Let’s not kid ourselves, these are interesting, if not serious, times.

And let’s not kid ourselves further, in that if you are a member of the over-60 set and/or have the various things which can lead to your having a compromised immune system, you’re going to be spending some time at home – waiting for the all clear signal.

So sure, this could be a column about these interesting times, a reflection of what I see when looking out the window – metaphorically or otherwise. But what the heck, how about a story? Give you something interesting to read and maybe take your mind off what’s going on for a few minutes?

We email stories back and forth, we newspaper types. We have computers and big fancy systems to get stories onto pages and into printing presses, but time and again when we’re working with another reporter or editor we just email the thing.

And there’s a trick, when you email a story, so the recipient knows they’re at the end of it. You put a -30- at the end. Just that.

It dates back to the old days when stories were sent via a wire service to other papers. The recipient would want to make sure they’d gotten the entire story, that the transmission wasn’t interrupted, so the wire copy would end with a -30-.

It comes from an ancient (as it were) time when telegraph operators would use what was called a “92 code,” a single or double-digit code to express a common phrase. A “55,” for example, meant “Important,” and “18” meant “What’s the trouble?” that sort of thing.

The “88” at the end of the message stood for (so help me) “Love and kisses” and was the way of closing a message, showing its end. An “8” is coded with three dashes and two dots by the telegraph operator, so doing an 8 twice meant the message was closed. (The “30?” A “3” is three dots and two dashes, and a “0” was five dashes, both the sort of thing an experienced operator could hash out without really thinking about it.)

Telegraph really came into its own as a technology with the first transatlantic telegraph cable. It ran from Ireland to Newfoundland and carried its first message in 1858, a telegram from Queen Victoria to

President James Buchanan. With that, communications which once took 10 days, to, with refinement (keep reading) minutes. (Breathtakingly slow today, blinding fast in its time.)

The telegraph output in the form of a ticker-tape, a near real-time form of messaging – the tape would print out as its message was in the process of being entered – which had a profound effect as the future unfolded in allowing financial transactions between continents.

Engineering problems led to a new cable having to be laid, a much more reliable one, in 1866. (The struggles of laying transatlantic cables are a read unto themselves.)

The 1866 cable was laid by the ship The Great Eastern, specially outfitted for the task. She was originally built as an ocean liner, a great ocean liner, in 1858 (yes, same year as the initial cable). At its launch it was, with a 4,000 passenger capacity, the largest ocean liner ever built.

The Great Eastern was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806-1859), a brilliant man whose innovations in engineering made him a vastly important figure in the Industrial Revolution, as men worked to harness and channel the power of machines. He, among other things, designed railways, using surveys to ease the process of crossing grades and rounding curves, as well as designing tunnels.

One tunnel by his design and innovations, crossing under the Thames River in London, is still in use today. It took years to build and to overcome the problems of building such a thing.

Brunel, the son of an engineer who was diligent in assuring his son received a good education, is most certainly one of the great engineers in history. (And we haven’t even gotten into his work on bridges. And the portable hospital in the Crimean war, built to meet the request of Florence Nightingale? Yeah, we’re just scratching the surface.)

These are interesting stories. Maybe not edge-of-your-seat or anything, but things mentioned here a computer with internet access and you’ll have plenty to read by looking up some of these facts, something to do besides starting at the television.

Stay safe; wash your hands.

-30-

Kienlen is the Editor of the Van Buren County Democrat and The

Sun-Times

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