Musing About Telephones

Entering the Computer Age

I briefly toyed with a computer dialup service called Prodigy. This service allowed me to connect my computer to games, 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.

Of Cellphones and Sea Duty

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. But my ship only had four outside telephone lines for a crew of 350 people. Communicating off-ship became so difficult even Navy Officers recognized the problem. In early 1995 restrictions on cellphone on-board ships was lifted.

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. 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.

Telephones Without Wires

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

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 landline 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 movement 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.

In early 2002 the telephone/fax/answering machine gave out. It was too old to get parts so I threw it away and replaced it with a 2.4GHZ wireless phone. This phone had an answering machine, caller ID, and speaker with longer range and clearer signal than the wireless phone my ex- had purchased. I added this new phone to my desktop collection of electronic hardware. Without a dedicated fax machine, I now sent and received faxes used my computer using special software, scanner, and printer.

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