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June 19, 2009

Lost frames of reference… Part 2: I can’t talk now, I’m expecting a call

Filed under: General,Historical Rant — Tags: , , , , — Bryan @ 2:14 am

When AT&T was forced to break up in the early 80’s one of the side effects was that they had to allow other companies to provide long distance service.

Since AT&T and all of the Bell companies still owned the physical infrastructure (although ownership was now split up by region), part of the deal was that they had to sell access to third parties. New companies such as MetroPhone, Sprint and MCI came into existence to meet that challenge. Eventually Sprint and MCI worked to lay their own copper, fiber and/or satellite infrastructure for handling calls between cities so that they wouldn’t have to carry their calls over AT&T hardware.

Initially to use these services you would call a local or 1-800 number (called an extender). You would punch in a customer account number and then the phone number you wished to call and it would connect you through.

Additionally, many large companies and universities had their electronic switchboards setup so that if you dialed into a specific number and punched in a code, you would be connected to that locations trunk line (aka, business party line) for an outbound call on the companies preferred long distance carrier.

As you might imagine these system were ripe for exploit and if you were clever enough you might have gotten away without paying a single long distance call in the mid to late 80’s.

One really big problem of early automation came about from businesses putting up automated dial-up services. For a period of time in the late 80’s and early 90’s you had to be sure that you had completely logged out a phone system first before you hung-up the line as the system might not detect your disconnect quick enough before another call came in. The net result would be the next caller could carry on with your phone session. Voice mail systems were the biggest problem spot for this issue since they were some of the earliest, fully automated phone utilities in common use.

A few more idiosyncrasies to note specifically about person to person calling was the lack of Caller ID. Until the advent of Caller ID people had no way of knowing who was calling. So, if you were trying to avoid someone you just wouldn’t pick up the phone. Then, you hoped you didn’t miss anything important. Yikes! If you were extra worried about missing that call from your best friend though you would tell them “Ring once, then hang up and call back so I know it’s you.” Or use some other kind of predetermined ring pattern.

Another odd behavior from the years prior to Call Waiting. If you were expecting a call you had better keep the line clear so that the other person didn’t get a busy signal (a corollary to that is if you didn’t want someone to know you were home you would stay off the phone as well). Call waiting was also a bane to modem users as the chime that alerted you that another call was pending would disrupt the modem and force it to hang-up your connection. Some phone companies eventually offered the ability to punch in a code prior to dialing that would disable call waiting for the duration of the call.

Wow, what a pain in the butt now that I think about it.

More next time…

Or, jump back to Part 1

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2 Comments

  1. HELP! I do a lot with photographic scans of old images. Because it’s easy to use, I have been with Micrografx Picture Publisher Ver 8 since purchasing my Plustek UT12 scanner in 2000. Does just what I want it to do, even to this day. HOWEVER .. I lost the Plustek disc which included MFX version 8 and now stuck with it running on an ancient WIN98 machine. I want to load it onto my XP setup but cannot find the original CD. Can anyone suggest a site for a download or does anyone have a copy of cd that I can use? Help would be appreciated. Thank you! Ron.

    Comment by Ron Jay — December 6, 2009 @ 10:18 am

  2. Ron, your best bet is to check e-bay. In fact, as of my posting this I see several copies of Micrografx Webtricity 2 ( which includes PP 8 ) each for under $100. PP 8 is likely going to be the easiest version to find (just be sure to apply the updates if you’re going to run on XP).
    http://www.kitchencloset.com/realstuff/micrografx_updates/

    Alternatively you could track down the free downloadable demo of PP 10 (not DCE edition) and install that. Note that the demo is a time limited version that expires in 30 days, although I recall reading some years ago that there may be a way around it. Unfortunately I don’t have that info myself.

    Good luck!

    Comment by Bryan — December 10, 2009 @ 1:13 am

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