27 Comments

  1. I just barely understand the comic, but I do not understand Bill’s headline. Even 30 years ago, standard telephone numbers had seven digits. Two-Letter + One-Digit “exchanges” (like “WE6” or “TI4”) were once common, but that was much more than 30 years ago. I remember seeing them on old signs, but using them to report or write down a number was before my time. I suppose there might have once been 4-digit “local” dialing, but that must have been even older than the lettered exchanges.

  2. Is the idea that everyone knew their telephone number years ago, and teens, at least, don’t now? Because I think most people, including teens, do know their telephone number.

  3. I think Bill’s point is that Gracie couldn’t have said “your phone number”. But she could easily have said “our phone number.”

  4. I thought that Bill’s point was that Baldo used his phone number as a calculator, but then copied over the wrong field from his phone.

  5. BTW, If I’m wrong, that I not only don’t understand Bill’s title, I also don’t understand the comic. Is he just writing down random numbers that he knows and hoping that they’re correct? Could the punch line just as easily have been “It’s our street address number”?

  6. Kilby: the two letter abbreviation hung on in areas for quite a while if there wasn’t too much change in the intervening years — the second phone number I ever learned in my life was the one we had when I was in first grade, and it was LA5-4559 — LA was the LAncaster exchange. We lived on Old Lancaster Road in Bryn Mawr on the Main Line where things didn’t change all willy nilly like they were hoi polloi, don’tchaknow…

  7. Yup, “your phone number” is what I had in mind.

    Just something that popped into my head.

  8. I would go along with WW’s explanation. Even though that turned out to not be what Bill was asking, it was an unexplained part of the comic.

  9. As far as phone numbers are concerned, 4 digit numbers were common for local dialing where I lived in the ’40s. When I was a kid, dialing wasn’t common in my area. You picked up the phone and asked the operator to connect you. You could give a name rather than a number.

    I remember seeing an old letterhead for the hardware store in town (from before my time). It had a phone. The number was 2. At least he probably had somebody to talk to.

    I still remember my phone number from 1947. 4 digits. It’s convenient because I can use it for the locker combination at the gym. At my age the short term memory is not nearly as good as the long term memory. I can remember the combination on the locker but not necessarily the locker number.

  10. Winter, sometimes the joke is just “He’s so damn stupid, it’s a wonder he can remember how to breathe.”

  11. “I thought that Bill’s point was that Baldo used his phone number as a calculator, but then copied over the wrong field from his phone.”

    Yep, I third that. I like that explanation.

  12. Dwight Sipler, I do something similar: I use the last four digits of my childhood phone number as my go-to password, and I can even write the three-number extension in plain sight as a clue: there’s only one person on the planet, maybe two, who would associate the xxx with the xxxx.

  13. In 1950, if you lived in a fairly big city you had a dial telephone, but if you lived in a little town you still had an operator. The switch that allowed you to dial your phone was HUGE. In a medium sized city the telephone company building that had the switch was the size of a high school. There’s one of those in Medford, MA. In the 1960’s they added area codes, replaced the letters with numbers and put dial switches everywhere. If you live in a small town and there’s a 1960’s phone company building about the size of the local post office, that’s where the switch was. It may still be there. They had to keep the switches working for decades which serves them right because they charged extra for touch-tone dialing and so plenty of frugal people refused to make the change. Now the electronic switches can handle dial telephones so the old switches can finally be retired. Oh, if you want to see one in action, in 3-D, watch “Dial M for Murder” by Alfred Hitchcock.

  14. Shoot, by listing my childhood phone number, everyone here is going to be able to open my luggage…

  15. @ MiB – “The switch … was HUGE.… to see one in action, in 3-D
    If you want to actually operate one of those switches, visit the “German Technology Museum” in Berlin. In the “communications” exhibit (in the annex behind the parking lot), they have a medium sized, but completely functional telephone switch in a glass enclosure, with five or six working telephones scattered all around the room. Most of them are rotary, but there are also a couple of pushbutton “pulse dial” models (these are tricky to use, because you have to wait for the pulses to stop before pressing the next button).
    P.S. The annex also has four floors of hands-on experiment displays, fascinating for both kids and adults. My kids think the main building is boring, every time we go there, they want to spend all their time in the annex.

  16. @ CIDU Bill – “I use the last four digits of my childhood phone number as my go-to password…
    That’s OK for a bank card or telephone, because the crooks only get three attempts to guess before the system cashiers the number and blocks the card, but it would be fatal for any online password, because a computer can execute myriad guesses in just a few seconds.

  17. Kilby, obviously this only applies to a four-digit password.

    (Online passwords are required to be longer and more complex so that 95% of all users just write it down on a piece of paper next to or near their desks)

  18. @ Bill – Obvious to you and to me, but perhaps not to all of the lurkers listening in on this conversation. The pushback on “four-digit password” was primarily for their benefit.

  19. At one time, probably* just as an in-principle challenge, I was able to pulse-dial a 7 digit number by tapping the hangup buttons.

    (*I say probably because I vaguely recall having a damaged tone pad and using this as an actual workaround for a couple days until it could be replaced.)

  20. When I was a kid in the 80s, my older brother got to have his own phone line. I guess my parents were tired of him being on it all the time when they needed to make a phone call.

  21. My high-school girlfriend and her sister (a couple years younger) shared a phone number separate from the family’s general one, and this one had two extensions in the girls’ rooms. They were in return forbidden from tieing up the family’s main line. If their reserved line was busy, I could call the family number, and *briefly* talk to her, or ask the parents (who liked me) to let her know I would like to talk to her, and she might call me back from her line, if she could kick her sister off.
    ((TThis was the 60s and of course we’re talking about landlines.)

  22. I do the same thing, CIDU Bill – my childhood phone number (well, one of them) and one of my early work numbers. I love being able to write three numbers on a card or whatever and knowing it won’t give anyone who sees it the faintest clue.
    For online passwords – well, actually, for online passwords I use passwords generated by my password keeper. But the password to my password keeper is the first letters of a line of poetry, slightly munged – same for a few other sites that I might need to get to without my password keeper. But it’s on my phone and both computers, so it’s pretty universally available to me. Poetry or a song – something where the words and word order are fixed (my dad keeps trying to use sentences, but you can say the same thing multiple ways, which makes it a bad password).

  23. larK – I know Old Lancaster Rd in Bryn Mawr – Somehow we got lost getting off the PA Turnpike at Valley Forge to take 202 down to Lancaster and ended up your old street. He does not like to make Uturns so we stayed on it and a nice needlework shop as went along.

  24. When we lived in Brooklyn our phone number started HYacinth 5 – over the decades I forgot the rest.

    The number we had when we moved to Long Island is still my mom’s phone number. Through the magic of Google phone numbers my BIL transferred it to same and it rings on mom’s phone at her residence in the next county so much easier than having to call all her friends (who are still alive) and relatives to let them a new phone number.

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