Thursday, June 30, 2016
VOLUME -25 NUMBER 7
Publication Date: 07/1/2010
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ARCHIVE >  July 2010 Issue >  Tech-Op-Ed > 

Beware the Tweet
Walter Salm, Editor

The other day, I received a blog by someone who was lamenting the fact that he had transmitted some material to the wrong parties, or had left it available for Twitter or something. I honestly cannot keep up with Facebook messages and Tweets, and other stuff that seems to consume the lives of people who apparently have too much free time on their hands. They merrily generate tons of junk that really interests no one else, and I sometimes think I am guilty of the same kind of idiocy.

Speaking of which, I recall when at the tender age of 20 I was stationed at Fort Monmouth, NJ, taking a 6-month course in field radio repair at the Signal School. It was 1954 and the Korean War was unofficially over, but we still had to fulfill our two-year obligation to Uncle Sam. Besides, they might still need some radio repairmen in Korea. So we learned and trained. For one week, our platoon spent our days split up into two-man teams inside our own wonderful communications centers called the Angry 26 (ANGRC-26) — a complete comm center on the back of a 2-1/2 ton truck. Only we weren't on a truck; we were in training, so the enclosures were on the ground. They needed the real trucks in Korea. The truck normally pulled a trailer-mounted gasoline generator behind it to supply the 6kW that this monster comm center consumed.

The inside of this comm unit was a wondrous mix of WWII and more recent vintage equipment. The transmitter was a 600-pound beast called the BC-610. It was a brute force demonstration of WWII technology and could belt out 400 watts of hefty RF — enough to blanket the East Coast with our short wave practice sessions. There was a handle on each side of the steel cabinet, which in US Army lingo made it "portable" (two guys on each handle). It was held in place by several heavy-duty floor clamps.

In the 19-inch wall rack was a pair of Collins 388 receivers, very sweet radios that were of much more recent vintage (1953). There were two of them to provide duplex monitoring, to avoid fading of received signals. On the desk was a teletype and next to it was a tape puncher and a tape sending unit. There was also a Morse Code key, but we were repairmen, not operators, so we had never learned code. There was a T-17 carbon handheld push-to-talk microphone, a good quality loudspeaker on the wall, and headphones if we needed them.

We had finished our network practice for the day, so it was goofing-off time. We were listening to WQXR (New York) on one of the Collins radios, and I sat down at the teletype, and using it like a typewriter, wrote a letter home to dear Mom. Lots of stuff of the kind she wanted to hear. Unfortunately, I had neglected to disconnect the TTY from the BC-610 so the entire East Coast of the USA was blanketed by my letter to Mom. I was totally clueless. But at the end of the day when I walked into our squad room, I found a copy of my letter home posted on the platoon bulletin board, the yellow teletype paper shouting at me. I removed it hastily and stuffed it into my pocket. I never quite lived it down; no matter where the Army shipped me after graduation day, there was always somebody else there from my old Fort Monmouth Signal School platoon who remembered my letter to Mom and wouldn't let me forget.

While there, I learned to repair the Army's latest version of the Walkie-Talkie, a ponderous unit that was 2/3 battery. It used tiny matchstick vacuum tubes embedded in the edges of a plastic block that contained the wiring, resistors and capacitors. Its power transmitting tube was a 7-pin ?miniature" tube about the size of my thumb. I actually had to repair these things later on, and marveled that the US Army still hadn't entered the solid-state era. After all, transistors had by then been around for 8 years, and were the darlings of hams and experimenters. But this was the military, the same people who still patrol the skies today with 50-year-old B-52 bombers.

But even during this winding down of my military "career" there were still one or two guys from my old platoon who kept reminding me about my letter to Mom. So beware what you blog or Facebook or Tweet. It could have far-reaching results, and not always good ones. Today's Internet truly makes us a global community.  

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