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Telephone History from

In 1861 Johann Phillip Reis completed the first non-working telephone. Tantalizingly close to reproducing speech, Reis’s instrument conveyed certain sounds, poorly, but no more than that. A German physicist and school teacher, Reis’s ingenuity was unquestioned. His transmitter and receiver used a cork, a knitting needle, a sausage skin, and a piece of platinum to transmit bits of music and certain other sounds. But intelligible speech could not be reproduced. The problem was simple, minute, and at the same time monumental. His telephone relied on its transmitter’s diaphragm making and breaking contact with the electrical circuit, just as Bourseul suggested, and just as the telegraph worked. This approach, however, was completely wrong.

Reproducing speech practically relies on the transmitter making continuous contact with the electrical circuit. A transmitter varies the electrical current depending on how much acoustic pressure it gets. Turning the current off and on like a telegraph cannot begin to duplicate speech. Once flowing, speech is a fluctuating wave of continuous character; it is not a collection of off and on again pulses. The Reis instrument, in fact, worked only when sounds were so soft that the contact connecting the transmitter to the circuit remained unbroken. Speech may have traveled first over a Reis telephone however, it would have done so accidentally and against every principle he thought would make it work. And although accidental discovery is the stuff of invention, Reis did not realize his mistake, did not understand the principle behind voice transmission, did not develop his instrument further, nor did he ever claim to have invented the telephone.

American Heritage’s Invention and Technology “Gold: From Panning to High-Tech Mining”

After the early miners mucked out the ore, it was time to crush it to powder, the first step in liberating the gold from its host rock. This was usually achieved with gigantic stamp mills, which crushed ore under cast iron weights. Although this technology dated back to the 12th century, Virginia City, Nevada’s James McFarland, and the Joshua Hendy Iron Works Company of San Francisco were among the first to adapt this machinery to gold and silver. Early models used steam engines to turn a crank that rotated a battery of stamps. The noise was terrific, especially in towns where dozens of stamps operated. It was said that a visitor could find his way to Mariposa, California, simply by following the noise of the mills.

Gold miners seek their precious metal close to the surface, too, in a process the trade calls open-pit mining. Most folks know it as strip mining, a technique that would arouse awe and envy in any old forty-niner. The open-pit method is employed where the gold lies relatively close to the surface and distributed throughout its host rock. Instead of following a vein, open-pit mining process vast quantities of material dug down from the surface. Such diggings can create gigantic pits visible from space.

Heap leaching is fairly straightforward. Low-grade ore is spread out on a slightly sloping impervious pad or liner. Cyanide is sprinkled on or otherwise applied to the ore, dissolving the metallic gold into a solution that leaches out at the bottom of the ore heap and is then collected and processed.

This link has the entire, beautifully illustrated article. But fair warning — it is 18.5 megs in pdf: (internal link)

American Heritage Invention and Technology “The Cell Phone Revolution”

The vocoder is part of a larger unit called a digital signal processor chip set. It uses various tricks to reduce the number of bits that are transmitted while still keeping your voice recognizable — sort of like using shorthand or omitting letters from words in a text message. Another compression trick is called digital signal interpolation. Since 60 percent of a typical conversation is silence, this technique transmits during voice spurts, letting another signal use the channel during pauses.

In July, 1958 Jack Kilby invented the integrated circuit at Texas Instruments in Dallas, Texas. A tooth pick size piece of germanium contained his complete electrical circuit or IC. It used no soldered connections and consequently was reliable and stable. He also showed how resistors, capacitors, diodes, and transistors could co-exist on a single block of semi-conductor and that they could all be made of the same material. As Texas Instruments itself puts it, “The roots of almost every electronic device we take for granted today can be traced back to Dallas more than 40 years today.”

[O]nly 54 radio-telephone channels existed in the entire United States. At least 25,000 people were on waiting lists for a mobile phone; some had been there for as long as ten years. (Doctors got higher priority, so an improbably high number of applicants claimed to have medical credentials.) New York City had 12 channels and 700 radiotelephone customers, roughly one per 10,000 population. The total number of mobile phones nationwide was about 120,000. (internal link)

Telektronikk “Mobile Telephone History”

This article describes how mobile telephones, for decades a near dormant technology, became the dynamic and perhaps most important communication tool of our lives. Commercial mobile telephony began in 1946. The cellular radio concept was published in 1947. But only since 1995 have mobiles become low cost, rich in features, and used world wide. We first examine mobile telephony’s  early and bulky beginnings. Next, the long journey to analog cellular. Finally, full digital working, exemplified by GSM and now CDMA, providing services and features that make the mobile indispensable and ubiquitous. We’ll see how early mobile telephony battled the same problems of today: government regulation, scarce spectrum, and hardware limitations.  How Scandinavian, Japanese, and United States groups independently crafted their own radio-telephone solutions. At 58, the relatively recent, spectacular success of today’s mobile telephone could hardly be guessed by its age. But history reveals why this technology took so long to mature.  And the present shows us that it was worth the wait. (internal link)

The link below is to the entire issue: (external link)

Sierra Heritage Magazine “Highway 50”

Present day United States Highway 50 stretches 3,000 miles from West Sacramento, California, to Ocean City, Maryland. A world of history, sights, and happy motoring are along the way. Arguably the most dramatic scenery on the route is the portion through the Sierra Nevada mountains, starting in the foothills near Placerville. Glacier-scarred granite, a stirring waterfall, mountains covered in pine, Douglas fir, and Incense Cedar, as well as dramatic overlooks of the Tahoe Basin, all assemble to create a palette of divine inspiration. But it wasn’t aesthetics that started Highway 50 – it was business.

Rancher John Calhoun Johnson blazed a trail in 1852 that roughly parallels today’s Highway 50. It reached from Placerville to Carson City. Called the Johnson Cutoff, the trail ran north of the popular Carson trail and south of the Truckee trail over Donner Summit. Its purpose was to attract immigrant wagon trains, to steer them down to Placerville and its merchants. Little more than a footpath in places, the trail was gradually improved until it started luring wagons and, years later, stagecoaches. Its initial success moved different parties in 1855 to survey the route more completely, to see if other alignments and improvements would better serve traffic. Boosters of the road were also at work in the California State legislature, promoting the route for state funding. Money for upgrades, though, would come instead from tolls, which might have been expected. Those tolls, however, were powered by something quite unexpected. (external link)

River News Herald and Isleton Journal — Weekly garden column

I must assume that you have all pruned your roses. Tom Farley’s Tip of The Week is to debud your roses over the winter. Roses develop many buds after pruning. Buds become canes and branches. Crossing and interior growth therefore can be eliminated before it begins. Simply rub out any bud now that may cause trouble later. Rose pruning seeks to thin and open the center of each plant for it to grow well. It does not do, therefore, to tolerate buds which will produce interior growth and fight against the pruning you just accomplished. Eliminate errant and inward facing buds with an easy swipe of the thumb. No pruning shears needed and you’ll save lots of time later. Do this every week until the rose is completely leafed out. Let’s proceed then to the main feature of this column.

West Sacramento News-Ledger (I was a stringer for this newspaper)

The TBD Fest boomed into West Sacramento’s Bridge District this weekend, forming a youthful community centered on music, art, drink, and food. But noise complaints threatened to break up the sybaritic world its founders sought to create.

Has the Port of West Sacramento’s ship come in? Or is it still at sea? The landmark facility alongside Industrial Boulevard has struggled for years to keep afloat financially, but new practices suggest that a more buoyant future lies ahead.


More telephone history. Just because I like it:

ITT’s owners, the curious, conspiratorial Behn brothers, Sosthenes and Hernand, bought Western Electric International for 30 million dollars and renamed it International Standard Electric. Their purchase, backed by J.P. Morgan’s bank, included Western’s large British manufacturer, renamed Standard Telephones and Cable. The Behns agreed not to compete in America against Western Electric, and to be the export agent for AT&T products abroad. AT&T agreed in return not to compete internationally against the Behns. Now equipped with a large manufacturing arm, IT&T spread across the globe, buying and influencing telephone companies (and their governments) on nearly every continent.

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