Smith-Corona's voice letters by post: dead media


Here's a weird bit of dead media: a Smith-Corona audio-letter that used a "Letterpack cartridge" (which appears to be a 3.5" floppy disc) to record and play back personal voice-letters sent by post. The apparatus is a fascinating dead branch in design history, something that looks like it might be descended from a desktop intercom box, and distinctly unrelated to the apparatus we put up to our faces and heads in this era.

This can really be seen as an arbitrage point between high long distance tariffs by monopoly telco operators and a willingness to tolerate delays in personal voice communications.

Where are they now? Smith-Corona

A futurist prediction that came true

Sure, it's fun to post old pages of mid-century science magazines and make fun of the predictions that never came true—flying cars! Weather control!

But it's equally, if not more, enjoyable to read predictions for things that actually happened. These are the things that remind us that the world we live in today is pretty goddamn amazing. Teacher Michael Poser sent me one such prediction that he and his students found in The Science Year Book of 1947, a sort-of proto-aggregator that compiled reprints of stories in science magazines. This quote came from a Scientific American article entitled "Microwaves on the way":

In peacetime microwaves are slated for an even more spectacular career… Private phone calls by the hundreds of thousands sent simultaneously over the same wave band without wires, poles, or cables. Towns where each citizen has his own radio frequency, over which he can get voice, music, and television, and call any phone in the country by dialing. Complete abolition of static interference from electrical devices and from other stations. A hundred times as much “space on the air” as is now available in the commercial radio band. A high-definition and color-television network to cover the country. And, perhaps most important of all, a nationwide radar network to regulate all air traffic and furnish instantaneous visual weather reports to airfields throughout the land. By such a system, every aircraft over the United States or approaching it could be spotted, identified and shown simultaneously on screens all the way from Pensacola to Seattle.

What an awesome find! I don't know about you, but I pretty much take for granted all the things that short wavelength radio waves (i.e. microwaves) do for me every day. It's amazing to see something that has become so blase talked about like the wonder of technology it actually is.

Image: mercury m3 sunbury microwave mast, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from osde-info's photostream