I was just starting out in this industry, fresh from school, working on a project as
a junior engineer building a 300-baud acoustic modem. For the younger people
out there, modems used to use a microphone and speaker and you put the telephone
handset into these (phones also used to be fairly standard, ugly, but standard).
We were working day and night getting ready for a demo for our biggest customer.
The man that would be reviewing our project was a senior VP, our biggest supporter,
but he had all the senior engineers seriously worried. As they described it, this man
was the biggest… well, you know. If there was anything that could go
wrong, not only would he find it, but it would be the very first thing he tried. They
regaled me with stories of past explosions and smoke this man had caused.
So we ran every test we could think of, tuned circuits and pounded on the data link
with every nasty condition we could imagine. The day for the demo came, we had
the modems communicating in the lab. Our customer walks in, looks it over and
says, how about if someone is talking near the modem. He leans over one of the
handsets and in a loud and perfect baritone voice says one word: “Hello.” His voice
resonated at the carrier frequency perfectly and took down the link. The computers’
printers started printing errors. He walked out of the room and said, “That will never
The look of astonishment on the two senior engineers faces was one I’ll never forget.
Even though they expected something like this to happen, I think they believed this
one would get by this guy. But his gift for mayhem was too great. We eventually
added an enclosure to the modem to isolate the phone handset from background
noise. And I got my first lesson in people with a special talent for destruction.
Chuck Hill has 30 years design experience in storage, and telecom fields. He has a Master’s Degree in Engineering from Arizona State University, and a Master’s Degree in Business from DeVry University.