Memories of my youth: Technology progress

Times change. Technology changes. Most everybody looks at computing power as an example. If you want another example (albeit computer-related), look no further than our worldwide communications network, and how it’s changed in my adult lifetime.

1970: I am a young USAF lieutenant, based at RAF Mildenhall, in the UK. My mother, recently divorced and on her own, was going through a bad patch. How can I provide her some moral support? What about a phone call?

There was one phone in the BOQ that you could book international calls on. It was at the front desk, and normally behind the glass of the teller’s cage. To make a call, you first booked it with the international operator, who would call you back when the circuit was available. Then you stood next to the cashier’s cage, with the handset cord snaked out through the hole in the glass, and held your conversation while the rest of the world was cashing checks and paying for dinner. Cost was $1.00 a minute.

1980: I’m a USAF major at the Alert Center at DIA, in the Pentagon. There was an incident where a US carrier, enroute to a port visit in Yugoslavia, violated Yugoslav airspace on the way in to port. There was a discussion between the US ambassador, in Belgrade, and the National Military Command Center (NMCC) duty general on one phone line, and the NMCC duty general talking to the captain of the carrier on a different line. I stood by in case there was a need for Intelligence input. There wasn’t.

It was interesting, and exciting, to have real time communications halfway around the world, even if it had to be on two different phone lines. Based on recent reports, things haven’t changed in the cross-Department area.

1990: I’m a contractor, working on a then state of the art geographic information system, installed in the Alert Center at DIA. It’s the start of the Kuwait war Scud missile attacks and I’m helping chase them. A missile would launch from Iraq, and the plume would be detected by a satellite in geosynchronous orbit. The satellite would radio the detection to the ground site in Colorado, which would report it to the NMCC in the Pentagon. DIA was also on that circuit, and we’d input the launch coordinates to our database, pull up possible hiding places, like bridges and overpasses, and send that on to the Scud Cell in Saudi Arabia. They’d pass the data to the F-15E’s and the fighters would try to find the launchers.

What with intermediate hops, the signal had to travel a good 120,000 miles, from detection to target assignment.

1997: Meanwhile, Cordelia has her own wireless phone. All you have to do is pull the antenna out.

2016: I am a college professor enroute to a conference in Hokkaido, Japan. While travelling along at 90mph on the Shinkansen bullet train, I call my brother in Utah on my pocket phone. The next year he returns the favor by calling me from Graz, Austria, on his phone, using full motion video.

 

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