New Year’s Day | January 1, 1978
On New Year’s Day, it wasn’t my intention to sit around and worry about what was going to happen in the future. I would play a small role in the upcoming Middle East Peace Initiative in three days time when U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance arrived in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, the threat to the world remained omnipresent. The U.S. and Soviet Union had enough nuclear bombs stockpiled to turn the moon into Cheez Whiz.
<feature photo John D. MacDonald’s The Fearful Yellow Eye by pinterest.com
Last night, still not a hundred percent after a bout with severe food poisoning, I sat at a cozy nook in the hotel bar and nursed a beer while I read part of John D MacDonald’s, One Fearful Yellow Eye. It’s about super sleuth Travis McGee’s attempts to help longtime friend Glory Doyle in her quest to uncover the truth about her late husband. Blackmailers had ostensively made half a million dollars of his fortune disappear. FYI: Travis McGee, the last of a dying breed, lived on a houseboat docked in a Florida marina (and unlike James Bond, wasn’t technology-minded).
As midnight struck a New Year, Travis McGee was up to his ears in trouble and during the frenzy of noisemaking ka-zoos and incessant screaming a Thai girl came up and planted a juicy kiss on yours truly (but that’s another story).
Next morning, here I am lying on a chaise lounge out by the Erawan Hotel pool. A few cinnamon skinned bikini clad girls take in the sun’s rays against a backdrop of chartreuse bougainvillea’s. A huge quiet prevails after last night’s celebrations. I wasn’t the only one wondering about what tomorrow will bring.
I am normally stationed at the American Consulate General in Karachi, Pakistan, but have been here in Bangkok since Christmas Eve. My flight to Saudi Arabia won’t depart until late this afternoon. My job as a U.S. State Department radio tech/Communications Officer will be to set up a temporary radio network in Riyadh for the S.Y. (State Department Security) agents. They are responsible for protecting Secretary of State Cyrus Vance during his visit.
In medieval times when a dignitary would travel he would send scouts out to scour the area for trouble before proceeding. Today, we call this an advance team. Fluttering carrier pigeons have been replaced by radio signals with telegraphic signals attached to their wings. Gloc semi-automatic weapons have supplanted muskets to protect the dignitary. The game hasn’t changed, only the playing board. What will the playing board look like in the future?
T.E.R.P. (Terminal Equipment Replacement Program)
I had briefly seen a demonstration of T.E.R.P. at Am Embassy Athens. The computerized system would eventually replace the HW-28 Teletype machines chattering away on the top floors of American missions worldwide. Almost all communications between the American embassies and consulates overseas to Washington D.C. (SEC STATE) were done through telegraphic messages called traffic.
T.E.R.P. had looked harmless: a long “L” shaped table with two video monitors and boxes of electronics on shelves.
Incredibly, all the telegraphic information would be stored on 5 ¼ inch discs. Fortunately, TERP does not have the computer eye (Hal’s eye from 2001: A Space Odyssey) option. Maybe they learned their lesson from the movie—HAL sees no evil, hears no evil.
The key letter in the acronym T.E.R.P was R for Replacement, for me an ominous word. It always meant that someone or something was no longer useful. A key term in progress, replacement was always presented in positive terms—“I’m going to get my old cabinets replaced,”—“Jim replaced his ’68 Chevy Biscayne with a brand new Camaro LT.”—“The L.A. Dodgers are replacing their manager with an ex-Dodger pitcher.”
Was I due for replacement when the computer took over?
No, of course not. The State Department did not “replace” personnel, they “reassigned” them. I would be reassigned to the “Computer Support Group” (keyword: SUPPORT) or CSG (or some such acronym).
I had read and heard that in the not too distant future the handheld two-way radio systems that I have supported at American embassies worldwide would be replaced by what they called cellular radio systems.
Cellular Radio | An Ominous Future?
One of the crypto techs told me that the cellular system architecture worked on the same principle as communist “cells.” Areas were broken up into cell nuclei (radio base stations) and information was passed to members (handheld phones) surreptitiously. The tech’s expression had transformed into a hideous grin when he said, “A powerful ruling body (a mainframe computer) would control everyone and everything,”
I had to laugh but couldn’t help but wonder if these cellular radio system could take over the lives of people like communism in the Soviet blocs?
Popular Mechanics articles stated that cellular “phones” would get smaller and smaller. One writer even went so far as to say people would wear cellular phones around their wrists like Dick Tracy’s two-way wrist radio.
I chuckled after I had read the Dick Tracy comment, too.