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What Lies Beneath: The First Transatlantic Communications Cables ( 49

szczys writes: Our global information networks are connected by many many fibre optic cables sitting on the the ocean floor. The precursor to this technology goes all the way back to 1858 when the first telegraph cable connecting North America and Europe was laid. The story of efforts to lay transatlantic cables is fascinating. First attempts were met with many failures including broken cable in the first few miles of installation, and even frying the first successful connection with 2000 volts within a month of completion. But the technology improved quickly and just a century later we laid the first voice cables that used — get this — vacuum tubes in the signal repeaters. This seems a good time to link to one of my favorite-ever pieces in Wired, about a more modern but similarly impressive cable install, as told by Neal Stephenson.
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What Lies Beneath: The First Transatlantic Communications Cables

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  • ah yes (Score:5, Interesting)

    by hackertourist ( 2202674 ) on Saturday March 19, 2016 @05:12AM (#51730067)

    The Wired article is a favorite of mine, too. Well worth the read.

    Thanks to that article, I learned about the Telegraph Museum [] in Porthcurno, at the western tip of Cornwall (UK). It's the location where many undersea telegraph cables landed. The museum includes the tunnels that were dug in WW2 to provide a secure shelter for the operators and equipment. It's a fascinating place. I especially liked the working telegraph links they use for demos.

    • You can still see one of the early undersea cables with nothing more than snorkeling gear.

      Go to Hanauma Bay in Hawaii. A few dozen feet from the sandy beach, there exists a man-made channel that was cut through the coral in 1956. The ends of those cables are still there, about 10-15 feet underwater.

  • by Monoman ( 8745 ) on Saturday March 19, 2016 @05:48AM (#51730149) Homepage

    Hereâ(TM)s The Thing With Ad Blockers

    We get it: Ads arenâ(TM)t what youâ(TM)re here for. But ads help us keep the lights on.
    So, add us to your ad blockerâ(TM)s whitelist or pay $1 per week for an ad-free version of WIRED. Either way, you are supporting our journalism. Weâ(TM)d really appreciate it.

    Here's the thing with Ads.

    I get it. You know I'm not on your site for the ads (or security and privacy risks). But ads keep your lights on. So, I'll ad you to my ad blocker's whitelist or pay $1 per week if Wired accepts all risk associated with the ads on their site as well as stops tracking my browsing. That way, I know you support our privacy and security as much as I support your journalism. I'd really appreciate it.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      When linking to Wired or any other site requiring a whitelisting in ad blocker PLEASE put a note to the story. We already use this: (behind a paywall), so there is no excuse not to use (reacts to adblockers) or something similar. Otherwise it looks like you are intentionally supporting the advertisers.

      The case of Wired was in Slashdot quite recently so this should not come as a surprise to the submitter of the story.

    • by swm ( 171547 )

      I don't use adblockers, and I get that message.
      I don't know what they are keying on.
      FlashBlock, maybe?

      • by PPH ( 736903 )

        FlashBlock, maybe?

        Perhaps. I don't even have Flash installed*. That may be why I get popped.

        *Most porn sites have gone to HTML5 by now. So I can't find a reason for having Flash anymore.

    • It hides everything with a div called "veil" and it adds "hr-pinned" to all the items on the page, preventing you from removing the "veil" in the way and then being able to use the page. Just forbid in NoScript and it'll solve that problem easily.
    • The other thing about the quoted policy is that "$1 per week" seems not only arbitrary but quite excessive for many users. I probably read a Wired article once per month at most (well, at least until their recent policy went into effect). They certainly aren't making $4 in ad revenue off of me from the one article I view each month.

      In fact, except for very heavy users of Wired, I can't imagine that they're making anywhere close to $1/week in ad revenue. Perhaps if they're also tracking you and selling

    • "if Wired accepts all risk associated with the ads on their site as well as stops tracking my browsing."

      Considering that ad blocker blockers have been used to distribute malware, I am not hopeful on this point.

    • by Geeky ( 90998 )

      I went there without the adblocker and couldn't read the article because of the animated ad next to it that didn't stop. I can't concentrate on reading when there's something flashing in the corner of my eye like a migraine. So as well as the other risks, they're choosing to use ads that render their content unreadable.

  • by ickleberry ( 864871 ) <> on Saturday March 19, 2016 @06:14AM (#51730223) Homepage
    A lot of these early cables landed in Valentia Island [], Co. Kerry but at some point they stopped being bothered about having the cable cover the shortest possible distance and the people living on that Island are most likely stuck on DSL for now
  • by Anonymous Coward

    You guys — get this — you won't believe it — get this — at a time when they — get this — used vacuum tubes — get this — they used them when — get this — they installed something.

    Did you get it?! They used — get this — contemporaneous technology!

  • But how? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Calydor ( 739835 ) on Saturday March 19, 2016 @07:05AM (#51730377)

    The article seems a bit of a fluff piece to me. Personally I am more curious how they did it.

    When I try to imagine the process of putting a cable between Europe and America, I picture one of those gigantic container ships with an absolutely massive spool mounted on it. Ridiculous, I know, but how far off the mark am I in that mental picture? Sadly the article doesn't say anything about how the cables were laid, just that the first ones took four years to complete.

    • I figure they use multiple smaller spools. The cable has repeaters in it anyway, so that's a good splice point.
      • by Strider- ( 39683 )

        It wasn't until the trans atlantic telephone cables that they had to put amplifiers at the bottom of the sea. The first telegraph cables were nothing more than a long insulated wire, spliced together. The first cables were laid by the SS Great Eastern, which was one of the largest ships of her era, and she could carry enough cable, coiled in her holds, to complete the entire run between the UK and Newfoundland.

    • Re:But how? (Score:4, Informative)

      by hackertourist ( 2202674 ) on Saturday March 19, 2016 @07:56AM (#51730477)

      Not so far off the mark. The ship used for one of the first cables was the SS Great Eastern, the biggest ship in the world at that time. This was the only ship big enough to carry the whole cable in one piece.

      Earlier cables had been laid in sections and spliced together, but the splices were found to be a weak point. They also complicated the laying operation, so for a long time, cables were laid in one piece. These days, splicing has become feasible again, and is done routinely e.g. to repair cables.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        There can be no mention of the "Great Eastern" without mentioning Isambard Kingdom Brunel. I mean that literally: Say it out loud- "Isambard Kingdom Brunel".
        They don't make great Engineers with names like that these days. (A good runner up was James Clerk Maxwell.)

    • by Melkman ( 82959 )

      As slashping says the cable is manufactured in segments. However your mental image is not that far off as the segments are pretty long and need specialized ships for laying them. See for example [].

    • The Wired piece has good information on how cables are laid these days (and on every other aspect of the business).

    • by Strider- ( 39683 )

      The first cables were run between the UK and Newfoundland, which is about the shortest distance possible across the Atlantic. The process of storing it on the ship is actually not a whole lot different than it is today; in the ship's hold they constructed giant drums and coiled the cable up in it. As the ship moved along through the Atlantic, it was played out the back. The cable itself is actually not all that thick, so you can store an incredible amount in a ship's hold. Also, it's not spooled up in the t

  • by Rob Lister ( 4174831 ) on Saturday March 19, 2016 @07:57AM (#51730479)
    Here's a Google Map of world's undersea cables. []

    I'm not certain of the accuracy but it looks cool.
    • Edit to add: you can really see the politics in that map.
      • by DarkOx ( 621550 )


        It looks to me like it mostly makes sense in terms of geography and population densities. The noteworthy exception being there is so little between Russia and Alaska.

  • Is it just me, or is white on a dark background a terrible way to render text for any length of time spent actually reading? I'm genuinely interested to know whether other Slashdotters experience "lines" burned into their vision from reading Wired and other sites like it. When I look away from the screen I can still tell that I've been reading something with horrible contrast options. It's 2016, is it really necessary to do the whole "you're a 1337 hax0r because you used d@rk backgr0undz" thing?
    • Turn down your brightness, perhaps?
    • /* old fart alert */

      if you're old enough, you'll remember that's how things were displayed back in the day. upper case white characters on a black background, or light blue on black (adm-3a, people?), or bright green on a dark green-ish background (lanparscopes, some hazeltine terms), etc. and that didn't bother us at all.

      but now, like you, i can't read such colour schemes and do experience the "burned in my vision" feeling too. maybe it's to be expected when you are older?

      i wouldn't say it's to give off

  • by OzPeter ( 195038 ) on Saturday March 19, 2016 @10:37AM (#51731101)

    Once you have cables, you get an online community - as described in The Victorian Internet []

    The Victorian Internet: The Remarkable Story of the Telegraph and the Nineteenth Century's On-Line Pioneers is a 1998 book by Tom Standage. The book was first published in September 1998 through Walker & Company and discusses the development and uses of the electric telegraph during the second half of the 19th century and some of the similarities the telegraph shared with the Internet of the late 20th century.

    The central idea of the book posits that of these two technologies, it was the telegraph that was the more significant, since the ability to communicate globally at all in real-time was a qualitative shift, while the change brought on by the modern Internet was merely a quantitative shift according to Standage.

    • The telegraph really does stand out as one of the great inventions of human history, up there with agriculture, writing, gunpowder and the printing press. Near instantaneous communication revolutionized just about everything. What many of us have been doing for the last century and a half afterwards is simply building on the first telecommunications networks.

    • I've read that book several times. Well worth the read - talks about the development of the Morse electric telegraph from the earlier mechanical and needle designs, the extensive pneumatic tube links between post offices, and the first undersea cables and some of the technical rivalries that developed. It even talks about multiplexing and ciphers and stock tickers and so on.

      One of my favorite stories is how comparatively late Morse&c were to the party. There were working electric telegraphs but they wer

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Stopped reading at "Trans".

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