The AI telegraph

Well, not exactly… but Highton’s telegraph did use the selective lens idea.

Henry Highton was an engineer working for British Railways in the 1840s. (Of course.) He developed several improvements in magnets, wires, insulators and telegraphs. One of his telegraphs was a needle sensor generally similar to Wheatstone. Another was a dial similar to Breguet.

The lens type was unique. I haven’t found much info about it. Even Highton’s own general book on telegraphy modestly allots little space to his own devices. Apparently this one was used by the railroad, at least for a while.

Highton used three wires and ground with two polarities. Three choices for three wires, 33 = 27 characters. Wheatstone was using 5 wires and ground for a less elegant system that required hitting a chord of keys and watching 5 needles. Parallel data meant that each letter was sent instantly, unlike Morse where each letter takes a variable amount of time.

Showing the Highton in situ. I decided to make Polistra’s situ a bit more railroady for this purpose, using a proper depot instead of her usual maintenance shed. (I’m also trying to amortize my work. In 2020 I churned out a huge quantity of stuff as a spiritual counterflow against the demons, and then I didn’t USE most of the stuff.)

The Highton would have been operated by the dispatcher watching trains.

Note the beautiful cabinet. Early British telegraph equipment was always conscious of being seen, while early American equipment was raw and exposed. The British system was intended to be used by ordinary customers. Wheatstone and Cooke wanted to place a telegraph sender in every home, while the American system immediately became business-to-business. Like most telegraphs at the time, Highton used a piano keyboard for input. He wasn’t thinking about letter frequency, just placing the keys where ordinary people would expect them.

The action was contained in three swinging pie slices, each pulled and pushed by a magnet on one of the three wires.

The back pie carried the alphabet in three columns:

The back pie moved back and forth behind the other two pies:

The middle pie selected three rows in each vertical zone:

The front pie selected three vertical zones:

A viewport showed only the center view, so one letter at a time appeared.

The varying height probably aided memory by adding a locational cue to the letters.

Also see alidades.

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