REVIEW: "Good Night Old Man", George Campbell
- BKGNOM.RVW 20111128
"Good Night Old Man", George Campbell, 2011, 978-9878319-0-3, C$19.95
%A George Campbell georgeca@... http://is.gd/x28QRz
%C PO Box 57083 RPO Eastgate, Sherwood Park, AB Canada T8A 5L7
%I Dream Write Publishing dreamwrite10@...
%O C$19.95 http://www.dreamwritepublishing.ca 780-445-0991
%O Audience i+ Tech 2 Writing 3 (see revfaq.htm for explanation)
%P 342 p.
%T "Good Night Old Man"
On page 114 the author asserts that even learning to use Morse code
"bestowed on us instant acceptance into a society whose members
regularly performed tasks too difficult for most others to even
attempt." This statement will be instantly recognizable by anyone in
any technical field. This is because in the beginning was the
telegraph. And the telegraph begat teletype (and baudot code) and the
telephone. And telephone company research labs (in large measure)
begat computers. And teletype begat the Internet. And wireless
telegraphy begat radio. And radio and the telephone and the Internet
and computers begat 4G. (Or, at least, it will begat it once they get
it right.) But it all started with the telegraph.
As the author states, any communications textbook will mention the
telegraph. Most will tell you Morse code began on May 24th, 1844.
Some might mention that it isn't in use anymore. A few crypto books
might let you know that commercial nomenklators were used not just for
confidentiality, but to reduce word counts (and thus costs) when
sending telegrams. (The odd data representation text might relay the
trivium that Morse code is not a binary code of dots and dashes, but a
trinary code of dots, dashes, and silence.)
But they won't tell you anything about what it was like to be a
telegrapher, to actually communicate, and help other people
communicate with Morse code. How you got started, what the work was,
and what your career might be like. This book does.
I am not going to pretend to be objective with this review. George
Campbell is my wife's (favourite) uncle. He's always liked telling
stories, has a fund of stories to tell, and tells them well. For
example, he was the first person in North America to know about the
German surrender in Europe, since he was the (Royal Canadian Naval
Volunteer Reserve) telegrapher who received the message from Europe
and passed it on. Of course, the message was in code. But everyone
knew it was coming, and he knew who the message was from, and who it
was going to. You can learn a lot with simple traffic analysis.
There are lots of good stories in the book. There are lots of funny
stories in the book. If you know technology, it is intriguing to see
the beginnings of all kinds of things we use today. Standard
protocols, flow control, error correction, and data compression. Oh,
and script kiddies, too. (Well, I don't know what else you would call
people who don't understand what they are working with, but do know
that if you follow *this* script, then *that* will happen.) It is
fascinating to see all of this being developed in an informal fashion
by people who are just trying to get on with their jobs.
The title, "Good Night Old Man," comes from a code the telegraphers
themselves used. "GN" (and a "call sign") was sent when the
telegrapher signed off his station for the night. Morse code is no
longer used commercially. Within a few years, the last of the
"native" speakers will have died off. Morse will become a dead
language, possibly studied by some hobbyists and academics, who can
tease legibility out of a sample, or laboriously create a message in
that form, but without anything like the facility achieved by those
who had to use it day in and day out.
This is a last chance to learn a part of history.
copyright, Robert M. Slade 2011 BKGNOM.RVW 20111128
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Ideas won't keep: something must be done about them
- Alfred North Whitehead