Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Light Talk

In my childhood days I recall the anxious voice of my mother announcing to the family that a “long distance” call from an out-of-state relative had arrived. The ensuing conversation was often tense and terse, with no time for light banter. The three-minute talking time limit approached quickly; the basics of the call’s purpose had to be handled quickly, because money for this calling luxury was in short supply.

Even after factoring in cost of living increases in past decades, long-distance calling rates were many multiples of today’s rates because the copper cable medium carrying our call was expensive and limited in its capacity. In the 1930s or 1940s there was no phoning luxury as inexpensive as today’s “unlimited long distance calling.”

School children and young adults may have difficulty achieving a sense of wonder at the applications of modern technology. Recent posts on the electromagnetic spectrum--how it works and how its energy is transmitted--may be far less interesting than contemporary society’s focus on consumerism. Instead of curiosity about how things work, today’s consumers are more focused on how new products work for them, focusing on the marketing claims of the blizzard of new products and how to acquire them.

We must be careful not to be diverted from the worship-enhancing potential of becoming well-informed about the physical laws which govern the activities of our everyday life and in turn, the Creator who authored those laws. In previous posts we have mentioned the empowerment experienced by scientists since the onset of the scientific revolution. Rather than giving glory to the Creator, many began to bask in their own discovery achievements rather than giving glory to the lawgiver.

One such discovery achievement is the fiber optics technology perfected in the past three decades. It is likely that your phone conversations, cable television, and internet are transmitted mostly by ordinary light traveling through a tiny glass fiber core surrounded by cladding and protected by a buffer coating. Laser light in the infrared EMS light band is sent through the fiber. Traveling at 300,000 km/sec (7 ½ times around the world in one second), the light signal experiences what is termed “total internal reflection,” bouncing off the cladding of the cable many times on its way but remaining within it.

Laser light pulses within the hair-diameter fiber carry digital information--billions of bits per second. Receiving station technology converts the bits to intelligible sound, an image, or other information. The next time you speak on the phone, be aware that as many as 50,000 other conversations may be transmitted by your cable simultaneously. These conversations are literally “light talk.” Samuel F. B. Morse’s first telegraph message, sent between Washington, D. C. and Baltimore in 1844, read, “What Hath God Wrought?” This question now has a vastly expanded significance.