Murphy's Law: February 10, 2003

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When the U.S. Navy introduced email and satellite phone service for sailors in the mid-1990s, it was hailed as a major boost to morale. And it was. But there's a dark side. While the email is free, the satellite phone calls cost a buck a minute. No problem, the sailors quickly adapted and used the phone only for special occasions, relying on email for more frequent communications. But the email and phone connection for personnel use takes second place to the satellite communications required for official use. This meant that email was often backed up getting on and off the ship. Phone service was not available all the time (except on the largest ships). And then there were problems with weather (where the satellite dish was bouncing around, especially on smaller ships, too much to maintain a steady link with the satellite). Official use often increased so much that hours of use for the phones were limited even further. An added irritation was waiting in line for an hour or more when the phones were available. The sailors could understand all this ("the needs of the navy come first"), although there was always suspicions that the officers were using the official phones for personal calls (this was forbidden, and it is easy to catch offenders by examining the phone logs.) The navy is aware of the problem, especially among the younger sailors who weren't around for the pre-email/satellite phone days and take these conveniences for granted. But all the services are currently suffering from a shortage of satellite capacity and this is not expected to improve for several years.

 


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