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The Confessions of a Destruction Engineer

By Steven Shepard, Contributing Columnist

I sat on a plane the other day with Walter Axe, 99 years old and a happily-retired former telephone company engineer, on the way to see his newest great-granddaughter. During the three-hour flight, Walter regaled me with stories of his life in the Bell System.

He joined the company in 1931, fresh out of the Army. He dug ditches, put up poles (often using teams of horses), ran wire, worked in the switch room, and ultimately ended up in Illinois, where he found himself in, as he describes it, “the best job in the world.” Intrigued, I asked what the job was.

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Of Dogs and Toilets: The Law of Unintended Consequences

By Steven Shepard, Contributing Columnist

Wikipedia defines it as “A perverse effect contrary to what was originally intended.” It turns out that the law of unintended consequences is alive and well, and has been for years in the world of telecommunications.

Consider the story of the woman who called the telephone company back in the 1940s to report a problem. The problem, it seemed, was that every time the phone rang, her dog shrieked and barked and did the canine equivalent of St. Vitus’ dance.

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1891: What a Year – One Undertaker’s Story of Telecom Invention

By Steven Shepard, Contributing Columnist

By anyone’s estimation, 1891 was an eventful year. It saw the birth of a plethora of people who would go on to change the world: David Sarnoff, who would lead the invention of video. Earl Warren, who would sit on the US Supreme Court as its Chief Justice. Erwin Rommel, who would (albeit reluctantly) lead the Axis powers in North Africa during World War II. Fanny Brice, singing comedienne. Henry Miller, author. And Sergey Prokofiev, composer of extraordinary music.

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The Most Complex Machine Ever Built

By Steven Shepard, Contributing Columnist

If you read my prior story on this topic, and appreciate my love of conversations with cab drivers, then you’ll understand this cryptic note:

hi Steve, how are u, its been long time,

this is cab driver Masud from Vancouver, I drop at the airport, we discus many issue, I hope u remember me.

Any way if u have any thing to shear on new thinks, please don’t hegited.

That message is why I travel, and why I work in this field.

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