Thursday, August 23, 2007

In Which I Invent Instant Messaging

I had a summer job in the late 70's at the US Embassy in Madrid. No, not the one where I was the Ambassador's watering system, this one was the next summer. I'd gotten some seniority among the DiploBrat Community, and they promoted me to the Consulate, where my job was to type the names of visa applicants into the AVLOS (Advanced Visa Lookout System) machine.

It sounds very grand, but it was damned tedious. The machine was a teletype, a direct line to the database at the State Dept. in Washington where they kept the Big List of Undesirables to whom not to issue visas. In those halcyon pre-9-11 days, the list consisted mostly of old Nazis, Carlos the Jackal, and some other proto-terrorists -- although I was fond of typing John Lennon's name into it. He'd already been given his green card years before, so he had no business being on the Lookout List, but there he was. They probably kept him in there for nostalgia reasons. Nostalgia for COINTELPRO. You know.

The consulate closed in the early afternoon, and after that there wasn't much to do. I began to dick around with this machine, and discovered that it didn't communicate only with Washington. With a little jiggery-pokery, it could be made to send messages to any consulate on the network.

With one of these old teletypes, as you typed, a tape would come spitting out of a punch-machine. You'd then feed that tape to a reader, which would convert the punched holes into the text of your message. Unbelievably cumbersome it was, and loud too: chunketa-chunketa-chunketa. You still hear that noise sometimes in newscasts -- it was the sound of modern communication!

I picked Tel Aviv for some reason. Maybe it was at the top of the list or something. Typed up a tape: "Hello. How are you? I'm the AVLOS Operator in Madrid. Who are you?" Fed it to the hopper. Giggled a bit.

Five minutes later: chunketa-chunketa-chunketa... "I'm Beth. I'm a student on my summer-job. I work the AVLOS machine in Tel Aviv..."

Well, hel-lo, Beth!

OK, so...what do you say back? Well, what the hell else am I gonna say?


"What are you wearing?"

Didn't hear back.


blue girl said...

She was probably wearin' those strappy sandals you love so much, but you'll never know, will ya?

Jeddie, Jeddie, Jeddie. You take the cake.

XTCfan said...

Beth? That ball buster? You shoulda known better, Ned.

Neddie said...

Yes, X, I'm half expecting Beth to pop in here and say, "That sexual-harassing son-of-a-bitch was you??? Fuck you, you ruined my summer!"

That Ball-Buster commercial has got to be fake. I showed it to Wonder Woman, who would know, if anyone does, what was and what wasn't on TV in 1975, and she said, "Fake!"

mg said...

Have you shared that you invented instant messaging with any of your co-workers and/or bosses? The current group might actually believe you if you told them that.

Neddie said...

Amusing thought, mg. Might be some money in it...

Linkmeister said...

I'll see your teletype memories and call.

With a link to examples at the bottom, no less.