A mysterious code underpins the world. But what does it mean and what can we learn from it? Marcus du Sautoy takes us on an odyssey to uncover the code and reveal its meaning
Runtime: 60 minutes
The Code - Morse code - Netflix
Morse code is a method of transmitting text information as a series of on-off tones, lights, or clicks that can be directly understood by a skilled listener or observer without special equipment. It is named for Samuel F. B. Morse, an inventor of the telegraph. The International Morse Code encodes the ISO basic Latin alphabet, some extra Latin letters, the Arabic numerals and a small set of punctuation and procedural signals (prosigns) as standardized sequences of short and long signals called “dots” and “dashes”, or “dits” and “dahs”, as in amateur radio practice. Because many non-English natural languages use more than the 26 Roman letters, extensions to the Morse alphabet exist for those languages. Each Morse code symbol represents either a text character (letter or numeral) or a prosign and is represented by a unique sequence of dots and dashes. The dot duration is the basic unit of time measurement in code transmission. The duration of a dash is three times the duration of a dot. Each dot or dash is followed by a short silence, equal to the dot duration. The letters of a word are separated by a space equal to three dots (one dash), and the words are separated by a space equal to seven dots. To increase the speed of the communication, the code was designed so that the length of each character in Morse is approximately inverse to its frequency of occurrence in English. Thus the most common letter in English, the letter “E”, has the shortest code, a single dot.
In an emergency, Morse code can be sent by improvised methods that can be easily “keyed” on and off, making it one of the simplest and most versatile methods of telecommunication. The most common distress signal is SOS – three dots, three dashes, and three dots – internationally recognized by treaty.
The Code - Unusual variants - Netflix
During early World War I (1914–1916), Germany briefly experimented with 'dotty' and 'dashy' Morse, in essence adding a dot or a dash at the end of each Morse symbol. Each one was quickly broken by Allied SIGINT, and standard Morse was restored by Spring 1916. Only a small percentage of Western Front (North Atlantic and Mediterranean Sea) traffic was in 'dotty' or 'dashy' Morse during the entire war. In popular culture, this is mostly remembered in the book The Codebreakers by Kahn and in the national archives of the UK and Australia (whose SIGINT operators copied most of this Morse variant). Kahn's cited sources come from the popular press and wireless magazines of the time. Other forms of 'Fractional Morse' or 'Fractionated Morse' have emerged.
The Code - References - Netflix