Today, Wi-Fi is ubiquitous. It’s a technology used by billions of people every single day and has allowed for the emergence of entirely new industries. The benefits of Wi-Fi are legend, and have become an integral, some would say inseparable and essential, part of modern life. Yet, few of us ever pause to wonder where it came from. Who came up with the basic idea behind Wi-Fi and how did the concept even start?


To answer these questions, we need to turn to the life of a World War II-era Hollywood actress and inventor, born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler in Vienna, but who, on the eve of the Second World War, would become known as Hedy Lamarr.



Who Was Hedy Lamarr?


Before we get into how this amazing person you have probably never heard of came up with Wi-Fi, we should take a look at who she was. Back in 1990, a decade before she died, she remarked how, “The brains of people are more interesting than the looks, I think.” As someone who was a world renown beauty herself, indeed, widely proclaimed as “the world’s most beautiful woman,” the stereotypical thinking of the day was Hedy was just another gorgeous Hollywood actress during the WWII era. Yet, she was probably smarter than many of us.


Hedy was born to Jewish parents in Austria in 1914. She married early, when just 19, to one of the richest men in that country, a wealthy munitions manufacturer, well connected to fascist Italy and a (temporary) supporter of Nazi Germany. Unhappy and unfulfilled in this marriage, she escaped in the middle of the night with typical forethought and daring, taking all her jewels, and dressed as a maid on a bicycle.


Shortly before World War II broke out, Hedy left for the United States aboard, ironically for an inventor, the most powerful steam turbo-electric-propelled passenger ship ever constructed, the transatlantic superliner, the French built Normandie. Even before arriving in New York, and again with typical forethought and daring, she was unavoidably spotted by the head of MGM Studio at the time, Louis B. Mayer. Despite knowing very little English, she negotiated a contract, ($US500 a week in 1939 - worth $US9528 a week in 2021), that would cement her future as a Hollywood actress.


It wasn’t long before she got comfortable in Hollywood, socialising with other renowned actors and actresses, as well as notable figures like John F. Kennedy and Howard Hughes. It was the latter who gave her equipment she then used for various experiments she conducted in her trailer, between going on camera. Her true passion was inventing while thinking outside the box.


Shifting Her Focus To Inventing


This star of movies such as Algiers, and Sampson & Delilah, simply loved inventing. Hedy once remarked how she didn’t even need to work on brainstorming ideas, they just came naturally to her. She was no stranger to hard work either, starring in 30 feature films in just 28 years, in addition to television and radio appearances.


However, despite her acting skills, when it came to negotiations that would ensure she received fair compensation for her inventions, Hedy was not so successful for a number of reasons. Most notably that which gave her most success, her gender. For example, the patent she filed with her “frequency hopping” co-inventor, George Antheil, took decades to bear any financial fruit. What eventually became a multi-national, multi-billion-dollar Wi-Fi and mobile phone industry, was originally conceived to create frequency agile communications and torpedo guidance systems in the war against the Nazis. However, “frequency hopping” gave nothing back to Hedy, not even recognition, until 1997. By this time, she was 82 years old and would only live, in virtual seclusion, for another 3 years.


Hedy rightly found it challenging not receiving due recognition for her tremendous contributions, receiving little press in the 1940s. What most people, Howard Hughes not among them, wanted her to focus on, was being a glamorous Hollywood actress, gracing the big screen.


Louis B. Mayer, who originally negotiated her contract on the Normandie, was a misogynist,

something all too common in those days. For him, women were either one of two things: seductive or put on a pedestal to be admired from far away. When it came down to it, Mayer saw Lamarr as someone who was supposed to just be pretty and sexy on camera. In reality, she was so much more.


The Inspiration To Become An Inventor


Let’s go back a little to set the scene in the world two years after Hedy Lamarr boarded the

transatlantic liner where she met Mayer. In 1940, the Nazis were using U-boats to sink hundreds of thousands of tonnes of shipping in the Atlantic Ocean. They were torpedoing ships, in unrestricted warfare, and with little opposition, in the undersea raiders first, “Happy time.” Often, and with tragic irony, women and children fleeing the Nazis, were aboard these ships. As a woman who was born in the home country of the German dictator Adolf Hitler, and who saw his political rise, Lamarr knew something of this plight and the desperation which caused people to find themselves on a ship.


While Hedy was married to the arms manufacturer Fritz Mendl, she learned everything she

could from him when it came to top-secret weapons systems. The topics absolutely fascinated her. As she saw the Nazis increasing their power in Europe, Hedy made the prudent decision to leave her marriage with Mendl, and her native Austria. She escaped, and set sail for the New World, ensuring her financial future during her travels.


How Hedy Lamarr Invented Wi-Fi


The path to inventing “frequency hopping” for Hedy started back early in WWII. She and George Antheil, a music composer she met at MGM Studios developed a practical idea to provide a new radio guidance system for US torpedoes, one which would be exceedingly difficult to jam electronically. What they would create became known as the “Secret Communication System”.


The original subsequently patented idea was a synchronised radio transmitting and receiving process that would continually change radio frequencies. This would make it extremely difficult for an enemy to listen out for, copy down, then decode the complete message as transmitted.


The same system could have been adapted for use by US torpedoes, to provide a secure method of guidance, unlikely to be jammed, and allowing the “tin fish” to be course corrected if required during its run into the target. Up to this time, US Mark 14 torpedoes were fire and forget, speeding towards their target at 46 knots. They had no means of control once they left the torpedo tube. If the aiming point was wrong, they would miss their target. Thus, a frequency hopping (FH) radio-controlled torpedo would have been more accurate, reaching a target without interference. There’s little doubt of the real potential torpedo FH radio control had to send more enemy shipping to Davy Jones’ locker and help win the war for the Allies.


To develop the original radio system, she had a drafting table, good lighting, and a set of important tools. Being self-taught meant she had to read a vast number of engineering reference books to invent her Secret Communication System. In fact, she had an entire wall lined with books to help her in this endeavour.


While Lamarr and Antheil were partners in developing their invention, Lamar was the real

brains behind it. Thanks to her extensive understanding of technical issues such as munitions, the Secret Communications System was made possible. Hedy Lamarr filed a patent for this invention in 1942, after which she proposed the US Navy adopt it. She could not have known the US Navy’s deepest secret at the time, their torpedoes didn’t work properly and hadn’t since the early 1930s!


If you thought the US Navy would have welcomed the Secret Communication System

with open arms, then you would be disappointed. They refused it for reasons that now seem

ridiculous. For one, they disregarded it due to being invented by a civilian, a woman no less, who could better serve her new country, in an Admirals opinion at least, by selling war bonds.


Additionally, they perceived it as being too complex and futuristic - apparently, they weren’t familiar with the intricate workings of a German Enigma cypher machine… Hedy maintained her contract as a Hollywood actress and explored other ways she could help the US win the war. One of those resulted in her working for the United Service Organisations (USO).


The Female Animal in 1958 marked the end of her film career in Hollywood, but her revolutionary invention finally began to interest people in high places. Around this time, the concept of the Secret Communication System finally started to be adopted by the private sector via CDMA network technology being developed. Code Division Multiple Access, is one of two original systems used for mobile (cell) phones. CDMA and GSM (Global System for Mobiles) both introduced 2G and 3G technology.


In the early 1960s, the US Navy finally took a serious look at Hedy’s invention, using it around the time the Cuban Missile Crisis occurred. However, its use would become most well-known through its help in the development of two wireless technologies: Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.


Recognition Received Only Decades Later


Sadly, Hedy would seldom be recognised for her immense contributions to the digital age. She had to watch other inventors pushing their “frequency hopping” inventions and see them take off. In fact, those who came after her had their own contributions to advance Wi-Fi technology to a place she could never have dreamed of.


Currently, frequency hopping is widespread, especially in mobile phones, as well as GPS and super secure military communication systems. Its use has blanketed the world and gained exceptional popularity due mostly to technological necessity.


It would be decades before Hedy Lamarr would be given recognition for her vital role in the creation and rollout of these two revolutionary technologies. This came in the late 1990s only 3 years before her passing. She received the Electronic Frontier Foundation Pioneer Award, as well as the Bulbie Gnass Spirit of Achievement Bronze Award. However, due to presumed embarrassment about her appearance because of botched plastic surgery, she didn’t accept them in person.


Lamarr was posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame as recently as 2014, nearly ¾ of a century after her ground-breaking work.


Even if she isn’t still around to see it, developments of her work certainly are, and these are fitting tributes. Hedy continues to receive the types of relevant recognition of her intelligence she deserves. A TV series of her real life, Hedy Lamarr, began pre-production in 2018, and the award-winning Australian spy techno thriller, Yearn to Fear, was released in late 2020, using 5G Wi-Fi technology in its central plot while acknowledging Hedy’s contribution.


Self-Taught Inventor


What is perhaps most remarkable about Hedy Lamarr’s role in the development of Wi-Fi is

that she was self-taught. She never had any sort of formal training. Perhaps this actually allowed her to think outside the box since she had no idea what the box was supposed to be. Combining her own life experiences with her creative imagination and intellect, helped her produce one of the most vital inventions of the modern era. Thanks to her following her passion, she was able to make her mark on the world, leave a legacy and help society achieve greater progress.


Evolution Of Wi-Fi


The 1970s saw the creation of ALOHAnet, as well as the ALOHA protocol. These were used to make it easier for people on the Hawaiian Islands to communicate with each other using a UHF wireless packet network.


These two technologies were possible thanks to Lamarr’s Secret Communication System,

and were the predecessors of Ethernet and Wi-Fi. Around this time was when Vic Hayes, who has been called the “Father of Wi-Fi,” developed the IEEE 802.11 Standards Working Group. This standard protocol would eventually launch in 1997. Although being very slow at the time compared to speeds that are possible today, it’s speed of 2Mb/s, was incredibly fast. Two years later, 802.11b was launched, which increased transmission speed up to 11Mb/s. This is around the time the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance was formed, which ended up becoming the WiFi Alliance. It was at this point that Wi-Fi became a term the public started using to refer to wireless internet.


Wi-Fi has become an integral part of society, used by businesses, governments, and

consumers alike. Billions of people use it every day. There is perhaps no technology that has made a bigger impact in recent history than Wi-Fi. We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the woman who became the pioneer of Wi-Fi, even if Hedy Lamarr didn’t know it at the time.


Conclusion


You can see how Hedy Lamarr became the de-facto inventor of Wi-Fi. While she may have

started out as a Hollywood actress, and a very good one at that, her true calling was inventing. Not only was she an inventor, she was that someone who came up with an invention that revolutionised the world, helping pave the way for the Third Industrial Revolution. Hedy’s story shows us that anyone can achieve great things. It also demonstrates that following your passions is something that can lead to extraordinary feats, even if not fully recognised in your own lifetime.


Cheers! Chas


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  • Chas Murrell

Boiling Liquid Expanding Vapour Explosion

- Warning: This Blog contains graphic burns content -

-

On Monday 17th August 1987, a Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) railcar caught fire and subsequently created a Boiling Liquid Expanding Vapour Explosion (BLEVE) at the Cairns gas terminal. The railcar was loaded with approx. 40000 litres of LPG when it failed. The immense heat caused the explosive loss of integrity of the steel pressure vessel, liberating liquified gas and creating a fireball that killed one person and injured 27, including three firefighters.

Above the EC letters of the ‘MECH. Repairs’ sign in the foreground you can see two objects silhouetted against the flames. One is the windscreen of my, (well not actually mine the Police Department owned it), Yamaha XJ900 callsign ‘903’ and the taller of the two is my good self, standing next to my bike, blocking traffic along Spence street. If you can picture a rocket taking off, with huge ground blast and leaving a massive fire trail behind it as it ascended to land 160 metres away, that was the view from my position.


1987 was an interesting year before the Gas Blast on the 17th of August. I had permanently transferred from general uniform Police duties to the Traffic Branch, (Highway Patrol) at the start of the year. You know how people say to keep trying for what you want? My 7th application to join “Traffic” was the successful one, (maybe they weren’t that keen to have me?). By the time of the explosion that year, I had qualified for TAIS - Traffic Accident Investigation Squad via a course in Brisbane in February and a ‘standard’ car course (skid pans, J turns, handbrake turns etc) at around the same time - such fun! I’d been riding Police bikes ‘part time’ for 18 months in the lead up to 1987.

1. LPG Tank 2. Tank middle section 100m away 3. End section 160m away 4. Main storage 5. Bulk fuel 250m away 6. CUB 7. National Hotel 8. Now Cairns Central







I had worked 7am – 3pm that day, at the “Traffic Branch”, which was housed in an area properly known as the “Portsmith Police Establishment”. It not only housed Traffic, but Mechanical, Radio section, Storage for Water Police etc. If you find Kenny street, running vertically up/down the right hand side of the current day map, and were to follow it off the map, you would have found the Portsmith Police Establishment back then. Portsmith being the suburb.


At around 3.20pm I left the Traffic Branch at Portsmith and rode ‘903’ up Kenny street towards the CBD with the intention of going to the main Police Station, back then, on a prime piece of real estate on the Esplanade. Long before the esplanade re-development.


I can remember being on Spence street near the northern end and seeing the black smoke from near the brewery and thinking that there shouldn’t be anything burning near there at all. I called the Cairns Radio room on the motorbikes built in radio, again and again, to no response. The radios on the Police bikes at the time were notoriously and I mean notoriously, unreliable. It wasn’t that the radio techs were bad at fixing them, they were brilliant, they just weren’t good radios in the first place. The rule of thumb was the radio would work inversely proportionally to the urgency you needed it to. EG: Getting punched by angry truck driver half a block from the Police Station – No; Broken down between Mareeba and the Kuranda range in the middle of a monsoon – No; Largest gas blast in Australian history 15 minutes from occurring – No!


What to do? I transmitted in the blind, “Thick black smoke issuing near the brewery, I’ll get back to you.” I pushed up the 3 toggle switches on the left side of the fairing, (front blue lights, back blue light and siren), did a U turn at the Abbott street Traffic Lights – yes I know it’s usually illegal, but I’m sure you understand, and twisted the throttle.


Crossing the railway lines at Mcleod street, I can still see in my head the picture presented to me then. A white, rather large railcar was parked near the gasworks, and had what looked like a massive gas BBQ underneath it. Unfortunately for me, I knew exactly what I was looking at. The Qld Police Academy at Oxley had an exceptional range of disaster videos. Myself and a few buddies worked our way through them over our 6 month course. They particularly had a good stash of BLEVE videos.


From this juncture onwards, until after the main blast, I was convinced I was living on borrowed time. I was the only emergency service person on scene. I transmitted ‘in the blind’ again on my dead as a doornail radio, and started evacuating people who were stopping to look, the object being to stop other people being on borrowed time, that didn’t realise they were.


People do funny things when they are curious and have no concept of the danger they are in. A classic example of this was that day. I started out by politely telling people to move away as there was probably going to be an explosion, then started noticing that people I had already directed to move away had circled around behind me to get another look again. Hmmmm.


For something to be lawful, it has to be authorised, justified or excused by law. I’m not sure that extends to me becoming absolutely desperate to get people away and starting to tell bystanders in no uncertain terms to “Fuck off!”. Somewhere around this time other Police arrived and it suddenly dawned on me, there was a school around the corner in Draper street and I should go there and tell them to keep their students in. Not sure how I was going to achieve that, or even what time school got out, but zoomed around the block anyway, to see the kids already out and the big red trucks of the cavalry arriving down Draper street.


Eventually, I found myself back on Spence street trying to insult / educate people into leaving. I remember at some stage having a conversation with the Newsagent owner on the corner of Bunda and Spence street, telling him to “get out now.” He said it would take him a while to “lock up,” I said something like, “The shop isn’t going to be here in 5 fucking minutes so it’s not going to matter!”


The stupid things you think of, I was glad I left my helmet, sunnies and gloves on… because that would have helped. Eventually, I found myself in the spot where I was when the railcar exploded. I wasn’t looking at the fire just before it exploded until… I felt a sudden movement of air towards the fire and everything seemed to go quiet. I don’t recall an explosion, but I do recall seeing the railcar looking like it had a rocket motor on it heading in a massive fiery arc towards the city.





It went suddenly dark as I was enveloped by the black smoke, then as it cleared I saw the man (Frank) who sadly was later to die from his burns, emerge from the direction of the brewery across the railway tracks. I had not seen anyone burnt that badly before then. I went to him and walked him to some steps and tried to radio for an Ambulance – No chance.



I subsequently managed to get the attention of a Main Roads Police colleague nearby, and we put Frank in his car to transport him to the CBH, (Cairns Base Hospital). The Main Roads car was new and didn’t have lights / siren fitted so I gave him a lights / siren escort to Accident and Emergency and high-tailed it back.


Post BLEVE with Cairns Fire Brigade still working to get control. The large steel structure is the town gas supply. If the railcar had gone in that direction, it would have hit the town gas supply and the main boilers in the brewery, and, me. You have to take your hat off to the Firefighters that day, without the benefit of modern protective gear, they fought hard to buy time, knowing, without doubt, what the end result was always going to be. Bravery in action.


The railcar that flew 160m like a rocket.

Inside the warehouse that part of the railcar landed in.

Outside the same warehouse, where parts of the railcar pressure vessel can be seen in the foreground.


From Cairns’ district perspective there was another disaster 6 months prior; the Cairns State High School bus crash. A bus loaded with students rolled off the side of the Gillies Highway near Gordonvale, south of Cairns, twenty metres down a mountainside, killing eight students and injuring 30 students, teachers and the bus driver. I’m grateful to have been in Brisbane on the TAIS course, as the bus crash was a horrible incident to have been involved in. Somewhat selfishly with a great deal of relief I say, that is a story someone else can tell you.


Cheers! Chas

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Updated: Nov 24, 2020

There’s lots to be said for cooking at work and in the Fire Services of the world, having a “cook up” (dinner) is a thing that fire crews do together. It’s like a team building activity for hungry firefighters. The drawback afterwards of course, is if you have to suddenly jump in a big red truck and go somewhere in a hurry and you’ve overindulged…


A similar type of cooking, you want to avoid at all times, is where the item being unintentionally cooked is one of the fire crew!


That’s where all that team building, fire training, cohesion and knowing your equipment and most of all, just like the military - trusting your workmates comes into play.

The video here was caught by a recruit firefighter on an Aviation Rescue recruit course (RC57), at Brisbane airport way back in 2002, (how young we all were then!). He had kindly agreed to do some videoing for me as we lit up the LMU “mock-up” or “the rig” with a few hundred litres of flammable liquid. (Large Mock Up training aid - I’ve put a couple of pictures in for a visual).




This LMU was a relatively new build and after having done a few fire training recruit school exercises. I said to my Superintendent after an exercise one day, we really need some “lighting procedures” for the new fire-ground mock-up, the potential for someone getting seriously hurt is pretty high. So, he gave me the job - how did I not see that coming?


Six weeks later one night I handed my video camera to a fire recruit …


As part of the procedure, the pair “lighting” the LMU inside with a drip torch (there were multiple large metal baskets of wood doused in kerosene inside), had to be wearing full fire fighting gear and breathing apparatus with a radio. Sounds like common sense huh? Before my “lighting procedure,” it wasn’t always that way. At the time, ARFF (Aviation Rescue Fire Fighting) were not issued with flash hoods. A flash hood is a fire-resistant hood that fits around your breathing apparatus mask and covers your head, ears, neck. In those days, these parts of your body were mostly exposed and got quite hot at times, glad that has changed these days!

The Fire Officer I was with inside, who was also holding the flame emitting drip torch, exited out the rear LMU door, we made eye contact, gave thumbs up and he proceeded down the rear stairs. Things happen quickly sometimes. The issue was I didn’t follow him and he didn’t know. The rear door of the new LMU had a closing larch mechanism that could “over centre” when the door was open. If you went to latch the door closed and it was over centred, you had to open the door, rotate the latch back, close the door again and latch it closed. Never an issue before as it only took 10 odd seconds flat to re-latch. But it became a problem now.


I re-latched the door and turned to walk down the rear stairs, to see my firefighter (still friends lol) partner lowering the drip torch into some nice freshly laid Class B flammable liquid - kerosene with a petrol accelerant. Can’t say I’ve even been a fan of petrol in anything other than a car fuel tank or a lawnmower, ok ok maybe a wiper snipper too!

The video starts around the time the fire has spread rapidly, engulfing the entire bunded area the LMU is built on and which I am still standing in the middle of.



Within a few seconds of the video having started, a few things have happened.

  • My eyes met my partners through our BA masks again, as he saw where I was, high on the steps, and the fire was already lit. Surprising how wide someone’s eyes can go really!

  • I made my radio call, “NO DUFF! NO DUFF! (means not part of the exercise), This is Joe I’m still on the Rig at the rear door!”

  • I had realised I would have to walk through substantial flames and heat to be able to get down off the LMU stairs, not an option if I didn’t want to get burnt, (back to the bad type of cooking at the start of this story).

  • I went back up a couple of steps to the rear door, which has a solid metal floor. (Thank you to whoever designed that feature in!). I must admit I did think about actually going back inside because at this stage it was getting bloody hot but decided not to as it would probably be worse inside now. In retrospect, it would have been the worst possible thing I could have done.

Contrary to popular belief, no matter how brave, fit and tanned, or how many times a muscly

firefighter works out in the gym a week, he or she, cannot walk through flames wearing standard full fire protective equipment. I was none of these glorious things, so I had no chance! I crouched close to the floor at the base of the rear LMU door and waited…


Here’s some other details from the video. On the left border of the video halfway up, the monitor is finishing it’s rotation from the stowed position in case it had to be (carefully) used. The pump operator, (sitting in the front seat of the ULFV, not in field of view), also makes some final adjustments. The diffuser on the monitor is closed, (making the monitor look pointy). This is so foam (actually 94% water/6% foam mix), that exits the monitor is not in the form of a jet, but rather a flat stream. This is great if you want to cover an area quickly without blasting it. Also great, if you don’t want to knock someone off their feet! You can hear the engine of the ULFV at high revs indicating, just by sound, to anyone who knows what they’re listening to, that the pump is engaged.    


I could not see a thing beyond the wall of flames and smoke around me, but thanks to the solid metal floor I was only amongst the flames, not actually in them.


I heard the single horn blast from the ULFV (Ultra Large Fire Vehicle) indicating that it was pumping foam to the branches either side of the stairs. One thing the Fire Service training develops in it’s fireground leaders, by necessity, is voice projection. I could hear the shouted commands for "agent on" and the responses of the recruits manning the safety intervention equipment (per the lighting procedure!), which had already been laid out ready.

The tactic here, as with aviation firefighting generally, is to create a rescue path and THAT is

exactly what the instructors and recruits of Recruit Course 57 did for me that night. Love your work! - Thank you again!


Because we didn’t use flash hoods, I had my arm and hand wrapped around my neck trying to stop the “parbake.” In the end though, it was a pretty easy escape from cooking really.


The technique used is commonly taught in ARFF as a “dual agent attack.” Two recruits used a 9KG Dry Chemical Powder extinguisher each to knock down the fire around the stairs,

simultaneously followed up by two other recruits using foam making branches (FB10X’s) fed

from the ULFV to consolidate that extinguished path and make it safe to egress. As a last

technical word, in my experience, dual agent attacks are generally under rated, under used but as you can see, highly effective.


The fire training exercise continued on ...



I had never been so hot in my turnout gear before this night. My turnout gear had got wet from a previous exercise that night, and unfortunately that gave me light steam burns on my back, so no sleeping on my back that night!


The only time I’ve been reminded of that night by so much heat at a job, was at a fire on

Australia day 3 or 4 years back - but that’s another story.


Cheers! Chas


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