweak its performance characteristics. Yes, the technology undoubtedly became better but somehow less satisfying. Discrete transistor designs certainly had a hard time rivaling the performance of even the simplest of ICs.

And then came firmware embedded in on-board processors and software running on PCs. These made the commercial radio a black box (in terms of both hardware and software) that can run circles around anything you could realistically build yourself on a home workbench. Far worse, truly understanding the inner workings is beyond the capabilities of the average amateur. Just the depth of mathematical knowledge required to truly understand the workings of a DSP filter is staggering. So the amateur is left to just tinkering with the antenna and the matching network. Important tasks but intrinsically not very satisfying.

But there is one aspect to the hobby that dates back to the earliest spark-gap transmitters that can never be taken away: Morse code. It is going through a resurgence as a direct reaction to the factors mentioned above. Not only is CW operation a truly satisfying endeavor, but it also brings back the potential for building your own gear, especially transmitters that are simply keyed on and off.

Try it and you’ll love it.

And be part of the resurgence!

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What are the advantages of MorseFusion?

MorseFusion teaches Morse code as a secondary, background process. You concentrate on listening to a novel spelled out in spoken English letter by letter, number by number. Gradually you substitute Morse code for selected voiced characters. Your brain eventually fuses them together. This happens at a very subliminal level and you are not even aware of it. You never force yourself to memorize sound patterns. Just sit back, enjoy the book, and let your brain work its magic!

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Why should I pay to learn code?

You certainly need not pay a dime! If all you want is to be able to handle basic slow-speed CW contacts, where only simple information is exchanged, then you can get by with very limited facility in Morse code. The traditional ways of learning will certainly prove sufficient. Even better, just use CheX, our free enhanced, adaptive Koch method trainer. And over the years you will undoubtedly become much more adept at handling longer QSOs.

But if you want to engage in more satisfying conversations from the start, where you might talk about preparations for Field Day or whatever, then MorseFusion will equip you with the ability to form complete thoughts from the received stream of characters — without your even being aware of the fact that you’re doing it without having to write down a single word!

In effect, all MorseFusion does is provide you with the skill for enjoyable ragchews from the start, without many years of brass pounding! And think about it: how many thousands of dollars will you spend on your hobby? Isn’t it worth spending a few bucks a month for a couple of months to avoid cluttering up the crowded ham bands with bad code? Keep in mind that sending beautiful code first requires that your ear be trained to recognize it when you hear it!

The subscription fees go toward paying for a considerable slice of a dedicated web server. The computational and bandwidth requirements imposed by the need to construct and deliver custom one-time-use mp3 files are very heavy — and expensive.

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I already know code. What’s in it for me?

A lot! If you’re like the rest of us, you quickly get rusty with lack of practice. With MorseFusion you can read over 20 novels in 100% beautiful code. Bookmarks are automatically placed so you can continue reading no matter where you are.

You can switch around among any number of books — genres include adventure, science fiction, drama, comedy.

It’s far better than ordinary “CW books on CD.” You can listen at 15, 20, 25, and 30 wpm. You have bookmarks and you can adjust the spacing between words from normal-spacing to 4x-normal-spacing. And if any characters are problematic, switch over to CheX for interactive practice.

If you’d like any particular favorite book included in our book selection just drop us a line. You can even write your own book and we’ll include it if it’s any good. Just think: you can have your name right up there with Charles Dickens and Victor Hugo!

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I get the characters but not the words. Why?

Since you can copy individual Morse characters, it obviously means that your brain recognizes them but just has a hard time linking them into words. This situation is very common: you forget what the previous characters were because you are busy decoding the incoming character. The traditional solution is to write down each character as it arrives.

But as long as you do that, you will never develop the ability to store a sequence of characters in your “mental buffer” and you’re forever stuck with that paper and pencil. Which is OK if you’re copying antenna heights, radio brands, locations, call letters, etc. but clearly not suitable for a prolonged ragchew.

This is precisely the problem that MorseFusion addresses. Start out simply listening to a book spoken entirely in English, with NO MORSE CODE. Spend a couple of weeks just listening and forming complete words and sentences in your head. Remember: no code. Do this until you can form complete thoughts in your head without thinking about it.

Then, since you already know all the code characters, check off all the boxes but start at only 10% code. That means that on average every tenth letter will be in Morse and all the rest will be in English. And keep listening and forming words and sentences in your head. Then slowly move on to 20%, 30% and so on. Before long you will be at 100% — problem solved!

Keep in mind that knowing all the Morse characters and understanding their meaning in a sentence are two different things. To quote from Pierpont’s book, The Art and Skill of Radio-Telegraphy: “Learning to copy on the ‘mill’ (typewriter) without knowing what is being copied was actually used during WWII in Africa, when operators were in short supply. Native Africans who knew no English at all, were taught to associate each code signal with its corresponding typewriter key. They quickly learned to hear the character and punch the proper keys, and became quite proficient.”

By the way, typing on a keyboard the Morse characters that you hear is even worse than writing them down on a piece of paper. Why? Because if you learn code by typing the characters your brain will make the following association: “I heard a dit-dah, so that means press down my left pinky on the key that resides under it.” Did it learn that it’s an ‘a’ or that it’s part of a word? Absolutely not!

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Is Morse code the original digital mode?

It is commonly dubbed “the original digital mode” but Morse code is not strictly digital. Listen on the HF amateur radio bands and you will find fluctuating sending speeds, inconsistent dot, dash, and space durations, Doppler-shifted audio pitch, rapidly changing amplitude levels, and a host of other factors that make Morse code reception very analog in nature, particularly so under low signal-to-noise conditions. In fact, it is only the incredible processing capability of the human brain that makes it appear digital after it has been decoded.

There are quite a few digital modes that you can use if you’re so inclined. Google using something like “ham radio digital modes” and you will find a wealth of information on the subject. A lot of technical progress has been made in this area over the past decade and performance levels are quite outstanding.

But, for at least some of us, typing on a keyboard and staring at a monitor feels less like a hobby and more like a typical day at work!

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What’s the difference between Morse code and CW?

The terms are usually used interchangeably but they are not exactly the same. Think of Morse code as a language. The CW mode of operation uses Morse code but also a lot more. It encompasses all the protocols, operating practices, methods and techniques that have evolved over the past hundred years or so. In fact, since the days of spark-gap transmitters! It’s a distinct social culture that transcends national and political boundaries.

MorseFusion only tackles teaching Morse code. To get started on learning how to be a competent CW operator you can visit any of a number of ham websites that cover the subject in depth. Just Google around and you’ll find them.

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Is the Farnsworth method bad?

It has long been part of the traditional Morse code training regimen. There is a common perception that increasing the time interval between Morse code characters during training is of benefit. But when learning with the MorseFusion method, where the goal is to have the brain consider a spoken “e” to be synonymous with the sound of a dit, it can be argued that this is actually detrimental to the learning process. You want to force your brain, from the very start of training, to develop very quick reflex reactions (i.e. recognition) upon receipt of a Morse character. Give it neither the time nor the opportunity to contrive elaborate ways to decode the input signal. So consider a Morse character as existing within a non-negotiable time frame that is an intrinsic part of that character — no more, no less.

The other related issue has to do with your sending. You want to learn from the very start the rhythm of properly spaced Morse code. If you don’t, it will obviously reflect in your fist.

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Why not slower than 15 words per minute?

Because at a somewhat slower speed you can count the individual dots and dashes rather than having your brain treat each character as a distinct, integrated sound pattern. When you hear code sent at, say, 5 wpm, it is “Morse code in name only” and learning at such a slow speed is counterproductive. It does NOT form the neural connections that lead to instantaneous recognition. And, far worse, it programs the brain to count individual dots and dashes — precisely what you don’t want it to do! This eventually has to be unlearned and presents a formidable barrier to actually learning useful code.

To some degree, previous government regulations are to blame: In earlier times the FCC imposed a Morse code requirement of 5 wpm for the Novice Class amateur radio license, causing legions of radio amateurs to get on precisely the wrong track. And to this day there are well-intentioned individuals, clubs, and organizations that recommend starting at 5 wpm!

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Are mnemonics and mental images bad?

Yes! They inhibit or block instantaneous recognition. Decoding usable Morse code has to be done at the reflex level. There is simply no processing time available for your brain to engage in analogies or mental images to perform the interpretation and call a character.

Imagine that you hear dit-dit-dit-dah and proceed to employ a mnemonic. You would think along the line of: “Hey, that sure sounds like the opening of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. And the Roman numeral for five is V. So what I just heard is a V.”

Let’s consider a more extreme example using an image: A dit-dah-dah-dit is heard and you think to yourself: “Hey, that looks like a bridge! I know Samuel F. B. Morse was an artist and studied in France for some time. And the French word for bridge is ‘pont,’ which starts with a p. So, voilà, what I just heard is obviously a P.”

Ludicrous, isn’t it? Yet there are proponents of similar methods.

The point is that you want to train your brain to do code processing at an autonomous reflex level — not at a higher analytical plane that makes use of associative lookup tables or deals with complex analogies.

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Do age and other factors matter?

Yes, to some degree. But only on how long it will take you to become proficient.

If you are in your teens or younger and musically inclined, you will learn extremely fast. If you’ve paid off your 30-year mortgage some years ago and can’t carry a tune, it will take you considerably longer to get to 30 wpm. But keep in mind that there are people in their nineties who learn code and become quite proficient.

Besides, there is strong medical evidence that engaging in complex mind-stimulating activities wards off the debilitating effects of aging on the brain. Learning Morse code certainly falls in the category of being mind stimulating.

And don’t forget to eat the right foods and get regular exercise to make sure your brain works at peak efficiency, no matter what your age.

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When/how should I run MorseFusion sessions?

Try early in the morning, lunchtime, and in the evening. Spend a total of about an hour a day. Less if you don’t have that much time available, more if you need to learn before a deadline. Several short sessions per day are far better than one or two long sessions.

Keep in mind that you want to stay focused on reading your book(s) and NOT on learning Morse code. Keep it fun, pressure free, and always finish your learning session looking forward to the next one. But . . .

Be sure to end your day’s training with CheX. It will test you, discover your weaknesses, and provide you with drills specifically tailored around your problem characters.

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Should I listen to code on the ham bands?

Yes and no. Listening to 15+ wpm code practice sessions, such as those provided by the ARRL’s W1AW amateur radio station will do you a lot of good once you are familiar with most letters and numbers. But don’t be tempted to listen to slower code! Your goal is to recognize each Morse character as received in a packet — not as individual dots and dashes.

Listening to random ham radio conversations (QSOs) is probably not a good idea when you’re just starting to learn to receive. There is an awful lot of very bad code being sent, lots of arcane abbreviations, misspellings, and usually a lot of deep fading and annoying interference. (In other words, everything that makes ham radio fun!) So spend the time listening to your MorseFusion book instead and you will learn proper code much faster. But once you learn, dive into the amateur bands head first!

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Why learn code over a range of speeds?

Because the person on the other end might only know one speed — and it will not be yours! The accepted protocol is to adjust to the slower speed when in a two-way conversation. But there are many occasions when you just want to lie low and listen.

After you can “read” your book at 15 wpm, move up to 20 wpm. And then on to 25 and 30 wpm. But be sure to always allocate your time among all speeds.

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When should I learn to send?

Only after you can receive comfortably.

Sending is far easier to learn than receiving, so don’t worry about it when you are first starting to learn to receive. You need to know how perfectly-formed Morse characters sound before you can attempt to imitate them. And you have to make sure that you can receive and send over the same speed range. If you can’t, make sure you never send faster than you can receive.

And remember this cardinal rule: sending well-formed characters with precise timing trumps speed any day! Which, by the way, is a reason why learning to receive with the Farnsworth method — with its elongated spacing between characters — is not a good idea. You should learn proper spacing right from the start, not later!

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Should I learn to send with a straight key?

Yes, at some future time but certainly NOT initially.

A paddle and electronic keyer will be far easier to use and will result in well-formed Morse code. It is highly recommended that you learn to send with a single-paddle key. It is far easier to master than a double-paddle or iambic key, as it is commonly called. In the course of a normal conversation the keying effort difference between the two types is only on the order of 5%.

Unfortunately, there is a school of thought that firmly believes that a paddle should not be used until the straight key is mastered. This is equivalent to saying that you should learn to drive on a car with a manual shift transmission because you’re not “ready” for an automatic!

Once you know exactly what good Morse sounds like, you will find yourself itching to learn to use a straight key like the venerable J-38 from WWII. It is an art that will come in very useful if you ever want to experiment with minimalist home-brew radio transmitters. Don’t expect to be able to form perfect Morse without a considerable amount of practice and your sending will certainly be slower. But it will be a lot of fun!

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Why is Morse code so effective?

The reason it’s effective even under conditions of heavy natural or man-made interference (e.g., jamming) is because it occupies a very narrow sliver of the radio frequency spectrum. CW modulation bandwidth is proportional to sending speed, i.e., CW bandwidth in Hz is approximately equal to 4 x wpm. So the bandwidth is normally 5-10% of that taken up by SSB (single side band) voice modulation so only 5-10% of the signal power is required at the receiving antenna to be able to copy the message, all other things being equal.

(Note: The above is not really a complete explanation. In more precise terms, the rate of information transfer via Morse code is proportionally much slower than that achieved by speaking, so in effect you’re trading time for bandwidth. In other words, the same information can be sent sent over a longer period of time using a narrower bandwidth. And a narrow bandwidth at the receiver means that proportionally less noise is allowed to enter… Hey, if you are really interested and know your math, read a good textbook on communications theory! Or check out some of the excellent ARRL publications.)

And it needs to be emphasized that your brain plays a major role in enhancing the received CW signal: It is able to pick out discrete audio tones that are essentially buried in noise, where speech is unintelligible. The brain provides significant processing gain by effectively acting as a very-narrow-band adaptive filter that ignores noise and adjacent strong signals.

There are sophisticated mathematical algorithms that can perform these functions but they require a complex processor. The one between your ears is free and easier to carry.

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Is MorseFusion just for beginners or for actual users?

All of the above…

  • You are in luck if you are a beginner and don’t know a single Morse character because you won’t have to unlearn anything.
  • If you already use code at a speed lower than 15 wpm, you will have to unlearn listening for individual dits and dahs. You will also have to throw away that pencil and paper!
  • If you are already proficient at some higher speed, MorseFusion will get you up to 30 wpm.
  • If you just want to maintain and enhance your skill, MorseFusion provides you with great CW novels that you can read at 15, 20, 25, and 30 wpm. Better than CDs because you can vary the spacing between words — and bookmarks get inserted automatically. So you can continue listening to them from anywhere there is a browser on hand.

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What is the hardest thing to learn in MorseFusion?

The hardest part is getting used to listening to a book spelled out letter by letter in spoken English. That is why it is the first step in the method. But think about it — you’d have to learn to do that anyway and it’s much easier in voiced English than in code!

You don’t introduce a single Morse character until you can form words, sentences, and complete thoughts in your head. Then you slowly add Morse, one character at a time.

Note: If you have tried to learn code using antiquated methods, there is a minor hurdle you’ll have to clear: Some of these conventional techniques (on U.S. Army Signal Corps records, cassette tapes, CDs, etc.) drill by sending a Morse character and immediately follow it with its spoken counterpart. Clearly, this gets in the way of how MorseFusion works so you will have to do some unlearning.

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Do I need to install any software to run MorseFusion?

Not at all. The synthesis software executes on a dedicated server so all you need is a modern web browser running on the platform of your choice. Your configuration form and bookmarks are stored in a database so you can access your session from anywhere in the world.

If you don’t have Flash installed, you might have to resort to using the auxiliary link in order to play the mp3 session files. See FAQ on Linux below.

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Help! I can’t type in the CheX characters!

That’s by design. The motivation behind CheX is to provide memory training, not to serve as a typing tutor. Clicking on the QWERTY keyboard on the web page provides a connection between the sound of Morse code and its visual representation as a letter or number. But you can’t possibly click as fast as the characters being played, so your brain is forced to develop the ability to store a sequence of random characters. This is different than storing a word, which you learn to do during the listening sessions.

Start with very short strings and move on to longer ones. This is very useful to learn as it will enable you to get call signs the first time you hear them.

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Is there any other audio tone?

As Henry Ford would have said, you can have any tone you want so long as it’s 600 Hz.

If there is enough interest, the algorithms could be modified to generate other audio frequencies.

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Is MorseFusion available in any other languages?

Not yet but it’s in the works. Due to customer request, the next language to be offered will be German. Several popular German works will be included in the Session dropdown menu starting in the summer of 2016. That will be followed with books in Spanish and French. Please let us know your literary preferences.

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What is the ultimate Morse proficiency test?

Open MorseFusion in two browser windows and listen to TWO novels in Morse code simultaneously. If you can actually do this, make sure you let everyone know via the Subscriber Forum!

Now, if you can do this in two different languages…

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When subscribing and unsubscribing

Please make sure you follow the link back to MorseFusion once you are done with the PayPal process. That will allow you to register with MorseFusion and you will be all set.

Also, please be sure to use the same email address in both PayPal and MorseFusion.

If for some reason you don’t get confirmation of your subscription from the MorseFusion server, check your spam folder. If there is nothing there, just drop us an email and we’ll register you from our end.

Due to privacy policies at PayPal, we cannot unsubscribe you from the MorseFusion end. Just go to your personal account at PayPal and follow the links to manage your subscriptions and recurring payments.

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How do I know if it will work on my platform?

Try the sample session and CheX. If they work, the subscription material will work just fine. If either does not appear to work, try a different browser before you give up. Newer versions of Internet Explorer, Chrome, and Safari work well. Firefox might not work, depending on version.

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My favorite book is not offered!

Subscriber book suggestions are always welcomed and could be included if the titles are of general interest and suitable for all audiences.

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[Top image courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech]

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