Medieval Fibre Optics

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Fibre optics, yes, finally after a long wait, a Tuscan hilltop village will be using light to communicate with the rest of the world.

Actually it’s not really new, people here have been using light to communicate across long distances throughout history. The early systems were unsophisticated, required a high intensity light source and used simple pre established messaging protocols.

For instance to send the message 'Help, the invading army is about to land on our shores' would take several tons of well stacked wood and manual rather than electronic ignition.

Although energy consumption was high as opposed to modern technology the old system did have the advantage of free wireless connection to most households, no need for any special reception equipment and simultaneous multi-messaging (could send more than one message using the same light impulse). For instance on seeing the light signal:

  • The “cavalry” would decode 'The enemy has landed, please come as soon as possible..'
  • The town folk would decode the signal as: 'Best move to the house in the country for the next few weeks'
  • The maidens would decode the signal as: 'Next child may be blonde with blue eyes'
  • The invaders would decode the signal as:- 'I think they have seen us.' - Which just goes to prove that network security issues have been around for a very long time and soon led to the development of the first very tall 'Firewall' to protect sensitive data

Today’s modern light messaging system uses a glass pipe to channel light through, similar to the way that water is moved around through pipes. Basically a light is switched on at one side of the fibre which travels through the pipe (just like water) until it gets to the other side.

So using the previous example a fibre would be laid from the shore to the fortified castle and on seeing the invading hordes the sentinel would light a match and hold it towards the fibre although I presume telecom will be using lasers and light sensitive cells rather than matchsticks and someone looking into the other end.

So there you have it, today’s modern fibre optics communication system is very similar to the old bonfire communication system except that you need sophisticated equipment to decode the messages, have to register with telecom to see it and you can’t use it to roast your chestnuts.

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