Saturday, May 07, 2005

Morse vs. SMS

So, the Powerhouse Museum's School Holiday program for April included Finger Wars:
Is SMS faster than morse code? A competition for young visitors to see if they can compete with the morsecodians in sending a message. They can text on mobile phones while the morsecodians will use Morse code.
Naturally text is faster than Morse, right? Well, maybe not. The Times says:

Morse code has seen off the challenge of the text message in a contest pitting the best in 19th-century technology against its 21st-century successor.

The race to transmit a simple message, staged by an Australian museum, was won — at a dash — by a 93-year-old telegraph operator [Gordon Hill] who tapped it out using [Morse code] ... easily defeated his 13-year-old rival, Brittany Devlin,


a line selected at random from an advertisement in a teenage magazine.

It read: “Hey, girlfriend, you can text all your best pals to tell them where you are going and what you are wearing.”

Hill transmitted verbatum, Devlin contracted to:
“hey gf u can txt ur best pals 2 tel them wot u r doing, where ur going and wot u r wearing.”
and was still beaten 90s (14wpm) to 108s (13wpm - and note that these were abnormally short words).

(via Slashdot via engadget via via Times Online)

Some further digging suggests however, that both operators in this test are a long way from being champions and that champion Morse operators may actually have a larger margin over champion texters.
  • Engadget reports that a test sentence allegedly used by the Guinness book of world records (“The razor-toothed piranhas of the genera Serrasalmus and Pygocentrus are the most ferocious freshwater fish in the world. In reality they seldom attack a human”) has apparently been texted verbatim in 67s (22wpm) (Guinness concurs) 58s (26wpm) and 44s (34wpm).
  • Establishing a fair comparison for Morse operators is trickier because both sending and receiving ("copying") are difficult. It is claimed that Guinness lists the fastest hand operator (sender) at 35wpm, but I've not be able to sunstantiate this. Even more questionable claims are made about copying at up to 75wpm, and (in the same article) a claim is made that words are getting longer over time so that this should be compared with a modern 65wpm, about which I am even less convinced.