# Live or let dial - phones ain’t what they used to be

Shut up shut up shut up. Some annoying tit is typing away on his laptop as I’m trying to snooze on the train – except it doesn’t sound like he’s typing so much as rummaging through a bag of Scrabble tiles. It’s a horrible clattery, clickety, plasticky noise. Shut up shut up shut up, you twat. I’m on the train heading home …

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#### Re: If the numbers were clockwise

Since most people are right-handed, turning the dial clockwise would be preferred by most — so yes, they did know what they were doing.

#### Re: If the numbers were clockwise

Indeed. SInce most people would dial with the fisrt finger on their right hand, they would prefer to do so clockwise, as most of the numbers would require a movement using the stronger muscles used to curl the finger, rather than the weaker, less easily controlled muscles used to extend the finger. So, surprisingly, the dial was a masterpiece of ergonomic design; it's just the concept of a dial rather than buttons that seems ridiculous but you have to remember that we are talking about a device that harks back to times of analogue systems and pulse dialling.

#### Re: If the numbers were clockwise

Without getting in to all this anti-widdershin chauvinism shit, I'm OK with turning a dial clockwise. I was asking why aren't the numbers arranged clockwise too. Changing the numbers doesn't mean you have to change the direction of dialling!

#### Re: If the numbers were clockwise

@Alistair

The further the dial travels back, the more pulses are induced. Otherwise they would have had to change the system, too, in the sense that "1" would be ten pulses, "9" two and "0" one pulse, like Martin Gregorie said it is/was in New Zealand. The way it is here, i.e. "1" is one pulse, either the numbers where arranged anti-clockwise and the dial turning clockwise or vice versa. Or a rather complicated mechanism within the phone. They went for simplicity.

#### Re: If the numbers were clockwise

I vaguely remember reading somewhere that the arrangement was simply because the lower numbers were used more often¹. The presupposes you accept the clockwise / anticlockwise argument. The numbers nearer the "end" were quicker and took less effort to dial (wow - been a while since I used that verb in a remotely sensible way). Of course, this was all ruined when they introduced the 0 prefix. Anyone remember, "Whitehall 1212"?

¹Is this an example of Benford's law?

#### Re: If the numbers were clockwise

"Whitehall 1212" - apparently you can still get the Met (if not New Scotland Yard) on 20 7230 1212

Got further afield - whether by imitation or design; the central police station in my area was 61212 at one time.

#### Re: Is it possible

Yes!

http://www.artlebedev.com/everything/optimus/maximus/

Unless you meant a rotary dial number pad...

#### Re: Is it possible

Those look like Commodore function buttons on the left!

#### @Natalie (was:: Re: Is it possible)

Just re-map your keyboard (& relocate the key-caps, if you're not a touch typist and have to look). It ain't rocket science. Folks have been swapping <shift>and <control> and <caps-lock> keys (amongst others) for nearly three decades ...

#### Re: He failed to see how we could tap in a phone number without any number keys.

I've had students here marvel at my ability to get the computer to do things by typing commands on the (er) command line. I presume they grew up just wiggling their mouse cursor at icons or something. I imagine that in 10 years they'll even be baffled by mice, let alone actual typing.

Remember the pre........ Dial Phones (pre 1967 ish )

Insert 4 Pennies (pre decimal currency 4d ) then press button A to connect to the operator who would ask for the number to call and then connect you

after the call press button B to collect unused credit

wonder how our young sprogs would cope with that ????

How many of them have even used a modern pay phone?

dorsetknob, I even remember hand-cranked magnetos for the ringing voltage. Although, I admit I'm not that old, that was in military service and even there only for niche use and where elsewhere tone dialling was already most common.

#### @Evil Auditor

The "party line" on Noyo Hill, just outside Fort Bragg California, was still functional in 1972. I know, I helped keep it going (sometimes over barbed wire ... ). My "number" (inherited from my Grandfather) was two shorts & two longs :-)

Yes I have dialed 073nnnnnnn rather than 019nnnnnnnn due to phone buttons being the other way up to keyboards..

#### My mother

Still has one of these, not that she's a technophobe, but she keeps its putrid green bacolite shell hidden behind a curtain and uses a samsung wireless setup through the house. why? She simply likes the bell ring on the old set. Yes, it does still work as well as the day it was made.

#### Re: My mother

I have one too, wife bought it for me as a present a few years ago, it's cream, exactly like the one my folks had when I was a nipper, great rIng and the kids hate using it which keeps the bills down.

Press 1 for blah isn't fun though, some of those systems take ages to time out and pass you on to a human.

#### Re: Re: My mother

Cream? Green??

Proper phones are black, and made from super-heavy Bakelite (I'm sure I've seen old films where people are clubbed insensible, if not to death, with the handset). The cord isn't new-fangled plastic coil rubbish, it's respectable, plaited, silk-on-rubber-on-copper.

#### User Experience

It was the heavy steel frame inside the casing that gave rotary-dial handsets their weight, and they needed it since they had to stay still on the table or desk while you turned the dial to make calls. It's the same reason IBM Model M keyboards have a heavy steel plate in their base so they don't slide around as you type. The ability to crush a spammer's skull with one is a bonus.

#### Re: My mother

Google Rotatone and you can have the best of both worlds!

#### Re: My mother

The bakelite can be red, black, ivory amongst others. Red ones were typically snapped up for use as 'hot lines' in hospitals and so on - literally a red phone for urgent calls only.

#### Re: super-heavy Bakelite

Actually, Bakelite is a lightweight thermosetting plastic. It's tough, so it's suitable for "clubbing to death" use. If you want a really heavy handset, then I recall seeing a Scandinavian* cast iron handset in a 'phone exhibition at the London Design Museum a couple of decades ago.

*That's a geographical area, not some relative of Scandium.

#### Re: My mother

I doubt it's putrid green. If it's a 2 or 300 series, it'll be Jade Green, if it's a 7xx series, the name was Forest Green :-)

Not quite having to plug in an analog phone, but recently had to dig around in the loft for a test phone to shove in after a thunderstorm had fritzed the housephones. The one I found at least had push buttons but also a sad and blue Mercury button ....

#### Just the other day

I had my 9-year-old nephew visiting and he was thoroughly confused and enchanted by the working rotary dial phone in my living room. I had to show him how to dial it and he nearly jumped out of his skin when I made it ring while he was standing right next to it. (I have all the electronic chirping of my cordless phones silenced and only my two rotary phones ring.)

#### Re: Just the other day

Take him to one of the museums with a working electro-mechanical (Strowger) telephone exchange and let him see how the dial is remotely operating the bits of kit that connect the call together. The one at Amberley chalk pits in Sussex is excellent.

My 5yo daughter was transfixed - to the point where she wasn't bothered about actually talking to anyone once the call was set up, she just wanted to see the process of making the call, again and again.

#### Re: Just the other day

Thank you. I hadn't thought about uniselectors and step-by-step switches in years.

#### Gratuitous overnumerification

Why... does that phone have a sticker on it that shows the same numbers as are already printed on the phone?

#### Re: Gratuitous overnumerification

The action of dialling over time can smear dirt on the numbers underneath the dial, or take the paint off. Dial phones in garages used to have a black circular smear where the numbers should be. I guess the sticker is to counteract such wear.

#### Re: Gratuitous overnumerification

Interesting. I'd always assumed it was so you could be double sure you'd stuck your finger in the correct hole.

#### I'm just thinking about the scenario in 2053....

.... where the poor office boy is trying to stuff an old iPhone up his ass to make it work because all electronics are implanted and controlled by thought.

#### Re: I'm just thinking about the scenario in 2053....

Your comment about stuffing an iPhone up a boy's arse has been noted. I am now using my rotary pulse dial phone to call the police.

#### Apropos of nothing..

386 was my phone number as a kid back in the early 70's. And the phone was the same colour scheme as that one, albeit I remember it as much less long.

#### Re: Apropos of nothing..

I obviously lived in a bigger town, ours was 4-digits.

Strange to thing that when I was a teenager there wasn't internet, www, facebook, twitter, "proper" mobile phones (ones that weren't the size and weight of bricks with even less battery life than a modern smartphone) or indeed that much of a computer ecosystem at all (but the '64 and the Speccie were still fun).

My kids still don't believe me when I tell them that (given I basically make microchips for a living, and I'm only going grey due to aforesaid kids rather than too-advanced age).

#### Re: Apropos of nothing..

The place I lived was so small - 11 houses, a pub and a church that opened once every month - that we had numbers from the village three miles away, which was a whole 5 times bigger!

(No Monty Python Yorkshiremen sketch here - this is actually true)

#### Re: Apropos of nothing..

After having 7-digit numbers for 20 years, an unsettling number of people in Sheffield appear to think we still have 6-digit numbers. I never noticed people in 1985 thinking we still had 5-digit numbers 20 years after going over to 6-digit numbers.

#### Re: Apropos of nothing..

A friend of mine lives in a converted telephone exchange. Until the numbers were all standardised, her number was just <village name><nought>

#### Missed my chance

One of the local charity shops recently had a genuine nuclear-powered WMD rotary-dial Trimphone in the window. "I'll have that when I get back from the supermarket." I said to myself but it was gone by then. Damn.

#### Re: Missed my chance

We'll sell you one! (see other post for details)

#### 999

I understand that the numbers were arranged this way on a rotary dial to make it easier to find the 9 in the dark or if you were blind.

#### Re: 999

The dial came first, 999 was selected because it sent 9 pulses so was unlikely to be sent by a short

If the phone dials went the other way 111 would be the emergency number

#### Re: 999

The phone book that came with our old rotary-dial phone in the fifties included instructions on how to dial 999 by touch, so that you could do it when darkness or smoke made it impossible to see the dial*. I think you located the metal stop with your right-hand third finger, then put your second finger in the hole to the left of it (the zero), then your first in the next left hole, and you're ready to dial. Whether you'd have the sang froid to do this when the house was burning down or you were hiding in the dark from a violent intruder is another matter.

* Obviously you had to commit the instructions to memory while you could still see, but we had to make our own entertainment in those days, so learning bits of the phone book was something you might do.

Now I feel old. =( I just realized that there are young people in the workplace who did grow up without those phones. Anyway... my guess for the anticlockwise thing is that it is the most convenient way for right handed people to dial. Moving towards your right hand side, and not towards your left hand side with your right hand.

#### No correlation betwixt one and t'other

The order of the numbers around the dial has no connection with the direction of rotation of the dial itself....why should it?

In fact it the numbers went clockwise 0-9 then the 9 would be the nearest the endstop resulting in the fastest dialling for the emergency number. (which should have actually been 111 with the anticlockwise configuration)

#### Re: No correlation betwixt one and t'other

No 999 is slow - deliberately.

Only the first two are actually required (hence 9 for an outside line on most PBX systems).

The third provides time for the network to connect you and an operator to be on the line...

#### Re: No correlation betwixt one and t'other

"No 999 is slow - deliberately.

Only the first two are actually required (hence 9 for an outside line on most PBX systems).

The third provides time for the network to connect you and an operator to be on the line..."

I don't know where you heard that but it isn't true. My city has an area code "998", which would lead to a lot of false alarms with that system.

[Why the UK uses 999]

#### Re: No correlation betwixt one and t'other

It was slow to give you time to think about what you were doing, and to avoid the situation of lots of false calls being generated with a number like 111.

In the UK, the number you dialled corresponded directly with the digit train created - zero being ten obviously. This made the jobs of exchange engineers somewhat easier - the reverse system is less intuitive (ten minus dialled number equalling digit train).

In a similar vein my dad (who worked on the railways) told me once about the system to override the locking on points or signals in some signal boxes. The process required the slow turning of a little wheel about fifty times. Not for any overriding technical reason, but to give the signalman plenty of time to think hard about exactly what he was in the process of doing.

#### phones

...and you had to actually sit on the stairs and listen to what the other person was saying. Unlike with DECT where you let them blah while watching The Voice or reading t'internet.

#### As a side note....

...any one nr Bromsgrvoe worcestershire, The Avoncroft museum has a large collection of old phone boxes and exchanges.

http://www.avoncroft.org.uk/collections/special-collections/

http://www.connected-earth.com/partnermuseums/AvoncroftMuseum/index.htm

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