I am married to a wonderfully handsome, talented, and very nerdy computer geek. Not only is he a computer geek, keeping up with the latest technologies, he loves gadgety machines and old school tools with a boylike enthusiasm that I find wonderful. Several years ago Cap’t K became interested in ham radios, and began learning the basics of being a ham radio operator. He was fascinated with the democratic accessibility of ham radio technology. If there was a major crisis and the whole grid and/or satellite systems went down (or you were just far out at sea), ham radios would still be up and running. With a minimum of equipment and power requirements, anyone can be in touch with people all over the world without relying on a cell phone service provider or a satellite system.
If you know how.
So Cap’t K is setting out to learn not only how to be a ham radio operator but how to use the original old school radio technology: Morse Code.
In an age where cell phone and computer technology advances at a staggering rate, Morse Code seems incredibly primitive and obsolete. I was super skeptical when he started talking about wanting to learn Morse Code. Why on Earth would you want to do that?!?!? It seems a bit like learning Latin — who actually speaks Latin nowadays? Why bother?!
But Cap’t K was not deterred. A mental challenge had presented itself and he is taking it on. He got himself some of the latest modern online learning tools and has started practicing Morse Code. And I, despite myself, started to get a bit curious. I listened in on one of his practice sessions (one where you start out trying to decipher the difference between two characters). I was amazed at how beautifully rhythmic it sounded. I am a drummer, and since I have started learning to play drum rhythms, my ears have become more attuned to the rhythmic patterns found in all sorts of things. Morse Code is a rhythmic language, formed with two basic notes put together in a specific pattern for each letter of the alphabet. It may be primitive, but I have to finally admit it is pretty cool! My next project might be creating Morse word codes into drum rhythms! How geeky is that!
But Cap’t K’s next project was to create a homemade Morse Code radio. He bought a little kit from a Ham Radio guy in the mail, and painstakingly assembled the tiny electronic circuit board inside of a metal Altoids tin. That’s right, an Altoids tin. Who knew you could make your own radio out of something as small and simple as an Altoids tin?
Cap’t K tried it out yesterday for the first time and was able to hear several Morse Code conversations going on, although he is a long way from understanding everything that is said. To my surprise there are actually people out there carrying on Morse Code conversations! Cap’t K was pleased: there is a certain satisfaction to be found in creating such a “homebrewed” tool from scratch for less than $40, and having it actually work! You can’t get that with a cell phone!
According to Cap’t K, one of the reasons he is interested in Morse Code is because it is the most energy efficient form of wireless communication there is. With one watt of power and the proper attenna, it is possible to communicate with someone in New Zealand. In contrast, the latest smartphone, like the one my co-worker just got the other day for $750, can communicate with someone in New Zealand at what energy cost? How much energy is required to build and maintain the cell phone tower here, the satellite out in space, and the cell phone tower over there? I’m not trying to say that the Altoid tin morse code radio is better than the latest smartphone, because really, there is no comparison, but I’m just trying to illustrate a point.
Stay tuned for updates on his progress…maybe a future blog post will be written in Morse Code! Or if any of you out there happen to know this obscure language, you can talk to him on his new radio!