Monday, April 29, 2013

Call Me, Maybe?

We are blessed to be in an era where technology is moving at breakneck speed. Our smartphones are now an extension of our bodies, our laptops are getting lighter yet more powerful, our video games are now motion-controlled, our films jump out at us in three dimension. Now if someone can invent self-cooking meals, self cleaning dishes and self-cleaning and folding laundry, I can then safely say that we are at the pinnacle of human civilisation.

One of the things that we are moving away from is the humble home phone. I don't really use it anymore nowadays except to call back to Malaysia to remind Mum that yes, I am still her son.

Ah, such memories, the telephone. I remember the good old days when the set we had at home was the corded phone with the analog ring, and it would give that satisfying whirr-click whenever you made a phone call. As four or five year olds, we were making such important phone calls - randomly garbling at some stranger in Bangladesh about how our five-year-old day was, or telling some nice French auntie what we had for breakfast.

It wasn't long before the phone bill arrived and our parents had a near heart attack, gave us a good scolding before they decided to buy a lock pad for the phone. It was quite simple really - a small lockpad that fit into one of the numbers was all it took to stop our grubby little fingers making calls.
Ta-da! Itchy fingers cured!

A few years rolled on and there was great excitement in our household when we finally got the telephone with buttons instead of an analog ring - what amazing technology! Our parents got a little forgetful and our tiny fingers got itchy again - and once again the bills with the interstate and overseas calls arrived, and another lock pad was required.

How phones probably look like to all kids.
The lock pad for the button-operated telephone was a plastic square that only had the number '0' exposed so that you could ring for help if needed (kind of like the grand-daddy of the 'Emergency Calls Only' on our modern day smartphones). We had so many fun days chatting to the nice Emergency Operator sister....

One of my proudest moments as a child was hacking the locked telephone. It was out of desperation really - I needed to call Mum at her office, and I sat there blankly in front of the telephone, the orange plastic monstrosity standing between me and my mother.

A natural curiosity had overwhelmed me about how these phones worked - because even when you pressed the buttons on these newer phones - you could still hear a clicking noise in the phone corresponding to the number you had dialled.

And here was my brainwave - I wonder if I could tap out the numbers on the receiver. And so I tried - 9 - nine light taps on the receiver of the telephone. They had to be light taps, mind you - anything too heavy and you risked getting disconnected and had to start all over again. -2- two light taps on the receiver and so on till I completed the seven required numbers.

An actual picture of my
seven-year-old self
I cannot describe to you the simultaneous joy and pride I felt as a seven year old when the phone started ringing and I heard my Mum's voice on the other side.

"Mum!" came my triumphant voice. "Yes, is everything okay?" she asked, before realising "Eh, how come you can call me one? You broke the lock is it?" came the undertones of impending punishment.

I was too excited to remember why I had called her in the first place, and was just dreaming of all the phone calls I could make now that I had hacked the phone.

We'll get to talk again, random French auntie!

Another land-line phone trick you might want to try:

If you dial #196 (or maybe without the hash, I forget) on your home phones in Malaysia and put down your phones, it will automatically ring, and you can pick it up and prank your parents by pretending there was a call for them. Watch them walk all the way downstairs and then speak into the phone quizzically when there is no one there. Make sure you run out of reach at that point when they realise they've been pranked, and make sure you've hidden all the rotans (canes) first.

This method is also good for waking up family members in rooms with a connected phone, which my father used as a substitute alarm clock to wake my brother up for work!

This tip was provided by my primary school friends when we were eleven, who had obviously spent a lot of time hacking their phones as well.

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