The 1964 Visual Telephone System From Bell Labs

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60s Skype - the world’s very first “PICTUREPHONE set” unveiled at the World’s Fair, 1964. (From the Bell Telephone Magazine, 1964, via Prelinger Archive)

60s Skype – the world’s very first “PICTUREPHONE set” unveiled at the World’s Fair, 1964. (From the Bell Telephone Magazine, 1964, via Prelinger Archive)

One wonders why such a huge time lag in developing this technology for everyday use.
(via THE PUBLIC DOMAIN REVIEW)

The Quirky And Entertaining Vintage Art Of CB Radio’s Golden Age

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The citizens band radio service originated in the United States as one of several personal radio services regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). These services began in 1945 to permit citizens a radio band for personal communication (e.g., radio-controlled model airplanes and family and business communications). There were two classes of CB radio: A and B. Class B radios had simpler technical requirements, and were limited to a smaller frequency range. Al Gross established the Citizens Radio Corporation during the late 1940s to manufacture Class B handhelds for the general public. (The) Ultra-high frequency (UHF) radios, at the time, were neither practical nor affordable for the average consumer. On September 11, 1958 the Class D CB service was created on 27 Megacycles, and this band became what is popularly known today as CB.

During the 1960s, the service was popular among small businesses (e.g., electricians, plumbers, carpenters), truck drivers and radio hobbyists. By the late 1960s advances in solid-state electronics allowed the weight, size, and cost of the radios to fall, giving the public access to a communications medium previously only available to specialists. CB clubs were formed; a CB slang language evolved alongside 10-codes, similar to those used in emergency services. – wikipedia

These early days of CB Radio might well be referred to as the medium’s ‘Golden Age.’ There was a real fellowship shared with the participants as well as a kind of etiquette that was lost after the booming popularity that occurred in the 1970s. Until the 70s, CB users were required to purchase a license and obtain a call sign – because the bandwidth was limited, CBers would wait for an opening on a frequency to start new conversation. The Golden Age of Citizen’s Band Radio ended with a cacophony of noise created by a selfish public who cared nothing about the rules – written and/or implied – that made the medium fun and enjoyable.

Fortunately, there is one aspect of those more innocent years that remains – the CB QSL cards. QSL cards are usually postcard sized identifiers users send to others that they contact and communicate with. Not only do they give the receiver an idea of the distance of their signal for that time, they are also nice mementos that can be kept or traded as a hobby. Major broadcasters around the world, as well as amateur HAM radio operators, still send these out today. They’re usually very slick computer printed graphic designs. The mid-century CB QSL cards stand out for their creativity and the fact that they were designed by hand – each one a bit of American folk art, if you will.

Below are some examples of this curious, and endearing, part of communications history. Each one has the user’s call sign. Most of them have the location as well as their nicknames/handles. You’ll notice that couples feature big and families name mum, dad, and children – as well as pets. The ‘Philip’s Code’ numbers 73s and 88s also appear frequently – 73 is short for ‘best regards’ and 88 represents ‘love and kisses.’

Major h/ts to The Pie Shops Collection as well as myQSL.org for preserving these neat bits of Americana and presenting them for all to see. To check out more just click on their names – some of them can be considered somewhat risque so consider them NSFW. The images in this post can be considered ‘safe.’

Spiderman - Amherst, Nova Scotia

Kilowatt & Little Mama - Corning, Arkansas

Casper, Evil Spirits & Venus - Flat River, Missouri

Charles Lloyd - North Baltimore, Ohio

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CTM-113: Good Time Charlie & Irish - Niagara Falls, New York

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Machines – Our Fearsome Friends

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Humans seem to have a very ambivalent relationship with their machines. At once they are both fascinating and helpful, but also sometimes menacing and intimidating. In the late 20th Century this was most graphically portrayed with the SkyNet revolution in the Terminator film franchise.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries the machine held a part in popular consciousness as well – Fritz Lang’s Metropolis comes to mind almost in an instant. The people in the mid 20th century had their own fears. Numerous sci-fi films were made featuring rebellious robots and machines. This was not lost to the executives at The Bell System.

For the 1963 Bell Systems Communications Seminar, organizer Ted Mills hired Jim Henson to create a short film illustrating the ‘nascent, but growing relationship between man and machine: a relationship not without tension and resentment.’ Below is a video of the film, Robot – it perfectly illustrates how a fun little robot can be a bit scary at the same time. Paradoxically, Henson vindicates this angry robot’s complaints of human hubris by giving it a drastic fate as it declares, ‘we don’t need man.’

The Present Technology Of 1955 – ‘The Future Is Now’ (Short Film)

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A new language has come into currency. To the public it is a language of the future. To the scientist a language of the present. This then is a report on our ‘present-future.’ Some of it profound, some of it mere gadgetry.

The Future Is Now is an RKO-Pathé film short released in 1955. This documentary is notable as it presents a more realistic near-future of technology than a lot of the more fanciful visions of the time. All the examples have actual working prototypes.

We visit government research laboratories to see some of the products that will be used in the near future.

As with a lot of the technology documentaries of the time, the film begins at a nuclear reactor showing how, ‘Nuclear energy goes to work – not destroying, but serving mankind.’ Solar energy is then introduced – the prediction was that this form of energy would become more prevalent than nuclear power, even turning ‘deserts into lush green fertility.’

Part one covers computers, television, magnetic tape, the home videotape recorder, a videophone, an electronic music synthesizer, cordless lights, and an automated kitchen.

Part two continues with the futuristic kitchen including ‘preserving foods with gamma rays instead of refrigeration.’ A bit more alarming is the irradiation of crops that were an ‘important part of the Atoms For Peace program.’ The final examples of the present-future technology of 1955 are handling mechanisms for radioactive materials complete with music fit for a wondrous modern ballet.

In the final analysis however, the key to the future is not an apparatus, a machine, or an electronic tube, but the brainpower of man. Nothing will ever replace creative intelligence.

As a final thought, it should be noted that women researchers and developers are conspicuously absent in the final segment despite their major contributions to the technologies praised throughout the film – Marie Curie’s work with radioactivity, Grace Hopper in computer technology, and Hedy Lamarr’s work in spread spectrum communications and national defense, just to name a few. As a matter of fact, Lamarr’s contributions wouldn’t be appreciated and recognized until the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Sixth Pioneer Awards in 1997, when she and George Antheil were honored with special awards for their ‘trail-blazing development of a technology that has become a key component of wireless data systems.’ The absence of women as contributors to future technologies is perhaps more chauvinistic than misogynistic, but it certainly illustrates and helps to explain why none but the most spirited girls and women chose engineering and technological fields for study and careers during the time.