Friday, July 28, 2006

One Ringy Dingy . . .

I've been thinking about telephones lately. I get nostalgic for the times when phone numbers had named exchanges, The first phone number I remember, from our house in Warminster, PA, began with "OSborne 2." Even as a kid, I though "Osborne" was a dorky name. (Apologies to any readers who might have that name.) My aunt's number was an OSborne 5, I think. My grandmother's was TUrner 6. I think phone numbers must have been easier to remember then, since you only had to know a name and 5 additional digits. And if you knew where a person lived, you probably had a good idea what exchange he or she lived in, so then it was down to just the numbers. Of course the last time I had any occasion to know any phone numbers like that I was no more than 11 years old, and I guess I didn't have a lot of numbers to keep track of.

I liked it better when area codes had to have a 1 or a 0 as the second digit, and I knew most of the codes for most of the country. That wasn't a marketable skill, but it had to have been worth some geek points. I enjoyed learning how big cities got the codes that took the least time to dial. Since the 0 or 1 could only appear in the second position, that left 2 through 9 (although I think the rule was 2 through 8) for the other digits, meaning 212 was the "lowest" area code there was, and of course it went to New York, New York. Chicago and LA tied for next fewest clicks of the dial with 312 and 213 respectively. I guess the federal government just wasn't that important, stuck with a big ol' 0 in the middle, although they got the 2's on the ends.

When I was about 13, I learned how to "dial" numbers by using just the switchhook. Touchtone was still an add-on luxury service. Even when it became just a regular part of service, lots of phones still were "pulse" only. I remember about ten years later having a small device that could be held over the microphone end of a handset which would produce DTMF tones, but I don't recall what it was used for. You'd have to have dialed the phone to connect to some service or other, because just sending tones on an open line wouldn't have been useful. Hmmmmm.

I'm still fascinated by Central Office buildings. Secret buildings with only a couple doors, no windows, and not a lot of markings on the outside. What is in there? Yes yes, I know, "switching equipment." And probably lots of NSA surveillance gear too.

So I guess I can't get my named exchanges back. Heck, my cell phone number starts with 304. You can't even make up a name when you have a 0 in there. And speaking of cell phones, there's obviously no going back on the area code thing. Cell phones, pagers, fax machines, etc etc etc. We're going to run out of numbers in the next twenty years or so, although I'm sure there's a plan.

What I really want, then, is an old desk phone, the kind with a dial and a real bell, the kind that you could bash a burglar over the head with and really do some damage. Not that I have a burglar problem, but it can't hurt to be prepared. I want an AT&T, "BELL SYSTEM PROPERTY (Not For Sale)", manufactured by Western Electric Model 500. Or maybe a 2500 set -- basically the same phone, but in glorious TouchTone.

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