Bell System Technical Journal Archives
October 31, 2010 12:08 PM   Subscribe

The entire run of the Bell System Technical Journal, from 1922-1983, is available online for your reading pleasure. Bell Labs on the blue previously
posted by rmd1023 (20 comments total) 48 users marked this as a favorite
This is one of those internet things that I'm glad I know exists even though I will never look at it again.
posted by Think_Long at 12:24 PM on October 31, 2010 [5 favorites]

Wow many thanks for posting, reading the table of contents for those issues brought back some memories. At the risk of showing my age, one of my first jobs after University was a Bell Labs (mostly Holmdel, but like everyone else I knew I rotated through Murray Hill for a while) working on Expert Systems. I'd read some of those articles in the print version maybe thirty years ago so wow.

It was a great place to work, and almost everyone had a day job but did some more independently focused research on their own time. This practice was usually encouraged by management, viewing it as something that encouraged creativity.

I think Google with their "one day a week to pursue your own ideas" is the closest thing to it that I've seen in a long while. Not quite the same, as Google is far more profit driven at it's core, however still pretty impressive.

But Bell Labs as a centre of pure research came to an end with the break up of AT&T in 1984. That was ok by mean, as with the advent of relatively cheap computing power Wall Street was hiriing big time, and that allowed me to pursue an interest I'd had since I was a young lad: finance.

Excellent post! Will forward on to several colleages I'm still in touch with from Holmdel.
posted by Mutant at 12:44 PM on October 31, 2010 [4 favorites]

This is amazing. I've spent a good amount of time browsing these volumes whenever I was in a good university library, and it looks like I will have to spend much more time with these now that they're online.

This journal shows in wonderful detail the evolution that the Bell system with through from a set of local networks requiring operators for everything, to pulse dialing, to regional and long-distance calling with an operator, to a nationwide dialing plan for long-distance calls without an operator. From manual (operator) switching, to purely electromechanical switching, to digital switching. In addition to this is all of the fundamental physics research, including the development of the CCD (as just one example).

The Bell System will always amaze me, and I hope this publication makes it clear to other people just how much of an accomplishment it was given the technology of the time.
posted by kiltedtaco at 12:44 PM on October 31, 2010

*Gets geek boner*
posted by ZenMasterThis at 12:55 PM on October 31, 2010

To me, and many others, the BSTJ is best-known for its publication of seminal works in information theory and crypotgraphy by Claude Shannon. In the July 1948 issue, you can see the foundational "Mathematical Theory of Communication" by "C.E. Shannon" immediately followed by what appears to be a more quotidian study of how subscribers dial their phones.

Sadly, the web server this is on doesn't seem to scale as cleanly as the Bell System, but hopefully people will stop hammering it soon as the novelty wears off.
posted by grouse at 1:00 PM on October 31, 2010

and i thought i was 'cool' pushing 4 G gigs of RAM
posted by clavdivs at 1:16 PM on October 31, 2010

umm. I was going to say, while downloading an article, i just looked at the titles from Abtracts the titles of the 0ct. 29 to the next quarters Issue...

'The Frequency Distribution of the Unknown Mean of a Sampled Universe'
'Speech Power and Its Measurement'
from Oct.29'

'Wave Propagation Over Continuously Loaded Fine Wires'
'Theory of Vibration of the Larynx'
from Jan. 30'

Is there a pattern?
posted by clavdivs at 1:32 PM on October 31, 2010

This one from 1978 is the UNIX issue. I read parts of it for a class a few years ago and found it surprisingly modern-sounding. I like how one of the articles is about statistical text processing — operating systems are built for words.

The epigraph on the foreword: " the faculty of making artificial objects, especially tools to make tools. — Bergson"

From the preface: "Because computer science is still in an early stage of development, no well-formulated theoretical sructure exists around which problems can be defined and results organized. 'Elegance' is of prime importance, but is not easily defined or described. Reliability and maintainability are important, but they also are neither precisely defined nor easily measured."

My grandfather was a technical editor for the BSTJ and other Bell Labs publications for most of his life, but unfortunately he never really talked about it in detail to me. I just know that he liked to wear a Sesame Street watch along with his suit, to poke a little fun at the fairly serious and buttoned-down researchers he worked with.
posted by dreamyshade at 2:13 PM on October 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Why did they start this archive in 1922? Perhaps there's a clue in Wired magazine's This Day in Tech column, August 4, 2010:
Aug. 4, 1922: For Whom the Bell Tolls Not

1922: All telephone service in the United States and Canada is silenced for one minute to mark the funeral of Alexander Graham Bell. The tribute starts a trend that may deserve a revival in the 21st century.
Let's observe this annually in AGB's honor and shut down all the Intertubes down for 60 seconds of data silence. Give the poor things a rest.
posted by cenoxo at 2:32 PM on October 31, 2010

Why did they start this archive in 1922?

Just guessing, but probably because that's when the first issue of the journal was published?
posted by grouse at 3:03 PM on October 31, 2010

OMG. I hate you now. I probably won't sleep for the next week as I devour these.

Maybe it would be better if I didn't even start. It's not like I need to indulge.
posted by five fresh fish at 3:49 PM on October 31, 2010

Also noteworthy is another Shannon paper: "Communication Theory of Secrecy Systems", which pretty much established modern cryptography.

Among other things, it contains a proof that any unbreakable system must be isomorphic to a one-time pad.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:03 PM on October 31, 2010

This is wonderful stuff. Thanks for the pointer to the Unix issue. Here's the transistor issue published in 1949, one year after their invention. "When giants walked the earth" is a fun image to keep in mind when reading these.
posted by dylanjames at 5:46 PM on October 31, 2010

The July 1960 issue has some of the early human factors work on the transition from rotary to push-button phones. The author (R. L. Deininger) tested out a range of different button layouts.
posted by carter at 6:15 PM on October 31, 2010

From May 1960: "Capabilities of the Telephone Network for Data Transmission"
posted by telstar at 6:42 PM on October 31, 2010

To me, and many others, the BSTJ is best-known for its publication of seminal works in information theory and crypotgraphy by Claude Shannon.

I have a dog-earned original of January 1979, Vol. 58, No. 1 wherein is described the entire cellular telephone concept.

That was pretty seminal too.
posted by three blind mice at 2:34 AM on November 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

This is one of those internet things that I'm glad I know exists even though I will never look at it again.

My sentiments exactly. For me. this is like the tech equivalent of really awesome straight porn:

I get why it's neat.
In fact, it's so neat, it excites even me a little.
But for the most part, it's greatness is wasted on me.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 12:54 PM on November 1, 2010

very cool
posted by bhb at 2:05 PM on November 1, 2010

What was the issue that the phone phreaks used to figure out how to bluebox?
posted by Chrysostom at 1:17 PM on November 2, 2010

Those would be:
  1. "In-Band Single-Frequency Signaling"
    (BSTJ 33: 6. November 1954)
  2. "Signaling Systems for Control of Telephone Switching"
    (BSTJ 39: 6. November 1960)
The first article revealed the process, and the second article revealed the specific tones/frequencies being used.
posted by low_frequency_feline at 4:14 PM on November 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

« Older Has Sanity Been Restored?   |   Crossbones Graveyard Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments