I've always thought that the telephone was a pretty neat device. I used to play for hours trying to figure out how I could modify mine to do more. These are some memories that I have, many thanks to BCTel....
Knocking out an entire exchange
One day I decided to hook up a walkman to the phone line so that callers could enjoy a selection of music while on hold for someone. Trying to save battery power, I used a transformer hardwired into the battery compartment of the walkman. On the top of the walkman, I had attached various jacks for different headphones plus of course a direct feed into the telephone box. Well it seems that I wasn't too careful with all my wiring and I accidentally crossed the transformer line input with the headphone jack to telephone line output and fed 110 volts into the phone line, knocking out the entire 263 exchange in Vancouver for several hours one Saturday. Well I guess BCTel traced down the problem and sent a letter to the house indicating that there was a little problem with the line and they would need to send a team out to have a look. The walkman hold switch was quickly removed and never spoke of again.
The eavesdropping trick
This little bug with BCTel was fixed many years ago, but if you knew about it, you could do some serious eavesdropping on friends. I discovered this one quite accidentally.
This was about the time when new line features, like "3-way Calling" and "Call Waiting" had just been introduced. One day while talking to someone she received the call waiting click and asked me to hold the line. Being bored, I decided to call wait my own line with a second telephone line that I had. If I answered my own call waiting click, I was able to listen in on the conversation between my friend and the person that had called her. As soon as I hung up my second line then the connection went silent again, but none the less an excellent bug to discover.
That's 112 then the area code
BCTel always did things a little differently compared to the rest of North America. You would watch these commercials on TV and see the call now: 1-800... phone number at the bottom of the screen. Then in really really small print "For callers from British Columbia, call 112-800...". For many years while the rest of North America continued to push ahead with direct dial "1 plus the area code and the number", we in BC always dialed "112" first. Finally BCTel decided to change and for many months they ran these commercials with a guy that would knock over the extra "12" before the area code to remind people that we would be like everyone else.
What's a Call Alert?
Another BCTel oddity: with the introduction of new telephone line features, BCTel introduced the ever-popular "Call Alert" to let people know when someone else was trying to get through. Of course, this was a BCTel-only name, since the rest of North America called this "Call Waiting". Personally, I prefer the name of "Call Alert", but very few people outside of BC know what this is. BCTel finally caved on this one and renamed it "Call Waiting" to be standard with everyone else.
Cheap Phone Call
Still to this day you can make an local, unlimited duration phone call from a pay phone booth for a mere 25¢ Canadian coin in British Columbia. Phones in the US now run US$0.35-85 for similar and anywhere else in the world you pay per minute and you still couldn't make a one minute phone call for 25¢!
Are They Calling From a Pay Phone?
This pattern is still followed pretty well in British Columbia, as well as other North American places. If the 4th digit of the 7 digit phone number is a "9", then there's a good chance that the number is a pay phone (e.g., 555-9555). Good to know if that really cute girl that you met at the bar gives you her phone number.
Touch Dialing Costs More
In the late 80's the new concept of touch dialing was introduced to BC and many people purchased phones that could make sounds instead of the "click click click" noise when dialing numbers. At this time, you actually had to pay an extra $1.35 per month on your line to be able to use touch dialing, otherwise you had to use that nice new phone of yours with rotary dialing (move that switch from the "T" to the "P" position on the bottom of the phone). A couple of years later BCTel removed the charge and gave people monthly credits that continued to use rotary phones instead.
The Web Site Predecessor
You don't hear much about them these days, but in the late 80's and early 90's, Bulletin Board Systems (BBS) were quite popular. Using a computer and a modem you could dial into a BBS and read messages and download files. Modems at that time ran about $200 for a 300 baud and about $100 more for a 'fast' 1200 baud (about 1/50th of a 56K modem these days). Most boards were typically message-based and only one person could be on the board at the time.
I guess this was my first attempt of building a web site predecessor. In 1987 I launched a BBS called "Fantasy Paradise" (no, it wasn't an adult site) in Vancouver using a Commodore 64, a 1541C 664 block 5.25" disk drive (with cover removed and external fan running), a 1200 baud Hayes modem and a copy of Vancouver-based SOTA's Blue Board software. BBS sessions on a good day averaged about 30 with most people spending 20-30 minutes on the board. The board lasted a few years and was taken down in 1991 due to a combination of aging equipment and myself wanting the phone line for voice conversations instead.