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Vintage Skynet: AT&T’s Abandoned “Long Lines” Microwave Tower Network [ARTICLE]

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Between early wired networks and today’s fiber optics sat a system of microwave relay towers transmitting information from coast to coast across the United States. Built in the early 1950s, this line-of-sight network spanned the continent using zig-zag patterns to avoid signal overlap. It conveyed phone conversations and television signals from the era of the Kennedy assassination through the resignation of Nixon.

1960s map of AT&T nationwide microwave tower relay network (click to enlarge)

The towers were generally spaced 30 to 40 miles apart and can be hunted using old official charts or this unofficial Google Map. It was the largest network of its kind when it opened, and unique in relying on microwaves rather than transmission wires.

A few years back, photographer Spencer Harding got interested in the history of these towers and raised funds to shoot and publish a book about them. The Long Lines collects dozens of Californian towers from six weeks on the road spent documenting them (excerpts above).

Qwest Building in Minneapolis, Minnesota topped with microwave tower array

Today, many of the towers are in disrepair or have been taken down entirely, but some are built into the very design of urban architecture. Others can be easy to miss among HVAC outcroppings, cell towers and other antennas but are possible to spot if you know what you’re looking for. In the countryside, old towers are often found adjacent to concrete bunkers (some are even occasionally for sale). At times, you can even catch a glimpse them in late night show backgrounds.

The microwave relay system was part of the AT&T Long Lines network, which included wire and cable connections. 99pi fan and Long Lines aficionado Corey Carlson explains that “the Long Lines network relayed analog data from one horn to another, with polarization of radio waves to expand the signal capacity.” Their “SUV-sized ‘horn’ antennas” were designed to focus radio signals out horizontally toward other towers and be durable, “resistant to the pressure wave from a nuclear blast.”

Microwave relay towers in beautiful downtown Oakland, California, image by Kurt Kohlstedt

Obsolete in today’s world of fiber optics, satellites and wireless internet, many of the towers have been taken down or swapped out for cellular use. Some, however, serve as emergency backups in rural areas. And others, it would seem, are so built into the aesthetic of their associated buildings that owners have seen no reason to remove them.

For those looking to learn more about this technology, there’s a wealth of information on these systems — including images, maps, diagrams, magazine and newspaper clippings — to be found on Long-Lines.net.

Microwave relay towers around 16th and Franklin as seen from Frank Ogawa Plaza, image by Kurt Kohlstedt
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StunGod
2 hours ago
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Some of my earliest networking relied on point-to-point microwave radio. It's a great example of a technology that was hacked and tweaked to adapt to changing demands. And there are regional providers in places like eastern Oregon still reaching remote communities with microwaves.
Portland, Oregon, USA, Earth

Everyone’s horoscope is the same today

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Everyone’s horoscope is the same today

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StunGod
10 days ago
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It's so eerily accurate!
Portland, Oregon, USA, Earth

Nostril Hair Extensions Is The Latest Beauty Trend

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So, let me introduce the most bizarre “beauty” trend of the year – nose hair extensions. Yep, you read that right!

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StunGod
11 days ago
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This is hilarious and stupid. But I can't wait to see the girls in the mall sporting the nostril bush.
Portland, Oregon, USA, Earth

Neil Gaiman

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My friend told me a story he hadn’t told anyone for years. When he used to tell it years ago people would laugh and say, ‘Who’d believe that? How can that be true? That’s daft.’ So he didn’t tell it again for ages. But for some reason, last night, he knew it would be just the kind of story I would love.
When he was a kid, he said, they didn’t use the word autism, they just said ‘shy’, or ‘isn’t very good at being around strangers or lots of people.’ But that’s what he was, and is, and he doesn’t mind telling anyone. It’s just a matter of fact with him, and sometimes it makes him sound a little and act different, but that’s okay.
Anyway, when he was a kid it was the middle of the 1980s and they were still saying ‘shy’ or ‘withdrawn’ rather than ‘autistic’. He went to London with his mother to see a special screening of a new film he really loved. He must have won a competition or something, I think. Some of the details he can’t quite remember, but he thinks it must have been London they went to, and the film…! Well, the film is one of my all-time favourites, too. It’s a dark, mysterious fantasy movie. Every single frame is crammed with puppets and goblins. There are silly songs and a goblin king who wears clingy silver tights and who kidnaps a baby and this is what kickstarts the whole adventure.
It was ‘Labyrinth’, of course, and the star was David Bowie, and he was there to meet the children who had come to see this special screening.
‘I met David Bowie once,’ was the thing that my friend said, that caught my attention.
‘You did? When was this?’ I was amazed, and surprised, too, at the casual way he brought this revelation out. Almost anyone else I know would have told the tale a million times already.
He seemed surprised I would want to know, and he told me the whole thing, all out of order, and I eked the details out of him.
He told the story as if it was he’d been on an adventure back then, and he wasn’t quite allowed to tell the story. Like there was a pact, or a magic spell surrounding it. As if something profound and peculiar would occur if he broke the confidence.
It was thirty years ago and all us kids who’d loved Labyrinth then, and who still love it now, are all middle-aged. Saddest of all, the Goblin King is dead. Does the magic still exist?
I asked him what happened on his adventure.
‘I was withdrawn, more withdrawn than the other kids. We all got a signed poster. Because I was so shy, they put me in a separate room, to one side, and so I got to meet him alone. He’d heard I was shy and it was his idea. He spent thirty minutes with me.
‘He gave me this mask. This one. Look.
‘He said: ‘This is an invisible mask, you see?
‘He took it off his own face and looked around like he was scared and uncomfortable all of a sudden. He passed me his invisible mask. ‘Put it on,’ he told me. ‘It’s magic.’
‘And so I did.
‘Then he told me, ‘I always feel afraid, just the same as you. But I wear this mask every single day. And it doesn’t take the fear away, but it makes it feel a bit better. I feel brave enough then to face the whole world and all the people. And now you will, too.
‘I sat there in his magic mask, looking through the eyes at David Bowie and it was true, I did feel better.
‘Then I watched as he made another magic mask. He spun it out of thin air, out of nothing at all. He finished it and smiled and then he put it on. And he looked so relieved and pleased. He smiled at me.
‘'Now we’ve both got invisible masks. We can both see through them perfectly well and no one would know we’re even wearing them,’ he said.
‘So, I felt incredibly comfortable. It was the first time I felt safe in my whole life.
‘It was magic. He was a wizard. He was a goblin king, grinning at me.
‘I still keep the mask, of course. This is it, now. Look.’
I kept asking my friend questions, amazed by his story. I loved it and wanted all the details. How many other kids? Did they have puppets from the film there, as well? What was David Bowie wearing? I imagined him in his lilac suit from Live Aid. Or maybe he was dressed as the Goblin King in lacy ruffles and cobwebs and glitter.
What was the last thing he said to you, when you had to say goodbye?
‘David Bowie said, ‘I’m always afraid as well. But this is how you can feel brave in the world.’ And then it was over. I’ve never forgotten it. And years later I cried when I heard he had passed.’
My friend was surprised I was delighted by this tale.
‘The normal reaction is: that’s just a stupid story. Fancy believing in an invisible mask.’
But I do. I really believe in it.
And it’s the best story I’ve heard all year.
— Paul Magrs (via yourfluffiestnightmare)

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satadru
9 days ago
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New York, NY
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jhamill
9 days ago
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David Bowie was amazing. I wish I knew more about him when I was younger.
California
StunGod
11 days ago
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The truly amazing people are always truly amazing. What a lovely story.
Portland, Oregon, USA, Earth

"If the Mandalay Bay hotel had caught fire and 58 people died and 500+ people were injured trying to..."

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“If the Mandalay Bay hotel had caught fire and 58 people died and 500+ people were injured trying to escape, America would be having a discussion about how to make hotels safer.
If 58 people at the concert had died and 500+ people went to the hospital due to food poisoning, America would be having a conversation about how to make food safer.
If a gas tanker accident on I-15, the freeway that runs through Las Vegas, had killed 58 people and injured 500+, there would be demands to make our roads safer.
in Philadelphia in 1976, there was the first recognized outbreak of Legionnaire’s Disease. 34 people died, 221 were infected, and the nation lost its mind trying to figure out what was wrong.
It is not “political” to demand that lawmakers take steps to reduce deaths from gun violence any more than it is “political” to demand better fire codes, stricter food inspections, and safer roads.”

- Anyone with a shred of common sense
(via poetfire)
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StunGod
12 days ago
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Exactly. But Murica. 2nd amendment. Flag.
Portland, Oregon, USA, Earth

London's amazing underground infrastructure revealed in vintage cutaway maps

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Londonist's roundup of cutaway maps -- many from the outstanding Transport Museum in Covent Garden -- combines the nerdy excitement of hidden tunnels with the aesthetic pleasure of isomorophic cutaway art, along with some interesting commentary on both the development of subterranean tunnels and works and the history of representing the built environment underground in two-dimension artwork. (more…)

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