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From a 1951 comic book, as seen on /r/retrofuturism just now:

World-wide television programs will be the staple of the day. Reason: present television programs originating in other ciites are carried to your local station through expensive co-axial cables. T-cables, very thin and inexpensive, will take the place of co-axial cables and will link continents and cities.

My first thought was that "T-cable" refers to Twisted-pair cables, which are the main alternative to coax cables - but twisted-pair cables date back to 1881, making them just as ancient as coax was by the 1950s when this comic-book page was published; I wasn't able to find any relevant alternatives with with medium-effort Google searches for variations on "t-cable" either (and Tri-axial cable can't possibly be any less expensive than coaxial).

The world you will live in

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  • 3
    Perhaps it's a typo of the Goubau line, or g-line.
    – user71659
    Oct 16, 2023 at 5:07
  • 2
    What is the connection between television and computers? I think you should try to find somewhere else to ask this question.
    – UncleBod
    Oct 16, 2023 at 7:08
  • 1
    @UncleBod There's no retroelectronics.stackexchange.com unfortunately, I felt this was most appropriate forum.
    – Dai
    Oct 16, 2023 at 7:09
  • 3
    Funny that global warming was never contested in the way it is today when just presented in the naive way it was back then :)
    – tofro
    Oct 16, 2023 at 12:10
  • 3
    Surprisingly accurate predictions.
    – RonJohn
    Oct 16, 2023 at 15:30

4 Answers 4

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I will propose that "T-cable" is 300-ohm twin lead (aka ladder line). This was (still is) commonly used in amateur radio, and was quite common in the 1960's/1970's for connecting a roof-top TV antenna to the TV in the family/living room (often coming in under a window sash). As noted at the Wikipedia article,

300 ohm twin lead is widely used to connect FM radios to their antennas, and was previously used to connect television antennas to televisions until it was replaced by coaxial cable.

Furthermore, as noted there,

Parallel transmission line has the advantage that its losses per unit length are an order of magnitude smaller than that of coaxial cable, the main alternative form of transmission line.

That reduced transmission loss seems to be what led them to think twin-lead would replace coax. The downside is greater interference. Apparently, some of the first cable TV companies used twin-lead to get the signal from a local mountain top down into the valley to distribute to customers, which also may have provided impetus to suggest twin-lead would rule the world.

Ah, the good old days of trying to pull in a far-away TV station using the antenna rotor.

4
  • I wonder if a triple-lead system, with the two outer leads coupled together, could have offered a compromise between the noise resistance of coax and the lower cost and lower losses of twin-lead? The biggest difficulty I can see would be that I can't see how to ground such a thing, since it would neither a balanced nor unbalanced approach would work, but I don't know how much of a problem that would be in practice.
    – supercat
    Oct 16, 2023 at 19:37
  • 1
    How can it be an existing, older and less capable technology, when it's about a better future?
    – Raffzahn
    Oct 16, 2023 at 23:50
  • Well, it is a comic book ‘future’… Twin-lead has 1/10th the loss of coax, so perhaps someone just ran with that…
    – Jon Custer
    Oct 17, 2023 at 0:21
  • @JonCuster I really, really doubt it. With grand non-specific ideas, I really don't think the author had a specific real-world cable type involved. T for Television. or T for Teleeverything. Not T for Twinax or Twin Lead etc. Oct 17, 2023 at 1:38
7

Not really retrocomputing so much as general history of technology, but I can't resist posting an answer:

My hunch is that T-cables is a fancy way of saying either "telegraph cables" or "telephone cables". Telegraph cables have been around since the 1830s, but by 1951 was already on the way to being replaced. Telephone cables have been around since the 1870s. There were transatlantic telegraph cables in the 19th century. The first transatlantic telephone cable wasn't completed until 1956, but transatlantic phone calls using radio started in 1927. "T-cables" lets you merge "telegraph", "telephone" and "television" into one futuristic sounding word.

For those suggesting very specific "t" cables: The nature of the entire comic is to avoid specifics. The only time reference is for the first item - "A few thousand years from now". It is not 100% clear that the other items are in the same time frame, but I think that is implied. As it turns out, weather satellites were in place a decade later, but I suspect the author had no idea weather satellites would be invented so soon as this was still a few years before Sputnik. Similarly, I doubt that the author was such an expert in technology to pick a specific new wiring method.

I actually think the author really didn't know much about cable types or the long-distance transmission (of anything) industry. I have found numerous historical articles, including at least one scholarly paper, on the topic online. My general understanding is that:

  • Coaxial cable was the medium of choice when it came to wired connections for technical reasons.
  • Coaxial cable cost more than some other types (e.g., used for telephone) but the big issue was building the network (labor costs, major investment in infrastructure, etc.) and right of way.
  • AT&T had the right of way due to their near-monopoly on the long-distance telephone network. Much as today cell phone companies will share towers with each other and local electric utilities will share poles with telephone and cable TV companies (both of which are now internet/telephone/TV companies), AT&T used the telephone rights of way (whether poles or along railway tracks or underground in big cities) to run coaxial cable for long-distance TV transmission. Effectively putting in a TV network parallel to the telephone network.

So the issue was not so much the use of coaxial cable as it was the near-monopoly situation of AT&T. Over the course of decades this changed due to satellites, fiber optic networks (which often also use existing rights of way) and the breakup of AT&T. In many places government regulations require the owner of a right of way to allow access to other vendors at a reasonable price, but things were a bit different in 1951.


Trigger warning: this part is off-topic...

But this also gives me a chance to note that:

  • Global warming was seen as a benefit to the world. Which it might well be if it wasn't for the related sea-level rise - i.e., if you get Antarctica without losing coastal cities it isn't bad at all.
  • The first weather satellite was in 1960, just 9 years after this comic!
  • Factory-produced beef is real today.
  • Weekly plastic clothing? Not quite, maybe never - in my opinion a tremendous waste of resources to manufacture weekly instead of wash and reuse. But 3D-printing has been gradually increasing in many industries, and 3D-printing of clothing is certainly a feature of much of 21st century science fiction.
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  • 2
    Spray-on fashion, Paris, 2022.
    – dave
    Oct 16, 2023 at 16:08
  • 1
    If the comic came out 15 years later, they'd probably refer to fibre-optic cables instead of T-cables; STL weren't the only place researching ways to replace coaxial cables with thinner, lighter alternatives, they were just the first to find a practical option. Oct 16, 2023 at 16:48
  • 2
    Upon reading that 1956's TAT-1 could carry 36 simultaneous phone conversations, my grandfather reputedly wondered aloud why 36 separate people would possibly all want to talk to Americans at the same time.
    – Tommy
    Oct 16, 2023 at 18:54
  • 2
    Fun parenting fact: modern fast fashion brands have very successful lines of baby clothes, because your newborn is going to wear that onesie like four or five times before growing out of it.
    – Tacroy
    Oct 16, 2023 at 20:45
  • 2
    If you find yourself starting a post “this isn’t really on topic” that should be a clue to stop posting and vote to close. But if you absolutely must post, at least stick to the one vaguely-related part. Food, fashion, etc. definitely don’t belong.
    – nobody
    Oct 16, 2023 at 23:12
3

The term and concept are likely speculative. If, for instance, the comic said that television broadcasts would be replaced by "Z-rays" we might better see that as some golden-age naming exuberance and not a reference to some extant technology. As manassehkatz notes, the "T" here likely stands for telegraph or telephone--or perhaps merely "tele-" for distant. These didn't need to be real in the sense that they had the characteristics claimed or even need to be a real name we associated w/ telephone/telegraph cables in order for a science fiction writer to pick up on the idea and use it for speculative fiction.

0

T-cables, very thin and inexpensive, will take the place of co-axial cables and will link continents and cities.

This makes me think of thinnet, which you connect to using... T-connectors!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/10BASE2

10BASE2 (also known as cheapernet,1 thin Ethernet, thinnet, and thinwire) is a variant of Ethernet that uses thin coaxial cable terminated with BNC connectors to build a local area network.

EDIT: these T-connectors were developed in the 1940s.

Image taken from the Wikipedia article.

© Raimond Spekking / CC BY-SA 4.0 (via Wikimedia Commons)

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  • 2
    This was my first inclination, but it doesn't fit the context. I think the term "thinnet" didn't show up until the 80's or 90's, while the advertisement is from the 50's.
    – Barmar
    Oct 16, 2023 at 15:51
  • @Barmar it doesn't take much imagination in the 1950s to think that wires would get thinner and cheaper. Thus, 10BASE2 is the reality of what they immagined.
    – RonJohn
    Oct 16, 2023 at 15:57
  • 1
    Yeah, but predicting the actual terminology is harder. The term "thinnet" was only coined to distinguish it from the existing Ethernet wiring that it replaced ("thicknet"). And consider that when we later replaced it with 10base-T, no jargony term was coined (it could have been called "thinnernet", but often it was just referred to as "twisted pair").
    – Barmar
    Oct 16, 2023 at 16:15
  • @Barmar according to Wikipedia, BNC connectors were developed in the 1940s.
    – RonJohn
    Oct 16, 2023 at 16:58
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    Unless I am mistaken, thinnet runs over 50 ohm coax, so I doubt they said that in the future coax would be replaced by coax. 300 ohm twin lead sounds the most likely.
    – Geo...
    Oct 16, 2023 at 19:52

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