A Lesson in Encoding

SOS SOS CQD CQD. We are sinking fast.

The Titanic’s final message can be interpreted because of an established and successful encoding and decoding method for transmitting messages.

Those ashore would have been significantly less informed of the unfolding tragedy if, like us, they were arguing with furrowed brows and tilted heads if that was a C or an F.

Our lesson on encoding was to visually send a coded message to a group of peers standing 150 metres away. We then, in turn, received their message via their code.

We had paper, we had pens and we had the key. But we couldn’t decode their message.

So rather than becoming a lesson on encoding this became a lesson on ‘noise’. Those things that stopped us from successfully receiving a transmission. The issues that arose were the small and similar gestures that their code included. By the time we had discussed in the group the nuances between ‘O’ and ‘P’ we had missed a number of letters. There needed to be a signal for “Please repeat”.

All we captured was O/P? C _ C __KG__. It doesn’t really convey the same sense of urgency.

And part of this was our unfamiliarity with the other team’s key. Morse Code is sent incredibly quickly, and consists of only 1 (arguably 2) elements, and yet remains the most effective audio transmission. The benefit of established and well known codes.

There was other noise in the transmission too. The other groups were a distraction. The light was fading. The self-conscious giggling amongst the group when we knew we were getting it very wrong.

Our group opted for a very different type of code.

It was interesting to see the just the number of different approaches our peers came up with to respond to the same in class assessment (with varying levels of success)


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