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Author Topic: The 281 message  (Read 4446 times)

Darren Cubitt

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The 281 message
« on: February 07, 2016, 02:01:44 AM »

Hello all,

I recently read about the "alternate" interpretation of the 281 message. I put "alternate" in scare-quotes since I think the interpretation is quite fanciful; once you allow yourself the freedom of adding and removing dots from a morse message, you can create basically anything you want.

However, the approach did intrigue me.

I took the original 281 message and translated it to morse via the International Morse standard (can I presume this is what AE & FN would have used?). I removed all word separators and wrote a quick program to scan the message against a dictionary of over 100,000 English words (translated to morse, of course!). I took the length of each word, in morse, as being a measure of coincidence; the more morse symbols per word (n), the less chance of it occurring by chance in proportion to 2^n.

There were four words which, at 22 morse symbols each, produced the most coincidental match:

calcined
fangless
longitude
shutoff

I didn't know "calcined" and "fangless" were words, but there you go! The word "shutoff" appears in the original 281 message as two words ("shut off") - so no surprise there. The word" longitude" caught my attention, however, as it may yours!

Following this line of enquiry, I decided to determine where the word "latitude" would be most likely to appear. It doesn't appear verbatim in the original message, but it turns out you can find "latit" in two places without modification. The most likely occurrence requires three codes to swap between dots and dashes to reveal a full "latitude". Here is the original message (let's hope my formatting kung-fu holds):

Code: [Select]
  2     8     1      N  O   R   T H     H    O   W   L    A  N  D    C    A  L    L     K  H    A  Q    Q
/..---/---../.----//-./---/.-./-/....//..../---/.--/.-../.-/-./-..//-.-./.-/.-../.-..//-./..../.-/--.-/--.-/

 B    E Y    O   N  D    N  O   R   T H     D   O   N  T  H    O   L    D    W   I  T H     U   S
/-..././-.--/---/-./-..//-./---/.-./-/....//-../---/-./-//..../---/.-../-..//.--/../-/....//..-/.../

 M  U   C    H     L    O   N  G   E R    A  B    O   V    E  W   A  T E R    S   H    U   T  O   F    F
/--/..-/-.-./....//.-../---/-./--././.-.//.-/-.../---/...-/.//.--/.-/-/./.-.//.../..../..-/-//---/..-./..-./

Here are the final two "lines" (arbitrarily broken) of the message with "latitude" and "longitude", showing the changes to the underlying code:

Code: [Select]
                                                                        L    A T I  T
/-..././-.--/---/-./-..//-./---/.-./-/....//-../---/-./-//..../---/.-./.-../.-/-/../-/....//..-/.../
                                                                                     /..-/-.././
                                                                                      U   D   E

                   L    O   N  G   I  T U   D   E
/--/..-/-.-./....//.-../---/-./--./../-/..-/-.././---/...-/.//.--/.-/-/./.-.//.../..../..-/-//---/..-./..-./

I haven't had any luck trying to discern any meaningful numbers yet, but am drunk so to that end thought I would post so someone more sober might take an interest. Note that I have no dog in this fight... I don't care where AE & FN are found... as long as they are (someday) found! Perhaps that's why I haven't bothered trying to decoded numbers yet ;)

All this, of course, is entirely possible to be a coincidence. I can find the words "manless" and "penis" in the message, but I don't think AE was making any untoward commentary about FN (insincere apologies in advance to those who will undoubtedly take offence at my joke). So take all this with a grain of salt. It is interesting, to say the least, but may also be another red herring.

Darren.
« Last Edit: February 07, 2016, 02:09:40 AM by Darren Cubitt »
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Christophe Blondel

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Re: The 281 message
« Reply #1 on: February 07, 2016, 07:58:44 AM »

Dear Darren,

this is an interesting experiment with Morse code, but I do not find the suggestion that LONGER AB was actually LONGITUDE very convincing. What would you then do with what follows: OVE WATER ? We have good reasons to think that AE and FN actually had a major concern with water level, so cancelling the LONGER ABOVE WATER phrase does not appear very tentative...

On the other hand, what do you think of the suggestions I made (though without any statistical background) on January 09, 2011 (following a question by Tom King) in A poorly keyed 281 N ... and on December 16, 2013 in The most perplexing issues? In short words, even "281 N" may be questioned. Even "HOWLAND" may have been heard, from approximate Morse code, because the operators had just heard that word too often during these hours... Please also consider that the probabibility of a transformation of the Morse encoded message must be evaluated in the right sense. To take your example again, the question is not whether LONGER AB can be transformed into LONGITUDE, but whether LONGITUDE can be heard as LONGER AB, which is not necessarily the same.

Just by curiosity, since you have the program at hand, would you please try to find if the name of a cargo ship could have been hidden in the message ?

Regards

Christophe
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Ric Gillespie

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Re: The 281 message
« Reply #2 on: February 08, 2016, 09:10:03 AM »

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Darren Cubitt

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Re: The 281 message
« Reply #3 on: February 09, 2016, 12:55:17 AM »

Dear Darren,

this is an interesting experiment with Morse code, but I do not find the suggestion that LONGER AB was actually LONGITUDE very convincing. What would you then do with what follows: OVE WATER ? We have good reasons to think that AE and FN actually had a major concern with water level, so cancelling the LONGER ABOVE WATER phrase does not appear very tentative...

On the other hand, what do you think of the suggestions I made (though without any statistical background) on January 09, 2011 (following a question by Tom King) in A poorly keyed 281 N ... and on December 16, 2013 in The most perplexing issues? In short words, even "281 N" may be questioned. Even "HOWLAND" may have been heard, from approximate Morse code, because the operators had just heard that word too often during these hours...

I have thought much the same thing. If the signal is very faint/ambiguous, then operator expectations will play a large role. Even later words could be misheard simply by the operator trying to make sense of it (ie: I think the last word was an adjective, so the next one must be a noun). Unfortunately, morse is not a "self-synchronising" code. If you don't have the benefit of distinct pauses between letters, then once you get "lost" in will pretty much turn the rest of the message into nonsense. If the original operators got "lost", then what we have may bear little resemblance to the original message... but it's all we have to work with :P

Quote
To take your example again, the question is not whether LONGER AB can be transformed into LONGITUDE, but whether LONGITUDE can be heard as LONGER AB, which is not necessarily the same.

True, and an aspect I had not considered. How I would love to hear the original audio!

Quote
Just by curiosity, since you have the program at hand, would you please try to find if the name of a cargo ship could have been hidden in the message ?

If you are referring to Norwich City, it was one of the first things I looked for. Alas, no "Norwich" or "City" in the message.

If anyone is interested for themselves, I have uploaded this list of ~2000 words which can be found in the message. The list is divided into four columns:

1: The number of morse symbols required for this word
2: The word
3: The morse pattern for the word.
4: A list of offsets (number of morse dots/dashes to skip) in the original message to the place(s) where the word occurs.

Hope someone finds it useful/interesting.

Darren.
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