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kottke.org posts about telephony

Short term mobile phone storage for NYC students

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 16, 2012

Cell phone check truck

Mobile phones are banned in NYC public schools so a company called Pure Loyalty parks trucks outside of several schools so that students can check their phones, iPods, and other devices for the duration of the school day.

Pure Loyalty LLC is the originator in electronic device storage. We put student safety first and work together with school safety to make sure that phones are checked in and out in a timely fashion for students to go straight to class and then home after school.

Each student is given a security card to ensure that their device is only returned to them!!!! If a student with a security card loses their ticket, not to worry. We have a system in place that secures their phone. Each student is given a FREE security card. Replacement cards are $1.

(photo by Jesse Chan-Norris)

Texters

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 05, 2011

From Joe Holmes, Texters, a photo series of people texting.

Joe Holmes Texters

Mark Twain on the telephone

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 06, 2011

From the June 1880 issue of The Atlantic Monthly, Mark Twain writes about the telephone, then a relatively recent invention. Or rather, he writes about hearing other people use the telephone:

Then followed that queerest of all the queer things in this world, — a conversation with only one end to it. You hear questions asked; you don’t hear the answer. You hear invitations given; you hear no thanks in return. You have listening pauses of dead silence, followed by apparently irrelevant and unjustifiable exclamations of glad surprise, or sorrow, or dismay. You can’t make head or tail of the talk, because you never hear anything that the person at the other end of the wire says.

No one uses the phone anymore

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 21, 2011

They text, they email, they IM, but increasingly the phone call is too intrusive of a communication option for many.

“I literally never use the phone,” Jonathan Adler, the interior designer, told me. (Alas, by phone, but it had to be.) “Sometimes I call my mother on the way to work because she’ll be happy to chitty chat. But I just can’t think of anyone else who’d want to talk to me.” Then again, he doesn’t want to be called, either. “I’ve learned not to press ‘ignore’ on my cellphone because then people know that you’re there.”

“I remember when I was growing up, the rule was, ‘Don’t call anyone after 10 p.m.,’” Mr. Adler said. “Now the rule is, ‘Don’t call anyone. Ever.’”

As a long-time hater of the phone call, this is good news.

Trend: multiple mobile phone numbers

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 15, 2011

People around the world are starting to use two or more mobile phone numbers on a regular basis for a variety of reasons (and using a variety of techniques, including special 2-in-1 SIM cards).

Another motivation to have more than one number is for the user to control how one is contacted and contactable. Naturally users typically have a strategy on handing out the right number to the right person for future contactability. Our research participants most commonly report separating private and business contacts by having separate numbers. Being able to switch one number completely offline is a way of switching the mental mode, such as “I am turning my work phone off as I am not working anymore”. Small business owners and those who deal with a large number of people can identify the type of contacts easily by differentiating which phone number they use. One Chinese electronic shop owner gave out one of his mobile phone number for his best customers, ensuring that he is always reachable for them. The ease of having another mobile phone number also provides the exclusive communication channel for some, like those in early or secret relationships.

Part two of the piece is here. (via @antimega)

How the phone book changed the world

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 03, 2010

Greg Beato on how the seemingly humble phone book “signaled the coming shift from an industrial economy to an information-based one”.

The phone itself was a pretty big deal, of course, helping intimacy transcend proximity. But phone books provided a crucial element to the system: intrusiveness. In the beginning of 1880, Shea writes, there were 30,000 telephone subscribers in the U.S. At the end of the year, that number had grown to 50,000, and because of phone books, each one of them was exposed to the others as never before. While many American cities had been compiling databases of their inhabitants well before the phone was invented, listing names, occupations, and addresses, individuals remained fairly insulated from each other. Contacting someone might require a letter of introduction, a facility for charming butlers or secretaries, a long walk.

Phone books eroded these barriers. They were the first step in our long journey toward the pandemic self-surveillance of Facebook. “Hey strangers!” anyone who appeared in their pages ordained. “Here’s how to reach me whenever you feel like it, even though I have no idea who you are.”

Woz and Jobs: phone phreaks

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 02, 2010

Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs talk about their short career building illegal telephone equipment, aka blue boxes.

Interesting how their two stories differ…the engineer and the marketer.

Esquire phone phreaking article from 1971

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 02, 2010

From the October 1971 issue of Esquire, Secrets of the Little Blue Box, an early mainstream piece on phone phreaking.

About eleven o’clock two nights later Fraser Lucey has a blue box in the palm of his left hand and a phone in the palm of his right. He is standing inside a phone booth next to an isolated shut-down motel off Highway 1. I am standing outside the phone booth.

Fraser likes to show off his blue box for people. Until a few weeks ago when Pacific Telephone made a few arrests in his city, Fraser Lucey liked to bring his blue box to parties. It never failed: a few cheeps from his device and Fraser became the center of attention at the very hippest of gatherings, playing phone tricks and doing request numbers for hours. He began to take orders for his manufacturer in Mexico. He became a dealer.

Fraser is cautious now about where he shows off his blue box. But he never gets tired of playing with it. “It’s like the first time every time,” he tells me.

Fraser puts a dime in the slot. He listens for a tone and holds the receiver up to my ear. I hear the tone.

Fraser begins describing, with a certain practiced air, what he does while he does it.

“I’m dialing an 800 number now. Any 800 number will do. It’s toll free. Tonight I think I’ll use the ——- [he names a well-know rent-a-car company] 800 number. Listen, It’s ringing. Here, you hear it? Now watch.”

He places the blue box over the mouthpiece of the phone so that the one silver and twelve black push buttons are facing up toward me. He presses the silver button - the one at the top - and I hear that high-pitched beep.

“That’s 2600 cycles per second to be exact,” says Lucey. “Now, quick. listen.”

He shoves the earpiece at me. The ringing has vanished. The line gives a slight hiccough, there is a sharp buzz, and then nothing but soft white noise.

“We’re home free now,” Lucey tells me, taking back the phone and applying the blue box to its mouthpiece once again. “We’re up on a tandem, into a long-lines trunk. Once you’re up on a tandem, you can send yourself anywhere you want to go.” He decides to check out London first. He chooses a certain pay phone located in Waterloo Station. This particular pay phone is popular with the phone-phreaks network because there are usually people walking by at all hours who will pick it up and talk for a while.

He presses the lower left-hand corner button which is marked “KP” on the face of the box.

“That’s Key Pulse. It tells the tandem we’re ready to give it instructions. First I’ll punch out KP 182 START, which will slide us into the overseas sender in White Plains.” I hear a neat clunk-cheep. “I think we’ll head over to England by satellite. Cable is actually faster and the connection is somewhat better, but I like going by satellite. So I just punch out KP Zero 44. The Zero is supposed to guarantee a satellite connection and 44 is the country code for England. Okay… we’re there. In Liverpool actually. Now all I have to do is punch out the London area code which is 1, and dial up the pay phone. Here, listen, I’ve got a ring now.”

I hear the soft quick purr-purr of a London ring. Then someone picks up the phone. “Hello,” says the London voice.

“Hello. Who’s this?” Fraser asks.

“Hello. There’s actually nobody here. I just picked this up while I was passing by. This is a public phone. There’s no one here to answer actually.”

“Hello. Don’t hang up. I’m calling from the United States.”

“Oh. What is the purpose of the call? This is a public phone you know.”

“Oh. You know. To check out, uh, to find out what’s going on in London. How is it there?”

“Its five o’clock in the morning. It’s raining now.”

“Oh. Who are you?”

The London passerby turns out to be an R.A.F. enlistee on his way back to the base in Lincolnshire, with a terrible hangover after a thirty-six-hour pass. He and Fraser talk about the rain. They agree that it’s nicer when it’s not raining. They say good-bye and Fraser hangs up. His dime returns with a nice clink.

“Isn’t that far out,” he says grinning at me. “London. Like that.”

Interestingly, a number of the early phone phreaks were blind kids, including Joe Engressia, who could whistle a perfect 2600 hertz tone.

Phone etiquette and the end of the individual

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 27, 2010

Peggy Nelson argues that everyone being on their mobile phones all the time — even while at a dinner for two — isn’t rude, it signals a shift from our society’s emphasis on the individual to the networked “flow”.

We’ve moved from the etiquette of the individual to the etiquette of the flow.

This is not mob rule, nor is it the fearsome hive mind, the sound of six billion vuvuzelas buzzing. This is not individuals giving up their autonomy or their rational agency. This is individuals choosing to be in touch with each other constantly, exchanging stories and striving for greater connection. The network does not replace the individual, but augments it. We have become individuals-plus-networks, and our ideas immediately have somewhere to go. As a result we’re always having all of our conversations now, flexible geometries of nodes and strands, with links and laughing and gossip and facts flying back and forth. But the real message is movement.

But au contraire, mon frere.

My new standard of cool: when I’m hanging out with you, I never see your phone ever ever ever.

If we’re hanging out and you pull out your iPhone to water your Farmville crops, we can no longer be friends. It’s not me, it’s you.

(via @tcarmody)

Pre-paid plan options for smartphone travellers

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 26, 2010

If you’re going on an overseas trip and want to use your phone (with data) while you’re there, check out this new wiki on what plans are available in several countries. I hope this develops into a solid resource…I never know where to look for this stuff before I go. (via dj)

David Foster Wallace on iPhone 4’s FaceTime

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 07, 2010

The recently announced iPhone 4 includes a feature called FaceTime; it’s wifi videophone functionality. In Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace wrote that within the reality of the book, videophones enjoyed enormous initial popularity but then after a few months, most people gave it up. Why the switch back to voice?

The answer, in a kind of trivalent nutshell, is: (1) emotional stress, (2) physical vanity, and (3) a certain queer kind of self-obliterating logic in the microeconomics of consumer high-tech.

First, the stress:

Good old traditional audio-only phone conversations allowed you to presume that the person on the other end was paying complete attention to you while also permitting you not to have to pay anything even close to complete attention to her. A traditional aural-only conversation […] let you enter a kind of highway-hypnotic semi-attentive fugue: while conversing, you could look around the room, doodle, fine-groom, peel tiny bits of dead skin away from your cuticles, compose phone-pad haiku, stir things on the stove; you could even carry on a whole separate additional sign-language-and-exaggerated-facial-expression type of conversation with people right there in the room with you, all while seeming to be right there attending closely to the voice on the phone. And yet — and this was the retrospectively marvelous part — even as you were dividing your attention between the phone call and all sorts of other idle little fuguelike activities, you were somehow never haunted by the suspicion that the person on the other end’s attention might be similarly divided.

[…] Video telephony rendered the fantasy insupportable. Callers now found they had to compose the same sort of earnest, slightly overintense listener’s expression they had to compose for in-person exchanges. Those caller who out of unconscious habit succumbed to fuguelike doodling or pants-crease-adjustment now came off looking extra rude, absentminded, or childishly self-absorbed. Callers who even more unconsciously blemish-scanned or nostril explored looked up to find horrified expressions on the video-faces at the other end. All of which resulted in videophonic stress.

And then vanity:

And the videophonic stress was even worse if you were at all vain. I.e. if you worried at all about how you looked. As in to other people. Which all kidding aside who doesn’t. Good old aural telephone calls could be fielded without makeup, toupee, surgical prostheses, etc. Even without clothes, if that sort of thing rattled your saber. But for the image-conscious, there was of course no answer-as-you-are informality about visual-video telephone calls, which consumers began to see were less like having the good old phone ring than having the doorbell ring and having to throw on clothes and attach prostheses and do hair-checks in the foyer mirror before answering the door.

Those are only excerpts…you can read more on pp. 144-151 of Infinite Jest. Eventually, in the world of the book, people began wearing “form-fitting polybutylene masks” when talking on the videophone before even that became too much.

10 reasons to avoid talking on the phone

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 26, 2010

This comic on The Oatmeal pretty much nails why I hate talking on the phone.

If you’re like me, you can’t relax on the phone because you’re constantly looking for an opportunity to say goodbye.

Bell’s telegraph killer

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 23, 2009

Word is trickling out of Bell Labs that Alexander Graham Bell is developing a device that will supplant the telegraph.

While the technology behind the Telephone is new, the design is reassuringly old-fashioned, reminiscent of a phrenologist’s horn or ear-candle in form. We found the experience far more comfortable than the one we had with the Telegraph, though fatigue from magnetic waves is inevitable in the use of each. This is a minor complaint, however, as we could scarcely imagine using such a device for more than a few minutes a day.

Update: Meanwhile, back in the real world, F. Marion Crawford had this to say back in 1896:

The old fashioned novel is really dead, and nothing can revive it nor make anybody care for it again. What is to follow it?…A clever German who is here suggested to me last night that the literature of the future might turn out to be the daily exchange of ideas of men of genius — over the everlasting telephone of course — published every morning for the whole world….

The everlasting telephone!

Teens texting at terrific rate

posted by Jason Kottke   May 26, 2009

Crazy statistic of the day:

American teenagers sent and received an average of 2,272 text messages per month in the fourth quarter of 2008, according to the Nielsen Company — almost 80 messages a day, more than double the average of a year earlier.

I went over on my 200 messages plan for the first time last month. In other news, I am fucking old and get off my lawn, you damn kids!

Maureen Dowd interviews telephone inventor

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 23, 2009

Ha! Maureen Dowd interviews Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone.

ME: The telephone seems like letter-writing without the paper and pen. Is there any message that can’t wait for a passenger pigeon?

BELL: Possibly the message I’d like to deliver to you right now.

ME: Why did you think the answer to telegrams was a noisy new telegram?

BELL: We have designed the receiver so you can leave it off the hook.

See also The Victorian Internet. (thx, @evamaria_m)

iPhone 3.0

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 17, 2009

Land sakes, with all the hustle and bustle around here lately, I plumb forgot that Apple had an event today to announce the newest version of the operating system for their interactiveTelePhone. Engadget has the details. The iPhone 3.0 highlights so far:

Embeddable Google Maps within applications.
Same apps of two phones can talk to each other (gaming!).
Turn-by-turn directions available.
Push notifications finally coming. (They retooled after hearing all sorts of feedback from App Store developers.)
Streaming audio and video.
CUT AND PASTE.
MMS support.
Better searching, like in email and calendars.

Google Voice

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 12, 2009

After almost two years, Google finally does something with GrandCentral: Google Voice (announcement). David Pogue raves about it in the Times.

From now on, you don’t have to listen to your messages in order; you don’t have to listen to them at all. In seconds, these recordings are converted into typed text. They show up as e-mail messages or text messages on your cellphone. This is huge. It means that you can search, sort, save, forward, copy and paste voice mail messages.

GrandCentral was amazing enough…Google Voice really sounds spectacular.

Ways to dial a telephone

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 05, 2008

In 1960, just before the widespread release of push-button phones, AT&T tested a number of button configurations to see which ones offered the greatest speed and least confusion. The number pattern based on the numbers’ positions on the incumbent rotary dial did well but the company decided to go with the now-familiar 3x3+1 configuration instead.

Phone numbers on letterhead

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 31, 2008

A Bell Telephone pamphlet on how to show telephone numbers on letterhead from the early 1960s. More info at Oddmart. (via quips)

Old iPhone price check on eBay

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 18, 2008

Before the iPhone 3G came out last month, I wrote about how valuable the old iPhone still was.

A quick search reveals that used & unlocked 8Gb iPhones are going for ~$400 and 16Gb for upwards of $500, with never-opened phones going for even more.

I just checked eBay again and those prices are down only slightly. Never-opened unlocked iPhones are still fetching $400-500 and somewhat less for previously used phones. If you’ve purchased an iPhone 3G in the past few days, you still have an excellent shot at getting most of your money back from your first phone (provided you can get it unlocked, which isn’t difficult).

I also checked the prices for unlocked iPhone 3Gs…prices are upwards of $1400 for the 16GB model. The unlocked claim is somewhat dubious. AFAIK, there hasn’t been a crack released yet although it’s been reported that the 3Gs are being sold unlocked in Italy and Hong Kong.

Update: The 3G has been cracked.

Valuable old iPhones

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 23, 2008

Last week: maybe that old iPhone isn’t completely worthless after all.

But a cheaper and easier way to get an iPhone that works on T-Mobile, etc. is to buy an old iPhone from an upgrader for $100, maybe even $150?

This week: you might actually break even or turn a small profit from selling your old iPhone on eBay or craigslist. A quick search reveals that used & unlocked 8Gb iPhones are going for ~$400 and 16Gb for upwards of $500, with never-opened phones going for even more. Here are some recent old iPhone auctions:

- A lot of five never-opened unlocked 16Gb iPhones went for $2,755 ($551 per phone)
- A used unlocked 8Gb iPhone went for $405
- A used unlocked 16Gb iPhone went for $585.

Before the announcement of the iPhone 3G, new 8Gb iPhones retailed for $399, 16Gb for $499. When the iPhone 3G comes out on July 11, the supply of old iPhones in the marketplace will greatly increase (which means that the price will drop) but the auctions above suggest that those old phones might not be shiny paperweights after all. (thx, praveen & carl)

How much is that old iPhone worth?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 20, 2008

Just after Apple announced the iPhone 3G, Khoi Vinh whipped up a quick graph of the declining value of his iPhone over the past year. He generously estimates that when the iPhone 3G is released in early July, his old iPhone will be worth $100, half of the price for a new iPhone 3G. At the time, I speculated that you’d be hard pressed to find a buyer at $75.

However, the resale market for old iPhones might not be so dismal. AT&T has confirmed to MacWorld that in-store activation of the iPhone 3G will be mandatory:

AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel confirmed for Macworld that activation must be done at the time of purchase, in-store.

For those who want to use their phone on another network, an untethered 8 GB iPhone 3G would cost them at least $374 ($199 + $175 AT&T account cancellation fee). But a cheaper and easier way to get an iPhone that works on T-Mobile, etc. is to buy an old iPhone from an upgrader for $100, maybe even $150?

Phone sex operators

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 11, 2008

Slideshow of photos of phone sex operators by Phillip Toledano. (via waxy)

iPhone 3G hangover

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 10, 2008

After yesterday’s iPhone 3G revelry, the inevitable hangover. AT&T is done playing nice with iPhone customers. First off, the data plan for 3G is $10 more than the old plan. Second, in-store activation is required, “which takes 10-12 minutes”…with the old version of the iPhone, you could activate through iTunes and it took 2 minutes. (That means no online ordering of phones either.) Third, Apple and AT&T may be working on a purchase penalty for those who don’t activate their phones within 30 days…so no more buying a phone to use on another network. Four: no prepaid plans. Yay?

Tombstone barcodes

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 06, 2008

Leave it to the Japanese to put barcodes on tombstones. Scannable by mobile phone, the tombstones can deliver images and video of the deceased to future mourners.

In addition to images of the deceased, people can view a greeting from the chief mourner at the funeral and browse through the guest book. They can also make entries using their cell phones.

Mobile phone companies are evil, irritating, and stupid defacto monopolies

posted by Jason Kottke   May 14, 2008

[I’m sure this is nothing new and has been amply documented elsewhere but I’m in rant mode, not research mode, so here we go.] We’re going to London soon so my wife calls up AT&T to make sure our iPhones will work in the UK. We already knew all about the ridiculous prices they charge for international data roaming (viewing a 3-minute video on YouTube would cost about $40!), so turning that feature off for the duration is not going to be a problem. After unlocking the phones for international access, the woman informed Meg of two other tidbits of mobile phone company idiocy:

1. If my iPhone is on in the UK and the phone rings but I don’t answer, the call goes to voicemail. As it should. But somehow, I get charged for that call at $1.29/minute *and* perhaps an additional call from my phone to the US, also billed at $1.29/minute. Individual voicemails are limited to 2 minutes, but if I get 10 2-minute voicemails over the course of a couple days, I’m charged $25 for not answering my phone. And then I have to listen to all the voicemails…that’s another $25. Insane and inane.

2. But it gets even more unbelievable! Then the woman tells Meg that when the iPhone is hooked up to a computer via USB, you shouldn’t download the photos from the phone to the computer because you’ll incur international data roaming charges and further that the only way to deal with this is to wait to sync your photos when you get back to the US. W! T! F! How is that even possible? This sounds like complete bullshit to me. The iPhone somehow calls AT&T to ask permission to d/l photos? Verifies the EXIF data? Informs the US government what you’ve been taking pictures of…some kind of distributed self-surveillance system? Is this really the case or was this woman just really confused about what she was reading off of her script?

Good notes from today’s Apple event at

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 06, 2008

Good notes from today’s Apple event at which they announced the developer’s kit for the iPhone. VC John Doerr also announced the iFund, a $100 million fund that will give money to companies wanting to develop applications for the iPhone. (via df)

Did Alexander Graham Bell drink Elisha Gray’s

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 20, 2008

Did Alexander Graham Bell drink Elisha Gray’s telephone-flavored milkshake?

On May 22, 1886, The Washington Post published a shocking front-page scoop: Zenas F. Wilber, a former Washington patent examiner, swore in an affidavit that he’d been bribed by an attorney for Alexander Graham Bell to award Bell the patent for the telephone over a rival inventor, Elisha Gray, who’d filed a patent document on the same day as Bell in 1876.

Even though Bell has been legally vindicated on this issue, Seth Shulman’s new book, The Telephone Gambit, suggests that he did in fact steal a key idea from Elisha Gray. (via house next door)

Attention American parents: Mobile phones and text

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 11, 2008

Attention American parents: Mobile phones and text messages are sexually molesting our children!!! Ah, CNN…

The Indian letter writing industry (for those

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 26, 2007

The Indian letter writing industry (for those who are unable to write themselves) is all but extinct because of near-ubiquitous mobile phones and text messaging.

Mr. Sawant mourns the demise of the letter culture. After dropping a letter in the box, he used to imagine its winding journey. Someone far away would open what he had written on someone else’s behalf; the reader would savor its kind words or its little secrets, then maybe file it away in a box, and perhaps revisit it weeks later in a burst of nostalgia.

But even Sawant admits that ringing his daughter on his mobile is much easier than writing a letter.