13.7: Cosmos And Culture
9:28 am
Sun June 3, 2012

New Wireless Technology Hacked! (June 4, 1903)

Originally published on Mon June 4, 2012 10:19 am

One hundred and nine years ago — June 4, 1903 — the famous Italian communications pioneer Marconi waited on a cliff in Cornwall, England, ready to send a Morse code message to a colleague named Fleming in London. Fleming wasn't waiting alone for the historic transmission: he had set up a new wireless communicator in front of an eager audience at London's Royal Institution.

Marconi had boasted that with this new wireless technology, Morse code could be sent privately over long distances.

Before Marconi could begin his code-sending demonstration, however, the machine in London sprang to life. It repeated a single word: "Rats."

Next, as writer Paul Marks explained in the pages of New Scientist:

"The incoming Morse then got more personal, mocking Marconi: 'There was a young fellow of Italy, who diddled the public quite prettily,' it trilled. Further rude epithets - apposite lines from Shakespeare - followed."

Marconi and colleagues had been hacked!

Marks' article, explaining who did the hacking and why it amounted to a good thing for science, makes a fun Sunday read.


You can keep up with more of what Barbara is thinking on Twitter: @bjkingape

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