Category Archives: Tech

Rule Five Fusion Friday

Housekeeping note:  In a few moments, I will leave civilization behind for a few days as loyal sidekick Rat and I will be off to the wilds of Grand County, Colorado, there to do battle with antlered ungulates.  Some placeholder totty is scheduled to hold your attention until I return.

Now, with that out of the way:  It seems the U.S. Navy has applied for a patent on a fusion reactor small enough to power small ships and even aircraft.  If this is a real thing, it’s a real big thing, or as daffy old Groper Joe Biden would say, a big fucking deal.  Excerpt:

The War Zone has been reporting on Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works work to create a game-changing compact fusion reactor. The elite aerospace design unit has been constructing a new, more powerful experimental reactor as recently as July 2019. 

Aside from Lockheed Martin, several private firms have been developing their own compact fusion reactors in recent years, and the government-run Chinese Academy of Sciences has claimed to have made significant progress in developing fusion reactors that could one day be capable of producing revolutionary levels of energy.

While Lockheed Martin’s CFR designs have garnered quite a bit of media attention and internet buzz in recent years, it appears one of the Skunk Works’ major clients is also hard at work in this field. The U.S. Navy has filed a potentially revolutionary patent application for a radical new compact fusion reactor that claims to improve upon the shortcomings of the Skunk Works CFR, and judging from the identity of the reactor’s inventor, it’s sure to raise eyebrows in the scientific community.

This latest design is the brainchild of the elusive Salvatore Cezar Pais, the inventor of the Navy’s bizarre and controversial room temperature superconductors, high energy electromagnetic field generators, and sci-fi-sounding propulsion technologies that The War Zone has previously reported on. The patent for Pais’ “Plasma Compression Fusion Device” was applied for on March 22, 2018, and was just published on September 26, 2019. The claim states, in part:

At present there are few envisioned fusion reactors/devices that come in a small, compact package (ranging from 0.3 to 2 meters in diameter) and typically they use different versions of plasma magnetic confinement. Three such devices are the Lockheed Martin (LM) Skunk Works Compact Fusion Reactor (LM-CFR) , the EMC2 Polywell fusion concept, and the Princeton Field-Reversed Configuration (PFRC) machine. […] These devices feature short plasma confinement times, possible plasma instabilities with the scaling of size, and it is questionable whether they have the ability of achieving the break – even fusion condition, let alone a self-sustained plasma burn leading to ignition.”

Wow.  WOW.  Forget for a moment whether or not we’re going to buy into this being real, and just imagine for a moment the implications of it being real, and imagine beyond just the shutting up of the climate scolds, which would be a pleasant enough outcome.

Now I’m not sure about the feasibility of powering vehicles or aircraft with one of these, size notwithstanding; like fission reactors, fusion reactors provide useful power through heat, by boiling water to turn a steam turbine to generate electricity.  (That’s almost certainly a gross oversimplification, but what the hell.)  That works in a power plant or a ship; in an airplane, not so much.

But you know, that still works.  We could continue to run airplanes and autos on fossil fuels.  The climate scolds would continue to go RHEEEEEEE, of course, but we can ignore that.  The simple fact is this:  A practical fusion reactor design would literally change everything.  Energy would be cheap and unlimited; cheaper than it is now, unlimited as it is not now.

Modern technological societies depend on energy.  Cheap, abundant energy yields a strong economy.  The cheaper and more abundant energy is, the better conditions are for a robust economy.

And this design – if it’s real – could deliver power to places where it’s difficult to do so now.   It could relieve remote communities of the need for generators or long stretches of power lines.  Small towns could run on a small tokamak that would fit in a garden shed.  And better still, a factory could buy its own reactor and obviate the need to be tied to an inefficient government-granted monopoly for power delivery.  The possibilities are endless.

I’m not sure if this is a real thing.  But it would be really cool if it was.

But enough of that for now.  The bloodwind calls.  It’s time to hunt.  See you all a week from Monday!

Animal’s Daily Space Travel News

Space is big.  Really, really big.  It’s so big, it’s hard to imagine just how really big it is without unhinging your brain enough to really, really understand something so stupendously big that even the wildest of sci-fi nuts just don’t get how unfathomably big it is.  But one scientist who is also a Star Trek fan has made a video to give us at least some idea how long it would really take to get about in space at Star Trekkian speeds.  Excerpt:

O’Donoghue chose to depict the Enterprise flying away from the sun and across the solar system toward a finish line at Pluto. The spaceship starts out at warp 1 and eventually accelerates to warp 9.9, or about 2,083 times light speed.

  • Warp 1, or light speed, makes the Enterprise look like it’s at a standstill over the sun. At this light-speed rate, the ship would take 5 hours and 28 minutes just to reach Pluto, which is about 3.67 billion miles (5.9 billion kilometers) away from the sun. Meanwhile, Proxima Centauri — the nearest star to our own — is a dismal four years and three months away.
  • Warp 5 is about 213 times faster, making a sun-Pluto journey just 1 minute and 30 seconds long. Proxima Centauri is still a weeklong voyage.
  • Warp 9.9 makes Pluto less that a 10-second trip away, and Proxima Centauri an 18-hour cruise.

This last rate of travel is thousands of times faster than the physics of our universe may ever permit.

However, traveling at a warp factor of 9.9 from one end of the Milky Way galaxy — a body of hundreds of billions of stars that may stretch 150,000 to 200,000 light-years wide, according to a recent study — to the other could take 96 years. That’s almost a decade longer than an average human life span today.

Even considering the fastest “transwarp” (or “beyond warp”) speed achieved by the Enterprise, which is about 8,323 times light speed, according to “Star Trek: The Next Generation — Technical Manual,” a transgalactic voyage would take 24 years. A transwarp voyage to Andromeda, which is the nearest galaxy to ours at about 2.5 million light-years away, would last about 300 years.

Yup.  Space is big.  Really, really big.

The closest any sci-fi writer has come to getting this right, at least in my reading history, was James Blish in the Cities in Flight series, originally published between 1950 and 1962.  In those still-engaging stories the major cities of Earth and other worlds left their planetary homes and wandered the galaxy, using a gravitic drive Blish called a “spindizzy.”  Even though, as Blish postulated, the cities under gravitic drive were separated from the general framework of the universe and moved in their own continuum, and were therefore not hampered by relativistic effects or the universal 1C speed limits, even within the galaxy travel times were so long that the inhabitants of the cities required “anti-agathic” drugs that made them, essentially, immortal, else they’d not have been able to travel such distances.

Science!

It’s a neat series, by the way, even if it is a little dated today.

Warp drives and such are neat to think about and write about; in my own dabblings in science fiction I’ve resorted to that same plot device to make my characters go gamboling and capering about the Milky Way.  That kind of stuff is, after all, fun to read about and fun to write about.

But in reality, unless some kind of wormhole drive can shortcut interstellar distances instantaneously, then interstellar travel is never going to be really practical, even at transphotic speeds.

Because space is really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, REALLY, REALLY big.

Goodbye, Blue (Labor Day) Monday

Goodbye, Blue Monday!

Thanks as always to Pirate’s Cove, Bacon Time and The Other McCain for the Rule Five links!  Thanks also to our blogger pals Doug and Ed over at The Daley Gator for the linkback.  If The Daley Gator isn’t on your blogroll, it should be.

On Saturday last I took my new (old, made in 1942) Winchester Model 12 Black Diamond to the trap range.  I shot two rounds of 12-yard singles, hitting 23 and 23.  Not too bad, considering it’s the first time I fired the gun.  A couple of things  stood out:

  1. In those years, when Winchester said “Full choke,” they meant full-damn-choke.  The choke on that gun is as tight as a bull’s ass in fly season.  On a lot of my hits I was just ticking the edge of the bird.  You have to be right on the bird to dust it.
  2. The straight-grip stock will take some getting used to.  I’ve only owned shotguns with what we think of as standard pistol-grip stocks.
  3. The big wide rib and contrasting beads make picking up the birds quickly almost ridiculously easy.

I’m going to like this gun a lot, even if it is, as a dedicated trap gun, kind of a one-trick pony.

Model 12 Black Diamond

It’s Labor Day, so before we get on with all the nothing we’re planning to spend today doing, here are a few links.

Why do people believe in curses?  Well, I can think of two reasons:  Ignorance and stupidity.  Pretty much the same reasons people think of socialism as an effective economic system.

What it feels like to eject from a plane.  Not something I’ve ever been tempted to try, personally.

Amazon lists unauthorized cell phone signal boosters.  Unauthorized?   OMG UNAUTHORIZED!  We need more government over here STAT!

And on that note, we wish you a safe, happy and restful Labor Day.

Rule Five Red Light Cameras Friday

Our own Aurora and the neighboring city of Denver have experimented with red-light cameras.  I think it’s a terrible idea, and almost certainly unconstitutional.  Here’s an interesting take on the topic.  Excerpt:

Speed and red-light cameras are the bane of many motorists. A modern idea made possible by technology, they have been installed in at least 24 states. Although these cameras are a revenue boon for governments across the nation, their intrusion into daily life is disturbing, and their constitutionality is dubious.

Specifically, use of these cameras could violate the Sixth Amendment. The Confrontation Clause grants criminal defendants the right to be confronted with the witnesses against them. Since it is a camera and not a person that witnessed the offense, such violations generally cannot be considered a criminal offense. The ticket is issued to the owner of the vehicle, not to the person driving it, leaving a lack of certainty as to the identity of the offender.

Therefore, the “ticket” in most places is nothing more than a civil fine, making enforcement and collection difficult. To date, governments have avoided this problem by requiring payment of the fine before motorists can renew their driver’s license or auto registration. Although there generally are appeals procedures, they typically do not give drivers a day in court. In other words, what happened to being innocent until proven guilty?

There are several for-profit companies that install and operate the cameras, some of them foreign-owned. In a typical arrangement, a camera company will contract with a local government to pay the capital cost of installing the cameras in exchange for a share of the revenue generated via fines. In short, governments get a new revenue stream without any operating cost, and the camera companies make a tidy profit.

Stop right there.  Take a look at that last sentence.  Here, read it again:

In short, governments get a new revenue stream without any operating cost, and the camera companies make a tidy profit.

Did you get that?

In short, governments get a new revenue stream without any operating cost, and the camera companies make a tidy profit.

Now there, True Believers, you have the key to the whole thing.  These red light cameras, which almost certainly violate the Sixth Amendment – how can you confront your accuser when the accuser is a camera? – aren’t about traffic safety.  They are all about generating revenue for city governments.

Most of the citations issues are civil fines, meaning you have no recourse in the courts.  And since these are based on photos of moving vehicles and are focused on the plates, the better to ID the owner, they are issued to the owner of the vehicle.  So if you loan your car to a friend, or let your teenager drive, you are fiscally liable for a minor infraction you didn’t commit.

Crap like this lessens respect for the law.  It’s capricious, lacks even a pretense of due process, and is clearly and transparently a revenue-generating tool for city governments.

Last year our own Aurora put the issue on the ballot.  The residents of our town, yr. obdt. among them, voted to get rid of the cameras.  That’s a step in the right direction.  Let’s hope more municipalities follow suit.

Animal’s Hump Day News

Happy Hump Day!

RealClearScience has listed the three biggest myths about nuclear power.  Here’s the three, with excerpts:

Myth #1. Nuclear is dangerous. In the minds of many, the examples of Three Mile Island, Fukushima-Daiichi, and Chernobyl, are enough to cement this statement as fact. But a full and rational examination of nuclear’s operational history swiftly dispels this common myth. As a variety of different analyses have shown, even when you factor in nuclear’s memorable accidents, it is vastly safer than any fossil fuel energy source.

Well, yes.  The state of art in fission reactors just continues to improve.  The latest generation of pebble-bed reactors are safe, make efficient use of fuel and are damn near idiot-proof.  Reactor designs will only continue to improve.

Myth #2. Nuclear waste is an unsolvable problem. Nuclear energy results in radioactive waste in the form of spent fuel rods – a big drawback. But did you know that coal plants actually produce more radioactive waste during their operation? Currently, more than 90,000 metric tons of nuclear waste (which would fill a football field twenty meters deep) are stored at more than a hundred sites around the United States, a workable but undesirable situation. However, that waste could be safely locked away in Yucca Mountain, a remote site in the Nevada desert situated on federal land.

The entire controversy around Yucca Mountain is a canard, nothing but.  It’s a stable site, remote from any tsunami damage, in a geologically stable location.  We can and should store nuclear wastes there.  Opposition to it is based on nothing more than hysterical anti-nuke sentiment.

Myth #3. Nuclear is prohibitively expensive. No doubt you’ve heard or read numerous accounts about nuclear power plants shutting down or even being canceled in the process of construction for being too expensive. It’s true, in some locations, the landscape of electricity generation makes nuclear unprofitable, but in most locations, nuclear power is doing just fine.

Nuclear power would truly succeed in a setting where the damaging externalities of fossil fuel power sources are priced in. The Union of Concerned Scientists estimated that a meager carbon price costing the average household only $1 per month could make nuclear competitive nationwide, while vastly reducing air pollution.

Here’s a problem.  We don’t need government picking winners and losers, not in energy, not in health care, not in anything.  No more fees, taxes, carbon prices or any other such horseshit.

But with that said, nuclear power is an essential part of our energy future.  The United States has plenty  of fuel in domestic sources.  We have plenty of storage space.  We have the best in modern reactor technology.  Fission reactors as designed today are safe, clean and reliable; the argument watermelons use against them are arguing against forty and fifty year old technology, not the current state of the art.

We should already be building new nuclear generation capacity.  It’s just ridiculous that we aren’t.

Animal’s Hump Day News

Happy Hump Day!

If this works out, a new nuclear battery may prove revolutionary.  Excerpt:

Russian researchers from the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (MIPT), the Technological Institute for Superhard and Novel Carbon Materials (TISNCM), and the National University of Science and Technology MISIS have optimized the design of a nuclear battery generating power from the beta decay of nickel-63, a radioactive isotope. Their new battery prototype packs about 3,300 milliwatt-hours of energy per gram, which is more than in any other nuclear battery based on nickel-63, and 10 times more than the specific energy of commercial chemical cells. The paper was published in the journal Diamond and Related Materials.

Here’s the kicker:

The work reported in this story has prospects for medical applications. Most state-of-the-art cardiac pacemakers are over 10 cubic centimeters in size and require about 10 microwatts of power. This means that the new nuclear battery could be used to power these devices without any significant changes to their design and size. “Perpetual pacemakers” whose batteries need not be replaced or serviced would improve the quality of life of patients.

This is my industry, True Believers, and believe you me, a battery like this would have an enormous impact on quality of life for patients with long-term implants.  Not just pacemakers – spinal cord stimulators, insulin pumps, intrathecal drug pumps, deep-brain stimulators, all are dependent on implanted batteries that now have to be changed regularly.  That’s an invasive surgical procedure to change that battery, mind you, with the risks and hospital stays that entails.

If someone could produce a more powerful battery that might last the better part of a patient’s lifetime, that’s world-changing for people whose life and comfort depend on these devices.

Animal’s Daily Fusion News

Lockheed is up to something, and that something may be a game-changer in the energy field – but then, that something has been going to be a game-changer for a while now.  Still, it’s interesting.  Excerpt:

Lockheed Martin has quietly obtained a patent associated with its design for a potentially revolutionary compact fusion reactor, or CFR. If this project has been progressing on schedule, the company could debut a prototype system that size of shipping container, but capable of powering a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier or 80,000 homes, sometime in the next year or so.

The patent, for a portion of the confinement system, or embodiment, is dated Feb. 15, 2018. The Maryland-headquartered defense contractor had filed a provisional claim on April 3, 2013 and a formal application nearly a year later. Our good friend Stephen Trimble, chief of Flightglobal’s Americas Bureau, subsequently spotted it and Tweeted out its basic details.

In 2014, the company also made a splash by announcing they were working on the device at all and that it was the responsibility of its Skunk Works advanced projects office in Palmdale, California. At the time, Dr. Thomas McGuire, head of the Skunk Works’ Compact Fusion Project, said the goal was to have a working reactor in five years and production worthy design within 10.

Here’s the kicker:

If the system works, it’s hard to underscore just how dramatically it could change not just the future of warfare, but the basic nature of human existence. Running on approximately 25 pounds of fuel – a mixture of hydrogen isotopes deuterium and tritium – Lockheed Martin estimated the notional reactor would be able to run for an entire year without stopping. The device would be able to generate a constant 100 megawatts of power during that period.

One might suspect there will be a lot of Luddite NIMBYing around these new fusion reactors being placed in settled areas, should they prove possible.  But if one of these reactors could provide power for 100,000 people, then a few of them spotted around a major city could decentralize power grids and revolutionize the way we deliver electricity to people – making it cleaner and cheaper than it’s ever been.

I’ve long been skeptical of these fusion reactor claims.  It seems a practical fusion reactor is always just a few more years away.  But if it ever does happen – then, yes, it will dramatically change the nature of human existence.  For the better.  And in this case, it’s a business, not the government, that may have made the breakthrough.

Animal’s Daily Tech Advancements News

The AFL-CIO is demanding people not use self-serve checkouts.  Excerpt:

There is growing concern across the globe that automation will lead us to a dystopian future. With robots becoming ubiquitous in every aspect of our lives, the marketplace will be filled with cheap goods, but the consuming population can’t acquire them because they don’t have a job. It is a legitimate worry for millions of people, especially when you see the countless videos and news articles about a robot flipping burgers, automated arms packaging goods inside a factory, and grocery stores without cashiers.

One of the latest doom-and-gloom alarmists is the Wisconsin chapter of the AFL-CIO, which is griping about self-serve checkouts. Do unions ever do anything productive?

Last week, the labor union went to Facebook to demand its followers to “never self checkout.” The organization whined that it doesn’t want to assist corporations in firing employees just so they can boost their bottom lines.

It’s not convenient for me to help corporations fire workers so they raise their profits. I stand in line and when the lines back up, the store calls more cashiers to the front. If we keep doing it, they’ll need to hire more people. NEVER SELF CHECKOUT.

If life were only that simple.

Why hasn’t the group requested similar action for ATMs? If you avoid the bank machine and stand in line waiting for the bank teller, then the financial institution will simply hire more people. This logic, or lack thereof, can be applied to a myriad of other automated services that we enjoy today: ecommerce, digital cameras, search engines, and so much more.

But nobody is calling for an end to Google or Bing so the yellow book can be made great again. The AFL-CIO isn’t telling members to ditch mobile devices so telegrams can make a comeback.

Presumably the AFL-CIO would have protested automobiles putting horse tack manufacturers out of business.

Seriously, these union heads are exposing themselves as asshatted Luddites.  The march of technology has trended heavily towards making consumer goods of all sorts cheaper, better, and easier to obtain.  When I go to the supermarket for just a few things, as I frequently do (or, I should say, as I am required to do by my own dear Mrs. Animal) I go through the self-checkout.  Why?  It’s easier and faster.  There are “15-items or less” express lanes with a live checker, but those are invariably blocked by some moron with a month’s worth of groceries in the cart who are ignoring the sign.

If the express lane checkers who can’t be bothered to send those assholes to a regular lane are typical of the workers the AFL-CIO is hyperventilating about, then screw them; I have no sympathy for their their supposedly precarious employment situation.

Automation is the way of the future, True Believers.  Fast-food kiosks, ATMs, cellular phones and self-checkouts reduce costs (especially in the $15 minimum wage era) and make things we buy cheaper.  I’m for that.  Most folks are.  The AFL-CIO is way out of touch on this on.

Rule Five 2018 Inventions Friday

Every year seems to bring more new gadgets to make our lives easier and more convenient (hah!) and I’m sure 2018 will be no exception.  But while most folks will be thinking of new gadgets for commerce, for socializing, for… well, whatever, I have some ideas for new inventions that will make my life more fun – or at least, more tolerable.  Here they are:

  1. The Directed EMP Auto Sound Hush-O-Matic.  This will be a powerful directed EMP pulse generator intended for use when stopped at a traffic signal next to an obnoxious retard with a thumping, booming stereo.  Bear in mind that there is a natural law I discovered some years back, which has since been known as Animal’s First Law of Car Stereo Stupidity, which posits that the volume with which a driver blasts his car stereo is directly proportional to the crappiness of his preferred music.  The Hush-O-Matic is intended for just such a driver; the device will, when aimed and activated, immediately fry all of the electronics in said vehicle, rendering it into an inert hunk of scrap metal.
  2. Anti-Tag Electro-Paint.  “Urban Art” usually isn’t; some of it is barely acceptable as far as talent goes, but when it’s done (as it frequently is) on public or private property, it’s vandalism and a damned nuisance.  Some locales are deterring public urination by using paint designed to splash urine back at the urinator; the Electro-Paint will go one step beyond by sensing when any spray paint is applied to a surface and respond by sending a high-voltage charge back down the paint stream, stunning the vandal.  The charge is yet to be determined but should be sufficient to render said vandal into a gelid mass until law enforcement can arrive.
  3. Disabled Parking Abuser Auto-Flip.  My own dear Mrs. Animal is disabled, depending on a walker for full mobility.  Her parents are also disabled (blind) as is my mother (severe rheumatoid arthritis.)  So I’m something of a prick about abuse of handicapped parking spaces.  I’ve offered to turn a few smartass teenagers into grease stains over this issue, and was once delighted to see a van with a wheelchair lift scrape the hell out of the side of a car illegally parked in the cross-hatched space intended to provide room for such lifts.  The Auto-Flip will take the form of a hydraulic arm that may be extended from the underside of a vehicle, moved underneath the vehicle of a scofflaw, and used to flip the offender’s car over on its roof.
  4. Cellular Phone Blabber-Blocker.  Ever noticed how the advent of the cellular phone means that now we have to listen to everyone’s personal conversations in every public place?  Some time back the airlines were speculating about the possibility of providing cell phone service in-flight; I was horrified at the idea, since one of the few compensations in air travel is that at least I don’t have to listen to people blabbing all of their personal business.  The Blabber-Blocker will simply block all cellular phone signals within a certain radius, say, fifteen feet.
  5. The Left-Lane Vigilante Messenger.  Ever been stuck on a freeway behind some gomer tooling along at ten miles an hour under the speed limit in the left lane?  One that no amount of flashing headlights or gesturing will get to move right?  The Left-Lane Vigilante Messenger uses a powerful laser to etch the words “MOVE RIGHT, ASSHOLE” into the inside of the offending driver’s windshield.

Ideas are precious things.  It’s the duty of all intelligent people to use their intelligence to improve the lives of their fellow man; the inventions I have described above will surely do that.  Well, at least they’d improve my life.

So, what say you, True Believers?  Any suggestions?

Animal’s Hump Day News

Happy Hump Day!

Turns out we could have had cell phones years before we did.  Why didn’t we?

Bureaucracy.  Excerpt:

Before there were cellphones, there was the mobile telephone service, or MTS. Launched in 1946, this technology required unwieldy and expensive equipment—the transceiver could fill the trunk of a sedan—and its networks faced tight capacity constraints. In the beginning, the largest MTS markets had no more than 44 channels. As late as 1976, Bell System’s mobile network in New York could host just 545 subscribers. Even at sky-high prices, there were long waiting lists for subscriptions.

Cellular networks were an ingenious way to expand service dramatically. A given market would be split into cells with a base station in each. These stations, often located on towers to improve line-of-sight with mobile phone users, were able both to receive wireless signals and to transmit them. The base stations were themselves linked together, generally by wires, and connected to networks delivering plain old telephone service.

The advantages of this architecture were profound. Mobile radios could use less power, because they needed only to reach the nearest base station, not a mobile phone across town. Not only did this save battery life, but transmissions stayed local, leaving other cells quiet. A connection in one cell would be passed to an adjacent cell and then the next as the mobile user moved through space. The added capacity came from reusing frequencies, cell to cell. And cells could be “split,” yielding yet more capacity. In an MTS system, each conversation required a channel covering the entire market; only a few hundred conversations could happen at once. A cellular system could create thousands of small cells and support hundreds of thousands of simultaneous conversations.

When AT&T wanted to start developing cellular in 1947, the FCC rejected the idea, believing that spectrum could be best used by other services that were not “in the nature of convenience or luxury.” This view—that this would be a niche service for a tiny user base—persisted well into the 1980s. “Land mobile,” the generic category that covered cellular, was far down on the FCC’s list of priorities. In 1949, it was assigned just 4.7 percent of the spectrum in the relevant range. Broadcast TV was allotted 59.2 percent, and government uses got one-quarter.

I’m old enough to remember Ma Bell.  My sister, in fact, had a long career with Northwestern Bell and later AT&T, retiring as a regional VP of Sales.  When I first moved out of my folk’s house, mere days after I graduated high school, I left their creaking, moribund rural company, Ace Telephone, and moved to a nearby good-sized town (Cedar Falls, Iowa) and was hooked up with telephony by that self-same Northwestern Bell.

I had the choice of two leasing one of two hard-wired phones, a slimline wall-mount or the traditional big clunky desk phone.  I chose the latter, in traditional black (because, as we all know, black is cruise control for cool) and opted for the touch-tone dialing.  That last wasn’t available from Ace telephone, as they were still on a pulse system that required rotary dial phones.

Owning the phone wasn’t an option.  It was Ma Bell’s, and we paid a lease to use it.  Long-distance calls were prohibitively expensive for an 18-year old with a full-time job at the sporting-goods department in Woolco, at least if I wanted any beer money left over at the end of the week.

Priorities, you know.

This system was crony capitalism in action.  Ma Bell had a government-granted monopoly on telephony, or as near as made no difference.  But then, in the early 1980s, divestment happened!  Ma Bell was broken up, and in months a thousand flowers bloomed.  Suddenly you could buy your own phone, in a wild variety of styles and sizes, cordless and corded.

The onset of cellular phones, when that finally happened, put paid to the expensive long-distance fees; cellular companies immediately started competing for that market, first offering “free long-distance,” then doing away with the concept altogether.

You know what the market looks like now.  But it’s galling to think we could have let the free market, rather than Imperial bureaucrats, decide the whole thing forty years earlier.