The Thing About Today – August 30

August 30, 2020
Day 243 of 366

 

August 30th is the 243rd day of the year. It is Independence Day in Tartarstan, Russia. The Republic of Tartarstan is a federal subject of the Russian Federation, and its independence is not officially recognized.

 

In the United States, today is “celebrated” as National Toasted Marshmallow Day, National Grief Awareness Day, and National Beach Day.

 

Historical items of note:

  • In 1797, English novelist and playwright Mary Shelley was born. She wrote the Gothic novel Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus in 1818, which is cited as the first science fiction novel.
  • In 1835, Melbourne, Victoria was founded in Australia.
  • In 1871, New Zealand-English physicist and chemist Ernest Rutherford was born. The father of nuclear physics, his discovery of radioactive half-lives, the discovery of the element radon, and the distinction of alpha and beta particles were the basis for his Nobel Prize in 1908.
  • In 1908, actor Fred MacMurray was born.
  • In 1916, Ernest Shackleton completed the rescue of all of his men stranded on Elephant Island in Antarctica.
  • In 1931, astronaut Jack Swigert was born.
  • In 1936, the RMS Queen Mary won the Blue Riband by setting the fastest transatlantic crossing.
  • In 1956, actor, producer, and screenwriter Frank Conniff was born. “Push the button, Frank.”
  • In 1963, actor, director, and producer Michael Chiklis was born.
  • In 1967, Thurgood Marshall was confirmed as the first African American Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.
  • In 1972, model, actress, and producer Cameron Diaz was born.
  • In 1984, the Space Shuttle Discovery launched on Mission STS-41-D, which was its maiden voyage.
  • In 1992, actress Jessica Henwick was born.

 

In 1963, the Moscow-Washington hotline between the leaders of the United States and the Soviet Union went into operation.

Although in popular culture it is known as the “red telephone”, the hotline was never a telephone line, and no red phones were used. The first implementation used Teletype equipment, using two full-time duplex telegraph circuits. The primary circuit was routed from Washington, D.C. via London, Copenhagen, Stockholm, and Helsinki to Moscow. TAT-1, the first submarine transatlantic telephone cable carried messages from Washington to London. A secondary radio line for back-up and service messages linked Washington and Moscow via Tangier.

Allegedly, the first message transmitted over the hotline was from Washington to Moscow, consisting of “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog’s back 1234567890”. This included all the Latin alphabet, as well as all Arabic numerals and the apostrophe, to test that the keyboard and printer were working correctly.

In September 1971, Moscow and Washington decided to upgrade the system and came to an agreement (for the first time) when the line should be used. They agreed to notify each other immediately in the event of an accidental, unauthorized, or unexplained incident involving a nuclear weapon that could increase the risk of nuclear war. Two new satellite communication lines supplemented the terrestrial circuits using two U.S. Intelsat satellites, and two Soviet Molniya II satellites. This arrangement lasted until 1978 and subsequently made the radio link via Tangier redundant.

In May 1983, President Ronald Reagan proposed to upgrade the hotline by the addition of high-speed facsimile capability. The Soviet Union and the United States agreed formally to do this on July 17, 1984, and upgrades were to take place through the use of Intelsat satellites and modems, fax machines, and computers. The facsimile terminals were operational by 1986, followed by the teletype circuits two years later after the fax links were deemed reliable. The Soviets transferred the hotline link to the newer, geostationary Gorizont-class satellites of the Stationar system.

Since 2008, the Moscow-Washington hotline has been a secure computer link over which messages are exchanged by a secure form of e-mail. It continues to use the two satellite links but a fiber optic cable replaced the old back-up cable. Commercial software is used for both chat and email. The chat side coordinates operations while e-mail handles the actual messages. Transmission is nearly instantaneous, given the speed of light and the importance of the communications system.

The primary link was accidentally cut several times, but regular testing of both the primary and backup links took place daily. During the even hours, the United States sent test messages to the Soviet Union. In the odd hours, the Soviet Union sent test messages back.

 

The Thing About Today is an effort to look at each day of 2020 with respect to its historical context.

For more creativity with a critical eye, visit Creative Criticality.

 

 

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