Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: The other kind of phone tapping

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  • Russell Brown, in reply to Jeremy Masters,

    I ended up getting a digital keypad on the streets of Hong Kong

    This is some Neuromancer shizz.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22843 posts Report Reply

  • Angela Hart,

    Several people who used to work in telephone exchanges have popped up on this thread, and here's another. Tapped calls were distinctive because the pulses you could hear were so much slower than dialled ones. I was a technician and worked in both rotary and step by step electromagnetic exchanges (at Mount Eden) . There were two types of rotary equipment at Mount Eden and we had to "dope" the drives on the older type with sticky stuff because they relied on friction to operate. They needed work to retain that friction but were pretty reliable otherwise. The newer step by step exchange in its own separate building at Mount Eden had different problems, mainly down to the "wipers" which swept across metal contacts until they detected an available circuit being so delicate that they needed frequent replacement.

    Each generational change in switching technology reduced the amount of maintenance and the number of people needed to keep the equipment running, and the complexity of fault finding may actually have reduced. These days my impression is that you just have to know computers!

    I'm always amused when I see file footage on TV because they use pics of an old MDF (median distribution frame) which is the place where the external cables connecting the exchange to subscribers and to other exhanges are terminated. The individual wires are soldered to a framework which allows "jumpers" to be run to connect subscribers' lines to their equipment inside the exchange. These terminations are fused and the file footage is from an old MDF with distinctive large old fuses. They don't make 'em like that any more.
    It's also amusing because this file footage is taken to represent telephone exchanges, and it does in the sense that they all have an MDF, but the MDF does not perform the switching/connecting function of the exchange.

    Christchurch • Since Apr 2014 • 614 posts Report Reply

  • Pete Sime,

    I remember when I was a kid in the 80s, there was a bank of 4-6 public telephones outside the Post Office in North East Valley. I'd use to get a fairly decent rate of return by pressing the coin return button for pocket change.

    Dunedin • Since Apr 2008 • 171 posts Report Reply

  • Garth Biggs,

    On the pay phone at boarding school in South Africa in the 60's we used to have an earthed "tickey-wire" (a tickey being three pence).
    When the pips sounded to insert your coins, the tickey-wire was inserted into a small hole in the mouthpiece, where the ensuring connection made a sound/signal like a coin had been inserted.
    Caused difficulty when telco takings from that phone were significantly short of what they should have been.

    Auckland • Since Feb 2015 • 2 posts Report Reply

  • Ross Mason,

    One distinct and very useful tool that emerged from the PO Relay World was the spring tension measuring/adjusting tool. (It helped to have PO techies as shooting mates) It was like a wee torque wrench. One could adjust the tension on its arm and use it to adjust the relay or switch tensioning. We found it immensely useful for setting the triggers on our target rifles.

    Upper Hutt • Since Jun 2007 • 1590 posts Report Reply

  • Angela Hart, in reply to Ross Mason,

    So that's where they all went :-)

    Christchurch • Since Apr 2014 • 614 posts Report Reply

  • Allan Moyle,

    After hearing about tapping and discovering it worked on the payphone outside HB Williams Library in Gisborne, 3 of us embarked on a great weekend riding our bikes all around town and the 'burbs trying it on every payphone. It was simple things that kept energetic but geeky 9 y.o. boys amused in the early 70's eh!

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 103 posts Report Reply

  • John Farrell, in reply to Angela Hart,

    Angela - I also worked on rotary - the Dunedin central exchange had both types as well. The oddest system we had was a "trombone satellite" exchange at Ravensbourne. This was the older friction drive type, and the equipment had reputedly been in a trade exhibition in Belgium, and been stored in a bunker until after WW1 ended. It was replaced in the early 1980s.

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 499 posts Report Reply

  • Brent Jackson, in reply to TracyMac,

    Shout-out to the Tooting massive.

    Yeah, I lived in Tooting Broadway when I was in London in '87. Links Rd, near the Tooting Railway Station. The Gorringe Park (Lounge Bar) was our local.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 619 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Campbell, in reply to John Farrell,

    Angela – I also worked on rotary – the Dunedin central exchange had both types as well. The oddest system we had was a “trombone satellite” exchange at Ravensbourne.

    I remember visiting it on a school trip some time in the early 60s

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 2622 posts Report Reply

  • Andrew C, in reply to Gregor Ronald,

    136 did something as well, can’t remember what though.

    When you hung up it immediately rang back but without the gap between rings. So instead of ring ring pause ring ring it would go ringringringring<etc>

    Auckland • Since May 2008 • 169 posts Report Reply

  • Andrew C, in reply to Pete Sime,

    I remember when I was a kid in the 80s, there was a bank of 4-6 public telephones outside the Post Office in North East Valley. I’d use to get a fairly decent rate of return by pressing the coin return button for pocket change.

    One of the older boys in my Boys Brigade troop worked at the Post Office as a phone technician, I guess he was about 16 or 17. He bought some public phones in and showed everyone how to insert little blockages up inside the coin return hole so that if someone hit the coin return button the coin would be released but then get caught up above the blockage and not fall into the hole. Popsicle sticks worked a treat apparently because you could easily snap them into the size you needed and make fine adjustments until it fitted just right. Later on the kids would go back to the phone and remove the blockage and retrieve the coins.

    It was obviously a common enough scam because lots of my mates would look for them in any pay phone they came across, just in case they chanced upon one rigged by someone else.

    Auckland • Since May 2008 • 169 posts Report Reply

  • John Farrell,

    We were told that phone boxes installed in the 1970s had a new feature - an apron at 45 degrees, a bit below waist height. This was to ensure that those who urinated in them got their own back.

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 499 posts Report Reply

  • stever@cs.waikato.ac.nz, in reply to Graham Dunster,

    Oh me too :) Right on the southern border (Longley Road) before it became Colliers Wood :)

    I went back last year---IT'S EXACTLY THE SAME...apart from a huge Sainsburys' in (what was) the car park to the (gorgeous) Granada Tooting

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Granada,_Tooting

    and a Caffe Nero :)

    I love it.

    And of course "Power to the People"....

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citizen_Smith

    :)

    Hamilton • Since Nov 2006 • 73 posts Report Reply

  • Anthony851,

    There was an anti-tapping modification made to the payphones. I don't remember how they worked. In the early eighties most of the payphones in the town I lived in were pulled out because of vandalism.
    The red box pay phones were called PCS, Public Call Stations. The phones you would find at hotels, hostel etc were call SCB or Subscriber Call Box. The owner of the premises paid the "rental" for these making local calls free. These phones were the same as a PCS, except for a strap between two terminals on the dial. The strap would make the switch operated by the coin balance in operative, meaning no coins were required for local calls.
    When making a toll call the operator would listen for the different sounds made as different coins went through the coin mechanism, a bell, a coil and I can't remember what the 3rd sound was. When the operator was satisfied by the number and value of the coins the call would be put through. Remember that you paid in 3 minute segments. When the time was up you would hear the operator again wanting more money to be inserted.
    The other trick was call home from a PCS after work without pushing the "A" button. Until the "A" button was pressed the microphone would not work. If the person receiving the call was aware that the call was from a PCS the order could me made, bread and milk etc. Then you would push the "B" button and get your coins back.
    This all ended when the phones in red boxes were phased out.
    The current phones use answer reversal for billing. When the call in answered the exchange would change the polarity of the line.

    Kerikeri • Since Apr 2015 • 1 posts Report Reply

  • Myles Thomas,

    Thanks for reminding me about this. A special excitement came from getting a free call, especially if you couldn't find enough 2 cent pieces or it gobbled them up because you pushed the A button thinking the call had been answered but hadn't, thereby losing your money.

    It really is a world away from today and could easily be written up to sound like a certain Monty Python sketch.

    Auckland • Since Apr 2011 • 130 posts Report Reply

  • Myles Thomas, in reply to Andrew C,

    Wet tissue paper worked well too

    Auckland • Since Apr 2011 • 130 posts Report Reply

  • Hilary Stace,

    We lived in a two storeyed house with the telephone (black bakelight with woven cord) in a room upstairs which we called the study. So if the phone rang you had to run from wherever you were in the house or garden or miss the call. Callers expected that and waited a long time. I remember the excitement when we got a phone extension (two tone green with twirly plastic cord) downstairs. That was the start of sitting on stairs in various houses/flats having long free phone calls. I remember thinking how wonderful it would be if you could see the person you were talking to.

    All his life my father only ever made toll calls (or allow others to make them) in times of emergency or very special occasions, as they were so expensive. He would stand by the phone and the caller with a loudly ticking timer and three minutes was the absolute maximum allowed. Otherwise communication with people not in the same town was via a blue lettercard or light paper aerogramme form.

    In the 1960s my oldest sister and her husband travelled down the Amazon for several months and later came back from London overland via Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan. Every few months they collected mail from home via poste restante and sent a letter off. That isolation seems almost bizarre today.

    As teenagers we learnt the phone box tapping trick, but I was too law abiding to utilise it often. And isn't it strange how readily you recall your own phone number and those of your friends from those early days?

    Wgtn • Since Jun 2008 • 3225 posts Report Reply

  • Son of Dad,

    Mark McCloud (the historian of LSD blotter art) remembered that when he lived in Paris as a student at the American College, another student discovered that the yellow payphones could be modified to give unlimited credit by removing a metal plate and setting some digits to '999'. Apparently there's an in-joke to this effect in Fernando Solanas' 1986 film 'Tangos, el exilio de Gardel'.

    I've really enjoyed this thread. Things like this are too easily forgotten, and I really hope that you wise people come up with some other obscurities of New Zealand life.

    Since Aug 2014 • 14 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Barnes, in reply to Angela Hart,

    The newer step by step exchange in its own separate building at Mount Eden had different problems, mainly down to the "wipers" which swept across metal contacts until they detected an available circuit being so delicate that they needed frequent replacement.

    That must be why, if you got a "bad line", you could hang up and dial again and get a better connection I guess.
    I once, as a kid, was doing the push button B trick to get coins and tapping out long random numbers hoping to hear a foreign accent, when a big "Dad", with his wimpy kid in tow, wrenched open the phone box door, dragged me out and started bashing me about the head, I thought it was the bloke from the post office. Turned out the wimpy brat had been bullied at school and I looked a bit like the bully and said Dad was metering out revenge for him.
    Oh the irony. The kid didn't go to my school, well, not until his Dad pulled him out of his school over the bullying, then he came to mine.... poor bastard.

    eta.
    Speaking of irony, post above mine is from "Son of Dad" no relation I hope.

    Peria • Since Dec 2006 • 5521 posts Report Reply

  • Angela Hart, in reply to Steve Barnes,

    yup, your bad line was often a poor connection in the exchange caused by dirt or wear on the switching equipment. If you hung up and tried again, unless it was a very quiet time with no other calls being made, you stood a good chance of getting a different piece of switching equipment and avoiding the problem.

    Christchurch • Since Apr 2014 • 614 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel,

    Attachment Attachment Attachment

    I’m thinking this might be the thread on which to find a home for a technological artifact I have knocking about – the Varian Eimac transmitter valve – all almost thirty (30) cm of it – perfect for a 10kw transmitter or a low budget sci-fi movie perhaps…
    Not as much fun as yer old glass tuning valve, perhaps – but still redolent of a once state-of-the-art and proud technology, now left behind…
    Offers of a good home anyone?

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7948 posts Report Reply

  • Angela Hart, in reply to Ian Dalziel,

    That's probably a collector's item Ian. Many of the tertiary institutions have displays of treasured artefacts like that.

    Christchurch • Since Apr 2014 • 614 posts Report Reply

  • Son of Dad, in reply to Steve Barnes,

    I was always thought of myself as refined rather than wimpy...

    Since Aug 2014 • 14 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Barnes, in reply to Ian Dalziel,

    Varian Eimac transmitter valve

    Whilst looking to see if I could find any use for such an esoteric bit of historical hardware, other that to go between to 1940's microscope and the steampunk robot on my now crowded bookshelves, I cam across this and decided it belonged here.

    Making a type C triode vacuum tube.

    Peria • Since Dec 2006 • 5521 posts Report Reply

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