Monday, March 19, 2007

"When I call you up, your line's engaged"

So sang the Beatles in their hit song, No Reply.

Another great telephone song is Jim Croce's, with the line, "Operator, well could you help me place this call?"

Another one, Memphis Tennessee, by Chuck Berry goes: "My uncle took the message and he wrote it on the wall".

* * *

When I was a boy growing up in Peterborough Ontario, our phone number was 5-6314, or to be more exact, RIverside 5-6314. This gave way to 745-6314. Then, they added an area code at some point, and the number became (705) 745-6314.

We had exactly one telephone. It was black, hard-wired and hung on the wall in our kitchen. We rented it from Bell Canada, and paid two or three dollars for it year after year after year. Buying your own phone was not an option.

When we first got it, we were on a party line. You might pick up the phone and find that a neighbour was talking on the line. For a few extra dollars a month you could have a dedicated line. No-one in our socio-economic bracket did this. Eventually the party line gave way to dedicated lines.

Then, the next deal was pulse versus touch-tone dialing. Remember the old clickety-clickety-click of a pulse dial? There's a great Dangerman (Secret Agent) episode from the 60's in which John Drake (Patrick McGoohan) records a telephone being dialed and then laboriously works to replice the clicking sounds to determine the number that was dialed. You had to pay an extra few dollars a month for touch-tone dial; now, it's pretty much universal, although a lot of phones still come with a switch you can use to toggle between touch-tone and pulse dial

Next, Canada loosened up telephone restrictions. Extra telephones were installed in houses. You could own your own phone, but, for a time, had to rent at least one from Bell Canada, as I recall.

Then came cordless phones. If you watch re-runs of Seinfeld, you can watch the size of cordless phones shrink from year to year.

Then came cellular phones. Remember the big bulky ones that cost a fortune that you would put in your car? Like cordless phones, each year both the size and cost of a cellular phone would get smaller. Still, we got our first cell phone about five years ago. In Britain, cell phones are called mobile phones.

Then came VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) telephones.

Then came Skype.

Here's where we are at today:

* We have a regular "land" phone at our property in PEI, with phones in scattered throughout the house. Our phone service is with Eastlink, our cable TV provider, but our long-distance plan is with Yak, so I carry a Yak card for on-the-road long-distance.

* We have a Vonage VoIP phone with a Toronto area code. We use this when we are in PEI to make local calls to our relatives and friends in Toronto, and we take it with us when we travel (we have it with us now), and we use it as our phone when we are in Toronto. The quality of the calls vary from excellent to spotty. I love the fact that messages are sent to my email address as attachments, so I can listen to messages wherever I am.

* We have an Aliant cell phone in Charlottetown. We used to have it with a package plan, but we downgraded it to a pay-for-usage plan with a $10 per month minimum charge; the "credit" accumulates and so we currently have about a $120 credit on it. Because of the downgrade, however, it no longer works in the US.

* Which is why we now also have a pre-paid US-based cellphone with TracFone. We haven't actually used it yet, and will only use it when it will help us make a motel accommodation while travelling. But that's worth the $14 I paid to get it.

To summarize, our telephone providers are Eastlink, Aliant, Yak, Vonage, and TracFone. So many choices and options!

* I also have a Skype account, but haven't actually figured out how to use it yet. So, I guess I'm behind the technology curve on this one. My name is, I think, Richard Ball, or something. I'm going to have to get with a friend and have us Skype each other until I get the hang of it.

I also have three email accounts. One in Charlottetown, one in Toronto, and, yesterday I set up a hotmail account because it was needed in order to set up an MS Messenger account, another thing that I don't really understand. Anyway, if you want to try emailing me at the hotmail account, the address is I haven't figured out how to get messages from hotmail automatically when I log on to Mail, but I'll hopefully figure it out eventually.

And that's the way the Ball bounces.

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"... nothing intellectually compelling or challenging.. bald assertions coupled to superstition... woefully pathetic"