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Author Topic: A poorly keyed 281 N ...  (Read 10038 times)

Christophe Blondel

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A poorly keyed 281 N ...
« on: January 09, 2011, 04:07:22 PM »

Dear TIGHAR researchers,

on december 13, 2007, Tom King asked '... what characters in Morse are similar enough to "2" "8" "1" and/or "N" to be plausibly thus mis-keyed?' but got apparently no answer.

Did really nobody realize yet that 281 N     ..--- ---.. .---- -.
may sound very much like                        -. --- --- -. .- -.    ?

The essentiel hypothesis you have to make is that the 'poor keyer' who sent the message typed the first dah in a hurry (or that the beginning of the dah was lost with the beginning of the message), then forgot two spacings, which made the operators read as two numbers the beginning of the word, actually made of four letters. The repetition --- --- (O O) obviously could make this misreading and/or miskeying more likely. Then, having heard two numbers, the operators had probably their ear switched to catch numbers: .-, whatever follows, is the beginning of number 1, so they heard 1. Lack of a proper keying set-up may also have made the dah of letter A so long that the operators actually heard it as a .----

May be this is much too speculative, but the track opened by Tom three years ago may deserve being followed a little further. A 'poorly keyed Morse' message may mean something else than what the official report told about it (especially when it seems to be nonsense), but one must go back to Morse code. Could professional users of the Morse code (I am none, but I suppose there are still many around) tell us a little more about how messages can be transfomed by poor encoding plus decoding, and whether my hypothesis has a non negligible probability of having something true in it ?

Oh, by the way, for all of you who do not have the Morse code at hand, the -. --- --- -. .- -.   sequence that I propose to read instead of  ..--- ---.. .--- -. just means (many of you will have guessed it from the remark on the O O ...): N O O N A N ! Poor Guy who maybe doomed himself by sending his own name on the air.

A2 (who will forgive me for this poor keying)

Christophe Blondel
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Ric Gillespie

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Re: A poorly keyed 281 N ...
« Reply #1 on: January 09, 2011, 06:26:38 PM »

Interesting speculation but I'm not sure what we can do with it.
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ken jay brookner

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Re: A poorly keyed 281 N ...
« Reply #2 on: January 10, 2011, 07:52:31 AM »

An interesting thought, but I think it's a reach.

Properly keyed, "281 N" and "NOONAN" don't sound alike to me in cw (keyed morse code).  If it was sent by a shaky fist, or someone having a hard time remembering his code and messing up on the character spacing, then it's possible, I suppose.

Proficient cw operators hear code as letters and words, not as individual dits and dahs.  It's also much easier to copy fast code (say 25 words per minute) than code sent slowly (like at 5 wpm) once someone is practiced.  So, I'd say that if Noonan sent his code slowly (assuming that he sent anything) then that would make it harder on the op trying to copy it.  If Noonan--or whomever--was rusty with his code, or his hand was shaking and he was sending slowly...  Or, maybe he made his own key--two bare wires would do it, but the code would be a bit rough.

Possible?  Sure, but there's no way to know.

kenb, ky5g
« Last Edit: January 10, 2011, 04:38:30 PM by ken jay brookner »
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Mark Petersen

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Re: A poorly keyed 281 N ...
« Reply #3 on: January 15, 2011, 10:59:40 PM »

Just curious, anyone know how experienced Noonan was at Morse code?  If the answer is not very, I could see where someone would work out the code beforehand and then attempt to send it by reading and then transmitting the individual dits and dahs, a process which would be cumbersome and error prone at best. 

Also when was the 281 N message received by the Naval Radio Operators?  If it were in the evening, then the sender would have the added complication of trying to read and send it in the dark with whatever light source could be scrounged up.
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Ric Gillespie

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Re: A poorly keyed 281 N ...
« Reply #4 on: January 16, 2011, 07:03:18 AM »

Just curious, anyone know how experienced Noonan was at Morse code?

According to Chater, "Miss Earhart and Captain Noonan spent a considerable time in the radio office and as previously mentioned it was learned that neither of them could read morse at any speed but could only distinguish letters made individually slowly and repeated often."

Also when was the 281 N message received by the Naval Radio Operators?

The middle of the night.
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Martin X. Moleski, SJ

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Re: A poorly keyed 281 N ...
« Reply #5 on: January 16, 2011, 07:23:59 AM »

Just curious, anyone know how experienced Noonan was at Morse code? 

Both he and Amelia were sub-par in Morse Code.

This is one of the things that didn't get communicated clearly to the radiomen of the Itasca.  AE and FN could tell the difference betwen "A" and "N" and asked for the letter "A" to be transmitted to help with direction finding.  Other than that, AE and FN expected all communication to be by voice.  The radiomen sent weather reports and questions via key.

Quote
Also when was the 281 N message received by the Naval Radio Operators?  If it were in the evening, then the sender would have the added complication of trying to read and send it in the dark with whatever light source could be scrounged up.

Chapter 18 of Finding Amelia deals with the 281 North message, as does a much earlier TIGHAR Tracks article.  I've just started adding some notes on "281 North" to the wiki, but I know that there are a multitude of additional considerations on the website.
LTM,

           Marty
           TIGHAR #2359A
 
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Mark Petersen

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Re: A poorly keyed 281 N ...
« Reply #6 on: January 16, 2011, 02:07:47 PM »

According to Chater, "Miss Earhart and Captain Noonan spent a considerable time in the radio office and as previously mentioned it was learned that neither of them could read morse at any speed but could only distinguish letters made individually slowly and repeated often."

Quote from: Moleski
Both he and Amelia were sub-par in Morse Code.

This is one of the things that didn't get communicated clearly to the radiomen of the Itasca.  AE and FN could tell the difference betwen "A" and "N" and asked for the letter "A" to be transmitted to help with direction finding.  Other than that, AE and FN expected all communication to be by voice.  The radiomen sent weather reports and questions via key.

Thanks Ric and Marty, I had remembered reading that Earhart was poor with Morse but didn't recall if that also applied to Noonan.   After reading the links that you've supplied it's readily apparent how much the loss of Manning hurt AE's round the world attempt.  Not just in failing to find Howland, but also the failure to send clear, unambiguous and recognizable distress calls (voice was too prone to modulation problems and the clumsy attempts at Code seems to have hurt their chances rather than helped).  The fact that the code was clumsily sent does tend to point to either FN or AE as the senders though.  
 
Quote from: Ric
Also when was the 281 N message received by the Naval Radio Operators?

The middle of the night.

Yup that would contribute to the problem as well I think.

Quote from: Marty
Chapter 18 of Finding Amelia deals with the 281 North message, as does a much earlier TIGHAR Tracks article.  I've just started adding some notes on "281 North" to the wiki, but I know that there are a multitude of additional considerations on the website.

Thanks Marty, I went back and re-read that section from Finding Amelia, the section that discusses the actual reception of the message is in Chapter 16 Bearings.  As an aside, the earlier Tracks article was very interesting and I found myself reading some of the other articles, the "Against the Winds" and "The Gull Pond Chronology".  Both are extremely well written and very interesting and I found myself putting off everything that I need to get done today and reading this and other Tighar content today (dang you!  lol).  At any rate, sorry if I continue to ask Newbie questions.  Often times I'll ask a question that I think I know the answer to, but don't know where to look for confirmation and it's easier to just ask sometimes.  

Re-reading some of the stuff in Bearings was also very interesting.  For example, I had forgotten that the 144 degree line from Wake was done with "reasonable accuracy" and that the radio operator was convinced that it came from KHAQQ.

But getting back on topic, Christophe has an interesting take on how someone could have easily mangled NOONAN to sound like "281 N" in code.  It's also conceivable that the 281 was instead sent accurately (albeit poorly) and refers to the distance from Niku to the equator as Ric has postulated in the links.  Either way, there is no doubt that whoever sent the code was not proficient with Morse and that in itself seems to point back to AE and FN.  

LTM,
  Mark
« Last Edit: January 16, 2011, 02:12:29 PM by Mark Petersen »
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