Did the Radio Telegraph lead to a Miscarriage of Justice?

In an earlier blog, we learned how Cooke and Wheatstone’s telegraph played a central role in the capture of the murderer John Tawell as he travelled by train from Slough to London. In an analogous case, the murderer Dr Hawley Crippen became the first criminal to be caught using Marconi’s new radio telegraph.                       Crippen and his mistress Ethel “Le Neve” Neave were identified as Read more [...]
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The Strange Story of Phone Phreaking

During the 1960’s, the use of analogue signalling tones between telephone exchanges gave rise to a new phenomenon called “Phone Phreaking”. The word “phreak” is apparently a combination of “phone”, “free” and “freak”, so it's rather a good name. Phone phreaking seems to have developed independently in a number of different places, but one of the early pioneers was a blind American schoolboy named Joe Engressia. At the age of eight, it is said that Engressia liked to dial Read more [...]
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Treating a Paranoid Computer

The ARPANET was an early computer network that played a critical role in the development of the Internet. In 1972, Robert Kahn organized the first public demonstration of the ARPANET’s capabilities at the International Conference on Computer Communications in Washington, DC. This included “conversations” across the United States between a computer at MIT that was programmed to behave like a psychiatrist, and a computer at Stanford that mimicked the behaviour of a paranoid psychotic. One of Read more [...]
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If At First You Don’t Succeed . . .

The successful laying of a trans-Atlantic cable was one of the most extraordinary feats of engineering in the history of telecoms. The hero of our story is Cyrus Field, an American businessman who had made his fortune in the New York textile and paper trade. At a time at which existing submarine cables rarely exceeded 100 miles in length, Field was planning a submarine cable 2,000 miles long laid between Ireland and Newfoundland, with an additional 1,000 miles of cable to link Newfoundland with New Read more [...]
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Are Radio Waves Bad for Your Health?

The health risks associated with radioactivity have been recognized for many years. Alpha, beta and gamma emissions from radioactive sources can ionize atoms or molecules that they encounter by detaching electrons from them. People exposed to high levels of ionizing radiation can develop a number of health problems, including radiation sickness, sterility, cancer and genetic damage. Since gamma rays are a form of electromagnetic radiation, it is not surprising that concerns should also be raised Read more [...]
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Who REALLY Invented the Telephone?

As any quiz enthusiast will tell you, Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone. He was awarded a patent for the telephone in 1876, and he and his fledgling telephone company successfully defended that patent against more than 600 legal challenges – five of which went all the way to the US Supreme Court. This, you might think, is pretty good evidence that Bell really did get there first. The telephone patent subsequently turned out to be one of the most valuable in history, and that may help Read more [...]
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This Is All Getting A Bit Scary

Since the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, there has been considerable speculation about the possibility of cyber terrorism. In March 2000, a disgruntled Australian employee used the internet to release one million litres of raw sewage into the rivers and coastal waters of Queensland. Could terrorists use the internet to gain control of a nuclear power station, an air traffic control system or a military installation? The possibilities for causing mayhem in this way are limited Read more [...]
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Let’s Hear It for the Bad Boys of Physics!

Surprising as it may seem, there are still some major barriers that are holding back the march of telecommunications. One of these barriers is Einstein’s universal speed limit - the speed of light – which applies to electrical currents in copper wire, beams of light in fibre optic cables and microwave communications with satellites. Light travels at approximately 200,000 km/sec in glass and at nearly 300,000 km/sec in air, but this is still far too slow for some telecoms applications. Fibre optic Read more [...]
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A New Year Murder

In 1839, William Fothergill Cooke and Charles Wheatstone opened the world’s first public telegraph service on a 13-mile stretch of rail track between London Paddington and West Drayton. The telegraph received some sensational publicity a few years later when it played a crucial role in the capture of a murderer. On New Year’s Day in 1845, John Tawell travelled to Slough with the intention of poisoning his mistress. It appears that he had expected her to die quietly, so he was greatly disconcerted Read more [...]
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The First Wireless Telephone

On 3rd June 1880, Alexander Graham Bell transmitted the first wireless telephone message using his newly-invented “Photophone”. The Photophone contained a flexible mirror that vibrated in response to the speaker’s voice. When sunlight was projected on to the mirror, the vibrations were superimposed upon the reflected beam. At the receiver, crystalline selenium cells were used to detect the light beam. The resistance of these cells decreased as the intensity of the light increased, thereby Read more [...]
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