Musing About Telephones

Once back in America, in late 1993, after we moved into our new house in Mississippi we purchased a white wall-hanging phone for the kitchen. This one had quite elaborate technology including a mini-cassette tape recording system with a digital messaging feature and speaker phone option. Shortly afterwards, we purchased a telephone/fax/copier/answering machine unit; serious hi-tech. It used special thermo-sensitive paper to make copies and printed receive, faxes and weighted about twenty pounds. We put this new-fangled hi-tech device in an extra bedroom next to another hi-tech gadget; my first home computer.

I briefly toyed with a computer dialup service called Prodigy, something that allowed me to use my computer to connect to games, electronic message boards, and e-mail service at a dazzling speed of 28.8 MB. But when I left Mississippi in June 1994 to live aboard my ship in Hawaii I canceled it. I didn’t actually have much use for this service anyway as I didn’t know anyone who used e-mail.

In late 1995 in Hawaii on the final stretch of my navy career, I purchased my very first cell phone. Cell phones had been out and getting popular for a while by now, but had been banned from Navy ships. Senior officers fretted about their crews actually being able to communicate off-ship without official oversight. The difficulty of getting any shipboard work accomplished with only four outside telephones on a ship of 350+ crew members finally caused navy officers to make a light-years jump in thinking, and the restrictions on owning cell phones was removed in early 1995.

A few months later, the electronic technicians I supervised made me proud. By now, almost every person in my division of 19 people owned a cell phone. One evening several of my ace techs got together and identified the exact frequency the cell phones operated on. They determined that the cell phone frequency matched the bandwidth of one of the ship’s high-gain antennas mounted on the very top of the main mast. From there, they figured out how to connect a cell phone to that antenna. The successful result was that we could then use a cell phone hooked to that antenna to “call home” from over 100 miles out at sea. The ship’s officers never found us out.

By the time I retired and returned to Mississippi in February 1996, my wife had purchased a wireless phone made by Cobra, the same company I knew of from back in my CB radio days. This phone had a range of about 100 feet, a big improvement over the wireless phone my roommate had back in San Diego. My wife had also purchased a phone for our bedroom, so now we had three telephones and the telephone/fax/answering machine unit in our house.

Four different telephones in one house, plus a cell phone, felt like an embarrassment of riches. Our fax machine was so useful I quickly wondered how we had ever lived without one. Between telephones we could carry around with us and an answering machine, people could always find some way of contacting us.

It was March 1996 when we hooked up my home computer to a service commonly referred to as the “Internet.” I could now let my fingers do the walking on my computer keyboard and send out e-mails as other people actually received them. Dial-up was the only Internet connection service available to us so our single phone line received rather heavy usage.

In early 2000 my first wife decided we really needed another wireless telephone – four telephones and a cell phone just weren’t enough. The phone she selected was a 1.2GHZ wireless phone with an advertised range of several hundred feet. This was a true marvel and allowed much greater freedom in where one could be while making and receiving phone calls. In fact, my first wife quickly learned that she could use it when visiting the man next door, while letting me think she was actually at our house whenever I called from work.

As part of our divorce settlement, I kept all five telephones and she kept the cell phone.

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