Friday, December 4, 2009

Your lid is open!

Cheri Marti manages the group of civilian paraprofessional employees who staff the police service desk around the clock. I sought her help a couple of days ago in locating a teletype message sent from another police department to LPD back in October. She was able to quickly retrieve the message in the log file. Then it struck me: there’s no such thing as a teletype, and hasn’t been for a quarter century or so.

A teletype was an electromechanical device, the “teletypewriter” that fell roughly in between Morse Code and the Internet. It allowed an operator on one end to make key strokes (or feed in a punched tape), causing the characters to be typed on a printer located in another place by sending those electric pulses through a pair of copper wires—a telephone line. If there was a circuit-switched network, an operator in one location could send a message simultaneously to many distant terminals. For several decades, this is how critical information was transmitted among law enforcement agencies—and how the daily news ended up in your local paper from the Associated Press wire.

While the teletype was a machine, if you tore off one of the messages spewing out of the machine, you referred to that printed message as a teletype, too. Here we are, decades after the teletype machine has become obsolete, still referring to the printed output of telecommunications messages delivered by the International Justice and Public Safety Network as…teletypes.

We have other examples of this phenomenon at the police Department. Around the station and on the radio, you will still hear many officers referring to “dispatch cards” even though the record of a police dispatch hasn’t been a card for a couple decades. Lots of telephone terms persist that from a different age and technology. Why to people talk about dialing a phone, or hanging up, and why do you still call the hotel switchboard, when there is no dial, nothing to hang, and no switchboard?

Cheri brought up one of these that had me giggling, when she mentioned the little pantomime we all do when we want someone to roll down their car window. When’s the last time you actually cranked a window down?

One of the things about my blog that makes me smile is the thought that a hundred years from now, someone will discover this archive about policing in Lincoln at the turn of the century, just like we discovered these. I wonder: in the year 2109, will people still be making little circles with their left hand, when they are trying to get you to pop the canopy in order to let you know that you’ve left the lid open on the flux capacitor?


Anonymous said...

Get off your high horse, Chief.


Tom Casady said...


Okay, I'll grab the reins again, just as soom as I pull myself up by my bootstraps and get back in the saddle.

Anonymous said...


You have to wait for me to fall and bump my head before any flux capacitor to come in existence. It'll be anytime soon now!

Karin Dalziel said...

Surprisingly, they still make cars with manual windows (we have one). Much easier and cheaper to fix when they break.

This post reminds me of one of my favorite words: Skeuomorph. It's a design element that was necessary in an older version of something, but persists unnecessarily in the current incarnation. An example would be buttons on a webpage that look like physical buttons.

Anonymous said...

Keep that gear in good condition. It'll work after an EMP attack, unlike the PCs, laptops, cell phones, etc.

Anonymous said...

Teletype....Oh the wonders of an ASR 35, and what a mechanical horror story. If you think a PC
is difficult to maintain, look
at this noisy monster.

Imagine trying to run ch 50 or the dispatch point with this on all th time..

Tom Casady said...


Great word! I suppose that would describe the kilties and tassels on my loafers.

Tom Casady said...

...and the necktie, and the lapel, and the cuff, and those three buttons on the sleeve of my sports coat, all of which probably had a functional purpose at one time.

Anonymous said...

I'm using a teletype to post this message. Its a great machine. Chief, you should really consider taking some money aside from the budget to stock all offices with teletypewriters. Its the wave of the future.

ARRRRG!!!! said...

I still use some of the old stuff. Maybe I should do an upgrade.

Any suggestions of what else I could upgrade to? Anyone?

Tom Casady said...

12:22 -

I see nothing to be gained by that, and a good possiblility that the department would look as petty as the perpetrator. Take the high road.

Anonymous said...


Scheels has a special on phased plasma rifles in the 40 watt range.

JIM J said...

Is that June Cleaver in the photograph?

Anonymous said...


I would upgrade from this to this.

Steve said...

Jim J:

You mean Barbara Billingsley?

Anonymous said...


A9-120273 - previously convicted felon? Drug offender?

Tom Casady said...


A prolific offender, with lots of marijuana and paraphernalia arrests and convictions. He's had two felony drug arrests, the first resulted in "pre-trial diversion," the second a plea-bargain to a class I misdemeanor, hence, no felony convictions yet. He's gotten a ton of breaks. Hopefully these come to some kind of end pretty soon.

Anonymous said...

ARRRRG!!!! should get some of these for his ship.