When I was about 13 years old, I inherited an old, 1970s-era stereo set from my uncle. It had an old cathode amplifier, a dual cassette deck, and a radio, each of it’s modules done with a brushed stainless steel finish. I spent a (very rainy) summer school holiday riding the radio waves, and expanding my tastes in music.
At the very low end of the spectrum, there was a weird signal that I never quite identified: A series of modulated tones, very loud, some longer, some very quick. It sounded a bit like morse code, or like the station identifiers that the local public transit busses used to talk to each other over CB radio. But not quite. When I became older and interested in cryptography, I figured that that weird signal might be a variant of a number station.
My radio years ended with the advent of internet music streaming. And eventually, I was unable to find the signal… I almost forgot about it until I stumbled upon “The museum of endangered industrial sounds” - http://savethesounds.info/ … which gave no explanation, only a name: [[Eurosignal][https://eurosignal.org]]. Wikipedia then explained the rest:
Eurosignal was an early pager system that operated between 1974 and 1997.
And when Wikipedia says “early”, they really mean “primitive”, even by 1994 standards: Not only did the sender need to know the rough geographical area the receiver was located in, and dial the corresponding number, the receiver did not receive a number to call back (or a number code with an agreed-upon meaning), which was state of the art, it only lightened one of four LEDs. What happened when the receiver “missed” a pager call, because electricity was low or because you drive through a tunnel (radio signals were not as omnipresent back in the day) was as good as anyone’s guess. Other available pager services like CityRuf or Scall were lightyears ahead of that. So even back then, Eurosignal was a dying standard…
Now, I am sure radio operators back then knew exactly what the signal was, and there was no real mystery to them. But it was the early 1990s, the internet was still a toy for American universities to play with, and even knowing the right people to ask that kind of question was something not easily attainable by a teenage tech nerd. Today … finding out stuff like that would be easy.
Still, with ease of information retrieval comes a loss of fascination and mystery. Why bother checking what’s around the corner, why risk exploration, when there’s no need to grow, as all the individual pieces of the puzzle are handed to you? But will you then understand how these puzzle pieces fit together – or will you just have a bag of fragments, easily discarded and forgotten, never understood?
Maybe learning needs a bit of mystery.