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The Sounds of Tech Past 231

Posted by samzenpus
from the I-love-the-sound-of-a-mimeograph-in-the-morning dept.
itwbennett writes "If you're of a certain generation, the screech of a modem, the stuttering song of the dot matrix printer, and the wet slap of a mimeograph machine can transport you to simpler (or at least slower) times. JR Raphael has rounded up 20 tech sounds on the brink of extinction for your listening torture. We're only sorry we don't have smell-o-vision to bring you that sweet mimeograph scent."
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The Sounds of Tech Past

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  • Comment follows (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anrego (830717) * on Thursday March 22, 2012 @11:09AM (#39440693)

    Nice

    A nice fun article (annoyingly presented for maximum ad viewing as usual) although they were kind of stretching near the end.

    I’ll add is what I can only refer to as “the CRT sound”. That little “vwhoom” you hear when you turn them on and “ktchuck” when you turn them off (onomatopoeia is fun!).

    Also the sounds stereo equipment used to make when you turned it on (relays clicking, various feedback sounds similar to the CRT up there) and the satisfying clicks all the various switches and knobs made (I still have a microwave that has physical dials and buttons on it in the basement.. I dare not turn it on!).

    • by AngryDeuce (2205124) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @11:13AM (#39440765)

      The sound of a dial-up modem making a connection is as much a part of my childhood as hair metal...

      • Re:Comment follows (Score:5, Insightful)

        by NoNonAlphaCharsHere (2201864) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @11:20AM (#39440833)
        It wasn't the sound of a mimeograph machine, it was the SMELL of a new math or history test -- with purple ink.
        • by hawguy (1600213)

          It wasn't the sound of a mimeograph machine, it was the SMELL of a new math or history test -- with purple ink.

          Exactly - I've never actually heard a mimeograph machine since it was locked up in the teacher staff room, but I definitely remember the smell of a purple inked pop quiz.

        • Fast Times, anyone?

        • Re:Comment follows (Score:5, Informative)

          by Registered Coward v2 (447531) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @12:13PM (#39441621)

          It wasn't the sound of a mimeograph machine, it was the SMELL of a new math or history test -- with purple ink.

          Your confusing the mimeograph processes - in which (typically) a cut stencil is created on a ribbon less typewriter. attached to a drum and then ink is forced through the stencil onto paper. You're thinking of a spirit duplicator, commonly called a ditto machine, where the ink is on the master and each copy takes some ink off until the master no longer generates a copy. A mimeograph stencil could be saved and used to run copies for as long as it physically held together.

          Yes, I'm being pedantic but that's the long term result of exposure to ditto copies...

        • The video in TFA was admittedly my first time seeing a mimeograph in action. I'm surprised the printer guys were able to gain market traction...that mimeograph background music is delightful.
      • Re:Comment follows (Score:5, Interesting)

        by cpu6502 (1960974) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @11:53AM (#39441389)

        As I was looking through this article I was thinking:
        - I still use a CRT.
        - I still use a modem.
        - I still use floppies.
        - I still use a wired phone that makes dialtone hum.
        - And there are still some TV stations that sign-off at night with an anthem.

        The sounds I miss are actually much OLDER than these sounds. Like a rotary dial phone. The 1-minute warmup time of an old tube TV (a high-pitched hum). The "thunk" sound of an old record player changer. The "whirr" of a VCR's metal drums against magnetic tape while it records a television show. The sounds of Atari games filling the living room (1970s/early 80s).

        • by azalin (67640)
          looks like a lawn we kids need to get off. I do miss the vinyl record scratch loop and the sound when you placed the needle on the record though.
        • CRT's really are rare now afaik. I don't think you can buy one in a regular electronics shop, and last time I used one is years ago. You must have a really good one!

          Dial up modems: long time no see. Depends on where you live I suppose?

          Floppies: I still put a floppy drive in my previous PC, but didn't anymore in my newest because I never actually used the floppy drive of that previous PC. What do you still use it for? It's useless to me because most old floppies lost their data anyway...

          Wired phone: agreed,

          • Re:Comment follows (Score:4, Informative)

            by AJH16 (940784) <aj@IIIgccafe.com minus threevowels> on Thursday March 22, 2012 @01:56PM (#39442927) Homepage

            CRTs can no longer be sold or manufactured commercially for environmental reasons. It was a sad sad day when my beautiful ViewSonic A90F+($150) died and I had to replace it with a $600 HP display in order to get anything resembling the same quality of display. :(

      • Same here. I started with a 300 baud modem for my Atari, but the weirdest tone was a Trailblazer negotiating PEP.

        Another sound was the metallic 'ping' noise made by the keys of some sort of 3270 terminal my highschool had. They connected to a nearby university's IBM mainframe. I haven't encountered a similar keyboard since, not even my beloved Model M.

        • by cpu6502 (1960974)

          Are those 19k Trailblazer modems still usable today? Or do they only work if there's another Trailblazer at the opposite end?

          • The super-duper high speed mode only works if there's another Trailblazer or Worldblazer at the other end, unfortunately. They used a proprietary data transfer protocol, IIRC.

            Didn't stop my idiot boss buying *two* of them, and (unsuccessfully) trying to pressure our clients (for whom we did remote support) into buying them as well, though...

          • I recall that the ones we had would fall back to the standard protocols, but if there was another Telebit modem supporting PEP on the other end, they'd go a lot faster.

            They also had some kind of optimization for UUCP communications, which was nice, because my company was at the time using UUCP to send files to customer sites overnight. We were actually using the UUCP part of the Waffle BBS system to do it.

            We eventually retired the Telebits when regular modems started supporting higher speeds, and also we s

      • Re:Comment follows (Score:5, Interesting)

        by arth1 (260657) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @12:24PM (#39441761) Homepage Journal

        The sound of a dial-up modem making a connection is as much a part of my childhood as hair metal...

        We could discern by the negotiating tones what baud rate it was connecting on (300, 1200/75, 2400, 9600...), and, for later times, whether HST or similar kicked in.
        And nothing sounded more awesome than a Trailblazer modem connecting with PEP at 6 bauds on up to 512 channels. That brumm had some of the same effect on the male nervous system as a straight 8 engine coming to life.

        Other sounds I remember include
        - cassette deck sounds
        - a record after finishing, with the stylus stuck at the end.
        - the slap-slap-slap of tapes when the reel finished
        - the winding of a film camera
        - the sound of a Dunhill lighter
        - manual pencil sharpeners
        - whistle of a tea kettle
        - the bell of wind-up alarm clocks
        - the sounds of non-computerized pinball machines
        - hammond organs
        - kids playing with cork pop guns
        - "Houston, Tranquility base here, the Eagle has landed."

        • whistle of a tea kettle

          I don't believe this sound belongs with the others.

          We have three people in our household, and if we all want tea it's faster to heat a kettle (ours does whistle, btw) on the stove than to microwave three separate cups.

        • Re:Comment follows (Score:4, Interesting)

          by brentrad (1013501) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @04:09PM (#39444325)
          I did telephone end user tech support for an ISP for almost a year, and listening to the sounds the modem made when attempting to connect was the best and easiest diagnostic tool you could use.

          A short quick series of tones or squeals followed by white noise then silence meant you probably had a pretty good connection. Repeated tones or squeals and attempts to connect (the sound would change on each attempt, meaning the modem was stepping down its speed before retrying each time) usually meant you had noise on the line and you'd connect at slow speeds, if you could connect at all. (Better ask the phone company to test your lines, ma'am - be sure to tell them that you're trying to use your fax machine, not a modem, because they're obligated to provide a good connection for a fax machine. They regard modems as competition for their expensive ISDN, and they hate people that keep their modems connected to local numbers all the time on their lines for "free".)

          Listening to the sounds (I sometimes had them hold the phone up to the tower) was much simpler than attempting to direct the often-clueless users to the modem diagnostics control panel and read off a series of cryptic messages.

          And the joyous change in sound (ba-dung-ba-dung-chhhhhhhhh replacing squeals and static) when my wife and I splurged to buy a "super fast" 28.8 modem to replace our original 14.4 modem that came with our first PC in 1993...knowing we could now surf the web with Netscape twice as fast and download jpgs in 10 seconds instead of 20...good times, good times. :)
      • by carcomp (1887830)
        The sound of a 19,200 baud modem when someone was calling in to my BBS is a part of my childhood. I have searched the internet and cannot find one single example of this sound, nor can I find a 9600 baud sound. There are plenty of people saying their sounds are 9600 or 14,400 or 19,2 but its just the same old 56k sound. You'll know it because it has that dee-twang de-twang sound, and sometimes a rising 'braaaaaaaaaaang' sound in it. (Sorry I am not looking up the terms, I admit I don't know what they are
    • Re:Comment follows (Score:4, Insightful)

      by pdboddy (620164) <pdboddy@gma i l .com> on Thursday March 22, 2012 @11:34AM (#39441073) Homepage Journal
      Not just the whoooom, but the LSD-like-hazy-wobble of the screen coming into focus. I sort of miss that too.
    • by mhajicek (1582795)
      Bohemian Rhapsody on old computer equipment: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ht96HJ01SE4 [youtube.com]
    • Obligatory James Houston's cover of Radiohead's Nude: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pmfHHLfbjNQ [youtube.com] Serious worth a listen.
    • Re:Comment follows (Score:5, Interesting)

      by dittbub (2425592) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @11:38AM (#39441137)
      my favourite was the degauss sound! ppwwwaaaanggg
      • by tinkerton (199273)

        I wonder if it inspired those bombs in Star Wars(the new movies, maybe movie 1). the ones that send out a disc like shocckwave.
        Or the explosion of Sauron's tower at the end of LOTR

      • by blue_teeth (83171)
        I miss the fiddling of 3.5" floppy shutter sound when talking to others.
        • by Ihmhi (1206036)

          Hurm... perhaps one could make a device similar to a floppy shutter (but out of much sturdier material). It'd be like the computer geek's version of those little zen balls used for meditation.

          "Ohm~... ohm~... watts~... direct current~..."

    • Re:Comment follows (Score:4, Insightful)

      by wvmarle (1070040) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @11:52AM (#39441375)

      And interestingly they add the dot-matrix printer, while that's one of the technologies that just doesn't go obsolete.

      Sure you don't use them at home anymore, but try to print any pressure form - like invoices, order forms, and many more of such uses. One of the few old technologies that's likely to stay with us forever.

    • SIngle page version (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      http://www.itworld.com/print/260490

    • by azalin (67640)

      Nice

      A nice fun article (annoyingly presented for maximum ad viewing as usual) although they were kind of stretching near the end.

      I thoroughly suggest using the "print" view on the page. Everything on one page and far less junk to ignore.

    • The in-band long-distance telephone routing signal.
    • Print link [itworld.com] for your convenience.
    • by tlhIngan (30335)

      Iâ(TM)ll add is what I can only refer to as âoethe CRT soundâ. That little âoevwhoomâ you hear when you turn them on and âoektchuckâ when you turn them off (onomatopoeia is fun!).

      Or the high-pitched whine that was always in the background that drove me nuts.

      Also the sounds stereo equipment used to make when you turned it on (relays clicking, various feedback sounds similar to the CRT up there) and the satisfying clicks all the various switches and knobs made (I still have

      • Or the high-pitched whine that was always in the background that drove me nuts.

        Lots of people can't hear this, even when they're kids. I remember this clearly because it's the first double-blind test I ever did. I was the oldest at 13 or 14. The rest of my brothers and sisters didn't believe that my brother (next youngest, 11 or 12) and I could tell when the TV was on by sound. They'd watch a movie and turn the VCR off without turning the TV off, which made it go to a black screen, but that whine would permeate the whole house. I'd yell down from my room, "turn the TV off!" and they'd

    • by tverbeek (457094)

      "(I still have a microwave that has physical dials and buttons on it in the basement.. I dare not turn it on!)."

      Really? I still have a microwave with a twist dial to set the cooking time, and a back-and-forth switch to select high/defrost, of mid-80s vintage. But I turn it on every morning to heat my oatmeal.

  • oh my word (Score:5, Interesting)

    by stoolpigeon (454276) * <bittercode@gmail> on Thursday March 22, 2012 @11:11AM (#39440737) Homepage Journal

    On the whole I consider myself a peaceful person. But JR Raphael, well something bad should happen to him for this. Make a list of "sounds" - based on a couple I saw this meant grasping pretty far to make sure the list made it to twenty. Why twenty? Because that is 10 pages worth. 2 "sounds" per page. Then just search youtbue for a video that included each sound. But don't actually watch all of the video. Instead just slap them up there so people can watch a 64 second video of a floppy drive that only has the floppy drive sound for 20 seconds or so. Or the sound of a slide projector, with a guy talking about the fact that it functions, I assume he made the video to help sell the projector. The topper was enjoying the 'sound' of a mimeograph machine while the video blasted Cat Stevens into my ears. It's like a test for the Sucker's Showcase (my favorite skit from Steve Martin's Best Show Ever [imdb.com]). If you actually look at all 10 pages you qualify. Me, I bailed at the 5th page so I'm guessing that means I'm only mildly retarded.

    • by Anrego (830717) *

      I found the article fun.. but I didn't actually watch the videos (or really even read the paragraph.. so really I was in it for the headings I guess :S)... and of course it's an obvious ad farm article.

    • Re:oh my word (Score:5, Informative)

      by Forty Two Tenfold (1134125) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @11:21AM (#39440863)
      Single-page version. [itworld.com]
      • that's better. I looked for a link to get to something like that but couldn't find it - but as I said I'm not very bright. I still feel traumatized by the cat stevens music though.

        • by azalin (67640)
          It's just above the comment section, 2 lines down from the "Next" page link. Just in case you have to revisit the site for an other article somewhere in the future
          • you are a true friend.

            my wife always wants to talk about what good friends we are - but she's never come through for me like you have. if I could have kids I'd name the next one azalin.

            (looking at that it might seem like I'm making fun of you for helping me out - I'm not. I'm tired and ready to go home and a bit goofy. It struck me as a very funny thing to say and I'm here to please. Gonna log out and go home now.)

    • by JohnG (93975)
      When I read the article, it was 7 pages. 2 on the first page and then 3 on the remaining 6 pages. I'm assuming you read the whole thing since you made it to the mimeograph machine, so maybe they changed it since you did. Still kind of annoying, but not as bad as you made it out to be. Also, unless he records all of the sounds himself, he's kinda stuck dealing with whatever he can find out youtube. Although I will give you the mimeograph one, it was hard to hear the machine over the music, so that one should
    • I stopped reading on the first page, after listening to the really lame floppy drive sound. Sadly, I can't claim that I stopped reading due to an above-retarded IQ. I stopped reading because I followed the link to the really cool video of the Imperial March done with floppy drive motors. By the time that video was done, my short attention span kicked in, and I was bored.

  • by AngryDeuce (2205124) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @11:15AM (#39440783)
    Really? How fucking annoying...
  • A few weeks ago, I asked my 5 year old daughter who knows how to use my iphone, etc. if she knows what a calculator is, surprisingly she said no. Even when I showed her one.

    • by hawguy (1600213)

      A few weeks ago, I asked my 5 year old daughter who knows how to use my iphone, etc. if she knows what a calculator is, surprisingly she said no. Even when I showed her one.

      Why would a 5 year old know what a calculator is? Kids must be more sophisticated these days if they need a calculator in pre-school.

      • by sharkey (16670)
        Or are being pre-handicapped in preparation for being incompetent at basic math.
  • If you miss the sounds of floppy drives, then perhaps floppy drive music is the thing for you.

    See, for instance www.youtube.com/watch?v=pOA9PGYeP3E

  • (click the music button). An entire library of computer-generated music, remembered fondly by the ~30 million who owned one of these machines. As soon as I hear these songs it takes me back to my middle and high school years.
    http://www.lemon64.com/ [lemon64.com]
    http://www.lemonamiga.com/ [lemonamiga.com]

    • by cpu6502 (1960974)

      Ahhh another memorable sound from my youth: A full music video running on a 68000, 0.007 gigahertz, 512K machine. (No equivalent-specced Mac or PC could do this.) www.youtube.com/watch?v=rt_U0j34THY

      And this: An old 8-bit computer at just 1 megahertz http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pixcjhqLq34 [youtube.com]

  • by McGregorMortis (536146) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @11:30AM (#39441009)

    They should have used the Apple Disc II. I always loved the sound of that drive. Kind of a soft swishing, not the angry gronk noise of most 5.25" drives.

    I also fondly remember the sound of an Atari 800 booting from floppy. Especially if you had the US Doubler modification... the sound of speed.

    • by cpu6502 (1960974)

      Sorry no..... nothing beats the sound of a Commodore 1541 drive bashing its brains out. The first time I heard it, I was scared my brand new $200 machine had just broke itself.

      But no. That was "normal". In order to save money, they did not install a track 0 LED sensor. Instead they just knocked the head against the internal stop. Repeatedly. (I then downloaded a program to make the 1541 stop that behavior and be quiet.)

  • Looks like they're all videos. I was hoping there'd be a nice blast from the past in audio form only...it'd be just my style to change my phone's ringtone to the old modem negotiation, especially for the annoying callers...

  • by linebackn (131821) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @11:43AM (#39441235)

    All those sounds, and no mention of loading programs from cassette tape. Nothing like actually being able to HEAR the software as it loads in to your TI-99/4A.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 22, 2012 @11:46AM (#39441285)

    The author (and commentators) have it wrong. These are not mimeographs we remember sniffing. (Perhaps we sniffed too many?)

    Mimeographs used a stencil-type master and squeezed ink, usually black, onto the target paper. The mimeo master had to be typewritten; only a typewriter's forcefulness could penetrate the template, forming the stencil. An electric typewriter was generally required for a consistent result. (But set the impact force too high, and you'd end up with punched-out o's, p's, b's, a's, etc.)

    Dittos used a carbon-based master and imprinted (usually purple) image onto the target paper via a methanol-based solvent of distinctive aroma. There was no ink. Ditto masters could be typewritten or drawn-on by a ballpoint pen.

    Dittos possessed the "sweet scent" the author mentions. (I doubt that scent was particularly healthy, methanol being toxic.) The scent would fade with time. If the copy was particularly fresh, the paper would be ever so slightly damp and cool from the solvent.

    So: Dittos, not mimeographs. Dittos. Nobody ever enjoyed sniffing a mimeographed copy. They were pretty hard on the eyes, too.

    Dittos were great for classroom use, which is why so many of us over the age of forty remember them and their smell. They could make a few dozen copies per master, were cheap and didn't require a typewriter. Their ability to form an image faded with the number of copies. The masters also aged in their box and grew pale.

    By comparison, mimeos could render many hundreds of pages per master, and the master could be re-used. So dittos were for each teacher's quizzes and study sheets and homework assignments, whereas the arrival of a mimeographed page heralded a missive from Administration to the whole school.

    Ditto machines were usually hand-cranked. Mimeos were usually electrically-powered.

    Teachers and office staff often enlisted student help in making dittos--a key perk of being a recognized member of the AV squad--but the hulking mimeo machine was dangerous and off-limits to kids. But oh, what an allure that humming, complicated, mysterious monstrosity cast upon us proto-geeks... I well recall the day I was shown how it's used by a kindly admin secretary. The master was held in place on the drum with hooks! Versus a clamp on the ditto machine. Hook, smooth, check ink level, load paper, press a button. Whir, whir, ca-chunk, whir, ca-chunk, whir, ca-chunk.... Then, with the twist of a knob, it would pick up speed. whircachunkwhircachunkwhircachunk... The mind reeled.

    Many differences.

    Get it straight.

    • This man (or woman or other) deserves a drink for their excellent work here.

      I was just telling my kids about where saying "ditto" came from the other day. We settled on "a sort of copy machine".

      • by cellocgw (617879)

        I was just telling my kids about where saying "ditto" came from the other day. We settled on "a sort of copy machine"
        Oh, if only there were some sort of website with historical information...

        Not that I needed to go to wikipedia to be able to inform you that the typographic "ditto mark" precedes the ditto(TM) machine by a zillion years or so.

        • I can't tell them that now. They still think I know everything.

          And I wouldn't have looked it up unless you were there in the car to contradict me. That whole people who don't know what they don't know are the most dangerous thing. But if you had been there, we could have argued about it for a minute or two, then looked it up and then I would have searched frantically for some other event or piece of knowledge to ridicule you over in a lame attempt to draw attention away from my deficient knowledge.

    • My old history teacher used to call them "Banda machines" (as the manufacturer was called Hastings) - this is why: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hastings_Banda [wikipedia.org]

      Unfortunately the printed copies also fade with time - I can barely make out the text from 20-25 years ago now.

      The smell I well remember - it was a bit like carrots...

  • ASR-33 Teletype

    any unit record (IBM card) equipment - now, they had rhythm!

    Line printer - chain was better than drum for rhythmic sound
    • ASR-33 Teletype

      any unit record (IBM card) equipment - now, they had rhythm!

      Line printer - chain was better than drum for rhythmic sound

      I knew a 129 (keypunch) operator who could literally make the machine rock - she was extremely fast and accurate, and had a pronounced rhythmic technique.

      As for line printers, I used to run a 1419 MICR reader (with the covers open and interlocks disabled, of course), while the results of my efforts were printing behind me on a 1403 (also with the cover raised, of course). When a "totals" page printed, a full line (132 columns) of asterisks marked it, making an unbelievable (and unearthly) screech.

      Today, pe

  • Oh, the smell! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mrmtampa (231295) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @11:55AM (#39441403) Homepage

    In 1970 I was a print jockey feeding six IBM 1403 printers, producing junk mail. When I got home from work I needed a shower before my wife would come near me. The printer dust thrown off as the forms cycled through the printers filled our lungs, clogged our nasal passages, and permeated our clothing.

  • They're missing one important entry: hard drive clatter. Sure, you can still hear it if you get close to the tower, or have a particular brand of drives (eg. Hitachi) which aren't as aggressively acoustically tuned.

    Surely I'm not the only one who remembers being able to hear their drive(s) from the other side of the room as the machine boots up? Today's workstations positively whisper, in comparison - to the point where many people don't realize that's a device inside doing something, but just 'phantom nois

  • hands up! (Score:5, Funny)

    by squidflakes (905524) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @12:09PM (#39441567) Homepage

    Ok, show of hands, how many people here could diagnose modem connection problems and handshake speeds by listening?

    Lets see if I can do this justice.

    Beee beeee beeeeeeee boo waaa woooo waaaaaaaaa bzzzzzzzzup thup thup thup thup thup thup thup PING! PING fwashhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!

    Ok, name that connection speed!

    • Re:hands up! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Phreakiture (547094) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @12:22PM (#39441737) Homepage

      That has to be at least 56k. I remember they distinctively had that double fading ping while the modems were calibrating the line level, because the server-side modem would send 5-7 bits per sample by simply encoding the sample to the bit sequence. The receiving modem had to have a valid map of the bits to the line voltages, and that double ping was caused by levels being tested, starting at the outermost and working inward.

  • by wandazulu (265281) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @12:09PM (#39441587)

    Two words:

    1. Filmstrips
    2. Beep

    (For all you whippersnappers on my lawn, instead of watching actual movies, we'd watch essentially a roll of slide film that was projected, and the accompanying audio, on either tape or LP, would have the narrator pause, then a "BEEP" was made to indicate it was time for the oh-so-important (*cough*) member of the AV squad (only person who could be trusted to load the projector properly) to advance one frame).

    • Also, if the sound was on tape, chances are very good that the ping would flutter widely, either because the tape was worn or the player was in sad shape.

    • The really fancy ones had a tape player and projector all in one and could self-advance. I suspect they had very simple computers in them that could react to the beep, I dunno.

  • by Alioth (221270) <no@spam> on Thursday March 22, 2012 @12:22PM (#39441739) Journal

    Strowger (step by step electromechanical) telephone exchanges were still in use in Britain right into the early 1990s. Our local exchange was one right up to about 1990, and it always seemed to like adding line noise to any call you made using a modem.

    A now retired work colleague used to be a telecom engineer, and he worked on these machines when they were still in large exchanges (right into the late 1980s!). There is nothing electronic about these telephone switches, they are literally physical switches. The machine that makes the tones (dialing tone, busy tone, number unobtainable, exchange busy, ringing tone) is not an electronic oscillator, it is a huge machine driven by a DC motor with a bunch of switches to make the cadence of the various tones (I guess the actual tone is made by a contact disc and wipers) - it's called a Ringer 2A.

    The stuff that connects calls is an intricate network of physical switches. When you lift the handset, a stepper motor driven uniselector finds you a free first selector. This too is an electromechanical machine, with a bunch of relays and a bidirectional switch which can make one of 100 contacts. When you dial, the wiper steps up to the level you dial (so dial a 3, and it steps up to level 3), and then it steps horizontally to find the next free stage in the exchange, and so on, until you dial the last number. The last selector steps up to the number you dial, then steps horizontally to the last digit of the number you dial, and tries to connect you to the other end.

    As you can imagine, a large telephone exchange is an incredibly noisy place because there are switches and relays constantly in motion. My colleague described working late one night in one of these exchanges. It was quiet, with just the odd call progressing (he said you could hear a single call stepping through the exchange - you could physically hear how far the dialing had progressed by where the sound of switch and relay motion was coming from). Then all of a sudden, the noise started to build up as more and more people were making calls, until the place was a deafening racket. Wondering what the hell was going on, he phoned headquarters and found out the reason - a soap opera had ended in some sort of controversy and everyone was gossiping about it.

    These electromechanical machines seemed *alive*. If you look on youtube, there's quite a few videos of them in action (various designs from various countries). There used to be a working rack of Strowger gear at the London Science Museum, probably for lack of someone to maintain it it's unfortunately now just a static exhibit (or at least was, a couple of years ago). But when it was working it was fun to get all 8 phones connected to each other, then replace the handsets simulataneously. The sound of all the selectors returning home at once was sweet enough to make a brave man cry.

    Also it's quite easy to see why the phone used to be so hideously expensive. It wasn't just because of the then GPO monopoly, but because it took 30 engineers to keep a busy 10,000 line Strowger exchange working. Today, it takes 1 engineer to keep six 10,000 line digital exchanges working.

  • What about the daisy wheel boogie as the wheel whirrs and hits petals while printing?

    Or the chain drive chorus, where the old IBM chain drive printers ripped off lines of printing in rapid succession? Print a line of the same characters for a delightful wrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrp or the sequence of letters on the chain for a satisfying BANG!

  • by Tim99 (984437) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @12:26PM (#39441809)
    A WInchester hard disk drive from a 1980 mini computer. The read/write head was moved by a "voice coil" actuator, they made a sound a bit like someone humming. With practice you could work out what operations were being performed by the computer by just listening to the drive.

    The head had an aerofoil cross-section and 'flew' just over the rotating platter - Some of ours had transparent covers, so when the head crashed you could see where it had gouged a circular mark on the surface of the platter. That noise was not so pleasant.
  • I wanted a distinctive, non-banal, and non-repetitive ringtone, so I installed the complete modem dial-up sequence, from pulse tones to final handshake. It's long enough that I never hear it repeat before answering.

    And for some reason my wife thinks I'm a nerd (but she knew that when she married a grad physics student).

  • If we had smell-o-vision then the smell I would want is the smell of a data center full of lineprinters. You knew when you were in that kind of facility the moment you walked in. Ah, the 1980's and Real Computers... *sigh*
  • Very distinctive vvvvvvvvweep sound as your new album is ruined.
  • by scharkalvin (72228) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @01:55PM (#39442915) Homepage

    Well I STILL have a computer with a 5.25" floppy drive in it. I had to find an old mother board that still had a floppy interface (it only supports ONE drive) so I can't use both 3.5 and 5.25 drives at once. I dug up an old "AT" "HD" drive for the purpose of transfering my old copies of "Zork", "leather goddess of Phobos", and "hitchhikers guide" games to my Linux box to enjoy all over again.

    I also still have a Kodak Carrosel Projector and a shitload of slides. My screen got pitched though, it was MOLDY (yuck!). I need to buy a slide scanner and convert all my negatives and slides to digital. Does anybody make a medium format slide scanner (might be able to do it on my flat bed)?

    Ah phone booths. A friend of mine recorded the sound of quarters, nickles and dimes falling though a pay phone on a cassette recorder and then would play it back though the phone to rip the phone company off on long distance calls. Don't laugh, it always worked!

    As for static, doesn't anybody but me still listen to shortwave radio anymore? I still have this real nice Zenith Transoceanic portable.

  • True Story (Score:5, Funny)

    by Lord Grey (463613) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @02:26PM (#39443263)

    Three or four months ago, my wife told my 16-year old stepson to call and see if the person that cuts his hair was working that day. There was a big to-do that day about him not wanting to do anything for himself, and one of the results of that was the need for him to make this call rather than relying on his mom. Anyway, after some typical teenage bitching he went off to his room to call the place with his cell phone. A few minutes pass and comes out again.

    Him: "The phone isn't working."

    Us: "It's not working. Really. Did you dial the right number?"

    Him: "Yeah! Of course I did! I'm not that stupid. It's just making some weird noise."

    Us: "What number did you dial?"

    Him: [He told us.]

    I got my cell and called that number. [beeeeep] [pause] [beeeeep] [pause] [beeeeep]

    Us: "That, son, is a busy signal."

    Him: "A what?"

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