Love in a pneumatic climate
News article - 14 Feb 2018
In the Harry Potter series, Arthur Weasley is fascinated by working out how Muggles function without magic. Part of my job is to answer questions from younger members of staff who are fascinated by how we used to work before there were computers on every desk. Most of the communication channels we use today have equivalents: rather than using Instant Messenger like today, we had Opscomm links: a 75 baud1 (yes, not megabaud, or even kilobaud: just baud) teleprinter circuit with our stations to enable our HQ to chat to operators. We didn't have emails, but we could send signals, and depending on the priority of the message (there were four levels: Routine, Priority, Operational Immediate, and Flash) you could get information to the other side of the world very quickly. But what happened if you wanted to send an original document?
So why am I telling this story on Valentine's Day? Well, an example of unofficial and forbidden use of the system happened when one of our colleagues was too nervous to propose to his girlfriend in person and so sent his proposal by tube instead. It would have been very neat if she had replied by the same means but she didn't: she came to his office instead and embarrassed him by accepting the proposal very publicly. They married, and lived very happily ever after, and all thanks to the aid of a Lamson tube!
1 Bauds measure the speed of a comms link: 1 baud is one bit per second. 75 baud is prehistoric: home modems in the 90s were 56 kilobaud; few city-dwellers today will have slower than 2 megabaud internet links.