I have loved radios as long as I can remember. This caused me to become interested in amateur radio, which caused me to learn morse code. Recently, I thought of trying to use morse code as an alternative to typing on my iPhone’s on-screen keyboard. What a great idea. I love technology!
I remember my first encounter with an alarm clock radio probably around age one or so. I hit a few buttons and it made a loud squealing noise. I worried I had broken the radio and that Mommy and Daddy would get mad. Even though I felt scared, I realized that pushing the buttons caused the noise to happen, and that intrigued me.
A number of years later, my family went to the Franklin Institute. At the time, they had a radio room. It doesn’t live there anymore. The nice people enthusiastically showed me their setup, and explained how I could use ham radio to talk around the world. I heard the strange sounds and beeps and voices. I felt amazed. Remember that all this happened probably in 1982-1983, long before the internet became popular. Back then, amateur radio offered a way to do something most would consider impossible: to talk around the world for free. That really began my interest in electronics.
Around age ten, I started studying to get my amateur radio license. A year later I passed my novice exam, and got my call of KA3TTT, which I have to this day. I could never part with a call like that!
At the time, the novice exam required a five word per minute morse code exam. I passed it, but didn’t really know code that well. You can’t do much at that slow speed anyway. I got an HT, like a walkie-talkie for ham radio, and began chatting on local repeaters, communication relays. Unfortunately, I became involved with an elitist clique, since I didn’t know the difference between fake cool people and real cool people at that young age. One time, they berated my code ability, so I decided to buckle down, just to show them and prove my coolness. The next year I had passed my thirteen words per minute general exam and at the same time my twenty words per minute extra code exam. I also took the tech and general theory exams, making me a general class operator. I don’t even know what that translates to today. They’ve totally redone the licensing scheme and eliminated the code tests.
Back in 1991, I had a good grasp of code and used it often to talk with people around the world. After breaking through the barrier at around eight words per minute, the brain can start hearing whole letters instead of individual dots and dashes, and things rapidly improve. Code became something instinctive, impossible to forget. Sadly, the elitist radio club of which I spoke acted in a very nasty way to a friend of mine, and that turned us both off to amateur radio. Neither of us have gone on air since. Thanks, guys. Keep wondering why your hobby dies.
After that I decided to fully get into computers. I didn’t need to deal with a bunch of fevered egos tainting my subconscious, and the PC had started really taking off, so I dove in. That brings us up to last summer, when I got an iPhone. What a beautiful machine. If only it had something easier to type with than the on-screen keyboard.
Then a few days ago it hit me. Why not use morse code as a text input? This would allow one to write messages in code, then copy and paste them. It turns out a few apps exist to do just this. I will first cover a solution which requires jailbreaking, then two apps which do not. I should also say that it does take some practice, so don’t feel frustrated if you can’t get it right away, even if you know code. You will.
For the most integrated solution, you will need to jailbreak your phone. Once you do, you can purchase iDitDahText from Cydia. When installed, you will see an SPSettings toggle. Turn it on and you will see a two-paddle keyboard come up instead of the standard text keyboard. VoiceOver users will notice a weird fusion of the default keyboard and the morse code paddles. Don’t worry. Just disable VoiceOver and tap away. Along the top of the keyboard you will find a row of special keys. It works better to toggle VoiceOver to activate one of these, except for backspace which you can find easily enough. From left to right they go backspace, shift, refresh, space, and return. This solution works wonderfully, and it works everywhere.
If you do not want to jailbreak your phone, you still have a few options. Morse2Text by HotPaw Productions does what it promises. It has straight key and iambic modes. At first I used the straight key, but have since begun to love the iambic mode. I enjoyed using an iambic keyer in my ham radio days. It works exactly as I’d expect. Just write the message in code. You have to turn VoiceOver off first, so set up your triple-click home to do that if you haven’t. While writing, you can swipe in the text field above the keying pad to the left to erase a character and to the right to insert a space. I turned off the option to suppress spaces because it would mess with my head too much, knowing the rhythm. Still, some will like it. The app outputs its letters in lowercase, so after you write your message you can always go back and clean it up. By the way, the buttons don’t have proper labels yet, so the “email edit” button lets you do things to the text, such as clearing it or copying it to your clipboard. You can also edit it with the on-screen keyboard to clean it up right in the program. Wonderful.
Since I wrote this article, Morse-It has also become accessible with VoiceOver. It offers the same features as Morse2Text and more. It has some great features to help you learn code as well. I would like to thank the developer for taking an interest in accessibility. I also want to thank the people on the viPhone mailing list.
I really enjoy coding instead of texting. As said, it takes some practice. I still find myself editing and cleaning up, and admittedly at this initial stage it can take me longer to send the message than with typing, but I see that changing with practice. I just need to get back into the rhythm. It offers a much more efficient way to input text. What hath Goddess wrought! By the way, that parodies the first message sent by Samuel Morse over telegraph: What hath God wrought! It turns out this comes from the Bible, specifically Numbers 23:23. Since Discordians consider 23 a sacred number, surely this seems like a sign from Goddess Herself to further investigate this idea.
My trusty and dusty Kenwood TS440E sits on a table in an unused room. My Kenwood triband HT sits uncharged nearby just in case. It does also work as a scanner. I suppose I should get someone to put up an antenna for the HF rig. I suppose I should also invest in a new keyer, as my iambic keyer fell apart years ago. Still, I feel scared to go back on air, due to my past bad experiences. Whatever, I won’t worry about it. I can type with morse code on my iPhone! I even have the Echolink app on my iPhone in case I really do want to take the plunge. I probably won’t. Why bother? I’ll probably only start caring about amateur radio again when they start trying to regulate the internet and – oh wait! I guess I’d better get back on air.
Now that I think about it, I had a lot of fun with ham radio. I talked all over the country and the world. I heard lots of cool sounds and languages. I went to some great radio camps. It also got me in the habit of not using profanity while on air, guarding myself and watching the words coming out of my mouth. This has paid off when doing internet broadcasts. In a way I feel sad I got out of ham radio, but given what happened I do not regret my decision or my choices since. However, I think the time has come to bring things full circle. I have loved radios as long as I can remember.