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Friday, March 22, 2013

Phone it in



My lovely wife and I love to travel. Some years ago we started spending winters traveling the south, living out of a tent. It's amazing how things have changed. One example: pay phones. Working pay phones are rare as hen's teeth these days, but it used to be our main way of communicating. We kept a few pre-paid calling cards on us and ran our affairs over pay phones.

Back in those dark days having a cell phone didn't mean much in some of the remote campgrounds we loved to stay at. There were a lot fewer cell phone towers, and even fewer in the countryside. People who needed to make a phone call would use one of the handful of pay phones at the campground.

At the time, I was the main editor of an on-line magazine. Story submissions were e-mailed to the zine -hundreds of them every month. Most people, including me, were still using dial-up. A few campgrounds let you jack into their phone lines. Some had no allowances for e-mail at all. Sounds like the dark ages.

How would I get e-mail then? Late at night, when no one was likely to need a pay phone, I'd set my laptop on top of the pay phone and get to work. First I'd call an 800 number Internet service that I subscribed to. Once the machine noise started, I'd strap an acoustic coupler to the receiver of the pay phone. It looked like a phone receiver with big rubber cups. The coupler would change sound tones to electrical signals, and electrical signals to sound. They were incredibly slow. Often it would take a half hour or more to download my text only e-mails. The best thing that could be said about it was that while slow as death, it worked.

Later, I purchased a wifi card for my computer, even though I didn't have wifi at home. There were enough places on the road that started to provide it that it was worth the expense. Back then there was a pretty good chance that people's residential wifi was unprotected. A few times I must admit to borrowing an open signal to download mail.

The next time my lovely wife and I go on a long trip I suppose I'll have one of those smarter than me phones that can be used a wifi hotspot. Technology changes so fast that I'll probably wait until the last minute to get one. That way I'll only be a generation or two behind.

Funny thing is, I still miss pay phones.

-Sixbears

10 comments:

  1. I looked for a pay phone the other day when I accidentally left my cell phone at home. No luck! (But I survived anyway ;-) )

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    1. That's something that's disappeared without hardly anyone noticing.

      Delete
  2. Where the heck is Superman going to change clothes now-a-days? BTW, we have a Verizon Hot Spot that is small enough to fit in your shirt pocket and can run up to 5 computers at a time. We use it when on the road and locally, like yesterday when I took the wife to the doctor, she took her tablet and the hot spot in her purse and could enjoy the wait surfing the internet.

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    Replies
    1. Superman will have to change in those porta potties. Nasty.

      I'm going to need something like your hotspot to keep in touch next fall.

      Delete
  3. I have a hot spot that I got for when the cable goes down in a storm. Haven't used it but a couple of times so far, but it works pretty good!

    I do miss the pay phones as well!

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    Replies
    1. Good to know it works for you. I'm in the gathering information stage right now.

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  4. Sometimes I get called the fountain of useless knowledge. Pay phones, here ya go.
    http://www.2600.com/phones/newindex.khtml?country=US&prev=nam I am looking for other connections to use for blogging on the expeditions next month. I should be able to manage to blog from a android notepad with a open hotspot. For most everything else I the pre-paid trac phone. The trac phone has worked for me well in my travels so far. At Home station, I got my choice of free wifi, with several stations at a three mile radius. There is enough free wifi around the area that I haven't had to pay a service provider for many years. The android tablet with wifi uses skype to keep me connected with just about anyone I want to BS too. It allows me to check my emails several times a day. My download speed is 3.408 Mbps or 436.211 kB/s. Thats faster than 1.465 Mbps DSL/T1/Cable Modem. There's a little shopping center up the way with 24-7 wifi available all the time, from several stores.

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    Replies
    1. That's a lot of pay phones.

      As for wifi signals, I really am out in the woods here.

      We carry a cheap tracfone when we travel. Since we only really rely on it when traveling, it costs very little.

      Skype has been really handy for keeping in touch with family.

      Delete
  5. Phyllis (N/W Jersey)March 23, 2013 at 8:02 AM

    My grandson had no idea what a phone booth was!
    I told him it was and enclosed booth with a louver glass door. It was usually painted olive green and the inside was made of bumpy metal. Inside was a seat, a little cubbyhole that held a phone book and a large black roto-dial, long rectangular telephone. On the top of it were slots where you could put, quarters, dimes and nickels to pay for the call. You would put in a dime and an operator would ask for the number you wanted to call and then she would tell you what it would cost. He just rolled his eyes at me.....

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    Replies
    1. Likely story . . .

      Surprising how fast some things change, isn't it?

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