MODERN PRACTICE OF THE ELECTRIC TELEGRAPH

CHAPTER VIII

HINTS TO LEARNERS

Previous Chapter (7 of 10)
Chapter 7
Contents
Contents
Next Chapter (9 of 10)
Chapter 9

150. Formation of the Morse Alphabet.--- The characters of the American Morse Alphabet are formed of three simple elementary signals, called the dot, the short dash and the long dash, separated by variable intervals or spaces. There are four spaces employed in this alphabet, viz., the space ordinarily used to separate the elements of a letter ; the space employed in what are termed the ``spaced letters,'' which will be hereafter referred to ; the space separating the letters of a word ; and lastly, that separating the words themselves.

The value of these spaces should be carefully impressed upon the mind of the learner. Beginners are apt to conceive that the Morse alphabet consists solely of dots and dashes, and this misconception has a tendency to greatly increase the time required to become good ``senders.'' Uniformity and accuracy in spacing is of no less importance than in the formation of the letters themselves. The foundation of perfect Morse sending lies in the accurate division of time into multiples of some arbitrary unit.

151. the duration of a dot is the unit of length in this alphabet.

1. The short dash is equal to three dots.

2. The long dash is equal to six dots.

3. The ordinary space between the elements of a letter is equal to one dot.

4. The space employed in the ``spaced letters'' is equal to two dots.

5. The space between the letters of a word is equal to three dots.

6. The space between two words is equal to six dots.

The dot is an unfortunate appellation for this sign, because it conveys the idea of a point, or to speak electrically, a current of infinitely short duration. Electro-magnets, however, require time in magnetization (38). Currents involve time in transmitting signals. Clock-work requires time to run. Currents must be of sensible duration. The dot, therefore, involves time, but this time is variable, according to circumstances. The length of the dot should increase with the length of the circuit. In long submarine lines the dot has to be made longer than the dash itself on short open air lines, and the same thing occurs in working through repeaters (76). In commencing, therefore, the habit should be acquired of making short, firm dashes, instead of light, quick dots. After the student has once learned to send well, it is very easy to learn to send fast, but after once getting in the habit of sending short and rapid dots, or ``clipping,'' it is almost impossible to get in the way of sending firmly and steadily. Beginners should rather take pride in the accuracy with which they space out the elements of the telegraphic music than in the number of words they can stumble through in a minute.

152. In the excellent little Manual of Prof. Smith* six elementary principles are laid down as the basis for practicing the alphabet, viz :

// footnote

* Published by L. G. Tillotson & Co., New York

// end footnote

First principle.  Dots close together.
I           S           H           P           6
_ _        _ _ _      _ _ _ _    _ _ _ _ _  _ _ _ _ _ _
Second principle.  Dashes close together.
M                  5              (para)
___ ___          ___ ___ ___     ___ ___ ___ ___
Third principle.  Lone dots.
E
_
Fourth principle.  Lone dashes.
T            L or cipher
___             ______
Fifth principle.  A dot followed by a dash.
A
_ ___
Sixth principle.  A dash followed by a dot.
N
___ _

153. Correctness in sending depends in a great measure upon the manner in which the key itself is handled. Place the first two fingers upon the top of the button of the key, with the thumb partly beneath it, the wrist being entirely free from the table. The motion should be made by the hand and wrist, the thumb and fingers being employed merely to grasp the key. The motion, both up and down, must be free but firm. Tapping upon the key must be strenuously avoided.

154. The downward movement of the key produces dots and dashes; the upward movement spaces. It is first necessary to acquire the habit of making dots with regularity and precision, then dashes, and finally combinations of dots and dashes. It is the best plan for the student to practice upon a register in a local circuit with his key, as he will the more readily be able to observe and correct the faults in his manipulation.

155. The student may now proceed to practice upon the elementary principles.

1. Practice making dots at regular intervals, until they are produced with the regularity of clock-work, and of definite and uniform dimensions. The regular tick of a watch or of a short pendulum is a valuable auxiliary in acquiring this habit.

2. Next proceed to make dashes, first at the rate of about one per second of time, which may afterwards be slowly increased to three. The space between the dashes must be made as short as possible. If the upward motion of the hand, in forming the space, be made full, it cannot be made too quick.

3. The third principle occurs but once in the alphabet, and forms the letter E. It is made by a quick but firm downward movement of the key. In practicing upon this or any other character, it should not be repeated too rapidly, nor should the thumb and fingers be taken from the key in the intervals between the successive repetitions of the letter.

4. The fourth principle is somewhat difficult. The usual tendency is to make T too long and L too short. It will be observed that the same character is used for L and the cipher or 0. Occurring by itself or among letters it is always translated as L, but when found among figures becomes 0. This would at first seem liable to cause confusion, but in practice it is found not to be the case. It was formerly the custom to make the cipher equal to three short dashes.

5. The fifth principle, which forms the letter A, may be timed by the pronunciation of the word again, strongly accenting the second syllable. The tendency of beginners is usually to make the dot too long and the dash too short, and more especially to separate them too much.

6. The final principle, the dash followed by a dot, usually presents some difficulties. The universal tendency of the student is to separate the dot from the dash by too great a space. Time the movement by pronouncing the word ninety, with the first syllable somewhat longer than usual.

156. Having become thoroughly conversant with the six elementary principles, the following exercises may be taken up in order.

(1.)   E       I        S         H          P           6
_      _ _     _ _ _    _ _ _ _   _ _ _ _ _  _ _ _ _ _ _

These should be practiced separately, until the right number of dots can be made invariably, the last dot in each being neither shorter nor longer than the preceding ones.

(2.)   T       M           5            (para)      L or cipher
___   ___ ___   ___ ___ ___   ___ ___ ___ ___   ______

In practicing this exercise, care must be taken not to separate the dashes too much, and to make the final one in each letter exactly equal to the preceding ones. Observe not to make the L too short. There is a general tendency in beginners to shorten the final dash, where two or more occur together.

(3.)   A        U          V           4
_ ___   _ _ ___   _ _ _ ___   _ _ _ ___

The usual tendency to make too much space between the dot and dash, in the above letters, may be avoided by making them as if by prolonging the final dot in I, S, H and P.

(4.)   I          A           S            V
_ _       _ ___       _ _ _       _ _ ___
H          V           P            4
_ _ _ _   _ _ _ ___   _ _ _ _ _   _ _ _ _ ___

These are to be practiced in couples, as represented, the object being to impress upon the student the difference in the characters thus coupled together.

(5.)   N          D            B              8
___ _     ___ _ _     ___ _ _ _     ___ _ _ _ _

The student having thoroughly mastered the sixth elementary principle, he will have no difficulty in forming the above characters.

(6.)   A        F          X        Parenthesis
_ ___   _ ___ _   _ ___ _ _   _ ___ _ _ ___
Comma        Semicolon        W           1
_ ___ _ ___   _ ___ _ ___ _   _ ___ _   _ ___ ___ _

The only caution necessary in this exercise is to form the letters compactly, with the dashes of equal length. (See Exercise 2.) Observe, that the Parenthesis may be formed by running A R together, and the Semicolon by A F, etc.

(7.)   U          Q            2           Period             3
_ _ ___   _ _ ___ _   _ _ ___ _ _   _ _ ___ ___ _ _   _ _ _ ___ _

These differ but little from exercises previously practiced, and require no particular directions.

(8.)   K              J               9          Interrogation
___ _ ___     ___ _ ___ _     ___ _ _ ___     ___ _ _ ___ _
G              7          Exclamation
___ ___ _     ___ ___ _ _     ___ ___ ___ _

J and K are generally considered the most difficult letters in the alphabet. Do not separate J into double N, and be careful that the dashes correspond in length. (See Exercise 2.) The figures 7 and 9 require care in spacing correctly.

(9.)   O         R           &           C          Z            Y
_  _     _  _ _     _  _ _ _     _ _  _     _ _ _  _     _ _  _ _

These are termed the ``spaced letters,'' and require great care in order to make them correctly. The ``space'' should be just double that ordinarily used between the elements of a letter. The usual tendency is to make it too great. It should be just sufficient to distinguish these characters from I, S and H.

157. The construction and manipulation of the alphabet having been thoroughly mastered by the practice of the foregoing exercises, it is now presented in its complete and consecutive form.

I. Alphabet.
A _ ___                          O _  _
B ___ _ _ _                      P _ _ _ _ _
C _ _  _                         Q _ _ ___ _
D ___ _ _                        R _  _ _
E _                              S _ _ _
F _ ___ _                        T ___
G ___ ___ _                      U _ _ ___
H _ _ _ _                        V _ _ _ ___
I _ _                            W _ ___ ___
J ___ _ ___ _                    X _ ___ _ _
K ___ _ ___                      Y _ _  _ _
L ______                         Z _ _ _  _
M ___ ___                        & _  _ _ _
N ___ _
II. Numerals.
1 _ ___ ___ _                    6 _ _ _ _ _ _
2 _ _ ___ _ _                    7 ___ ___ _ _
3 _ _ _ ___ _                    8 ___ _ _ _ _
4 _ _ _ _ ___                    9 ___ _ _ ___
5 ___ ___ ___                    0 ______
III. Punctuation, etc.
*Period       _ _ ___ ___ _ _    Exclamation  ___ ___ ___ _
Comma         _ ___ _ ___         Parenthesis _ ___ _ _ ___
Semicolon     _ ___ _ ___ _      Italics      ___ _ _ _ ___
Interrogation ___ _ _ ___ _       Paragraph   ___ ___ ___ ___

// footnotes

* The Semicolon, Parenthesis and Italics are seldom used in this country. It is customary among operators to emphasize particular words by separating the letters more widely than ordinary.

Preceding and following the words to which they refer.

When this occurs the copyist makes a new paragraph, by commencing the next word upon another line.

// end footnotes

Numbers are always sent twice over, to avoid error ; once written out in full, and then in figures. In fractions one dot is used to represent the line between the numerator and denominator.

158. It is necessary to again caution the student against falling into the common error---from which most books on the telegraph are not exempt---that is entertained respecting the elementary signs of the Morse alphabet. It is said to consist of two characters, the dot and the dash. The importance of the space is utterly ignored. The difference between good and bad sending is almost entirely a matter of spacing. A common fault of young operators is to run their words too closely together.

If the principles laid down in this work be firmly adhered to, the learner will be surprised, not only at the rapidity with which he masters what appears to be a very difficult lesson, but at the extreme accuracy with which he manipulates his instrument. He must also carefully bear in mind that one of the most universal faults, among those attempting to learn the telegraphic art, is that of going over a great deal and learning nothing well.

159. Reading by Sound.--- This can only be attained by constant and persevering practice, keeping in mind the principles above given. The lever of the Morse apparatus makes a sound at each movement, the downward motion producing the heavier one, or that represending dots and dashes ; or, more properly, the heavy stroke indicates the commencement of a dot or dash and the lighter one its cessation. A dot makes as much noise as a dash, the only difference being in the length of time between the two sounds. Thus, if the recoil or lighter stroke be dispensed with, it would be impossible to distinguish E, T and L from each other.

In learning to read by sound it is best for two persons to practice together, taking turns at reading or writing, and each correcting the faults of the other. The characters must first be learned separately, and then short words chosen and written very distinctly and well spaced, the speed of manipulation being gradually increased as the student becomes more proficient in reading. After becoming sufficiently well versed in the art to read at the rate of twenty-five or thirty words per minute, the best practice will be found in copying with a pen and ink from an instrument connected with a line employed in transmitting regular commercial messages, in order that the student may familiarize himself with the usages of the lines and the minute details of actual telegraphic business.

In conclusion, the student is warned against falling into the common error of expecting great results from little labor. To become an expert operator requires much time and patience, and the most unwearied application. Remember, that whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing well. The time will seldom or never be found when a thoroughly competent operator cannot obtain immediate and remunerative employment, however overcrowded the lower walks of the profession may have become.

(Transcription note: There is no question which page this book had been opened to the most, or which was the dirtiest, or most studied. It was the page containing the Morse alphabet. This was evidently much more important to the original owner than all of the theory in the rest of this book.)

Previous Chapter (7 of 10)
Chapter 7
Contents
Contents
Next Chapter (9 of 10)
Chapter 9