Comment On Long Distance

Lawrence's employer had heard that this newfangled "Desktop PC" could reduce their IT costs, and they wanted in on it. It was the mid 80s, and at the time, their plants scattered all over Alabama connected to a central mainframe via dumb terminals connected over very expensive leased lines. It was time to upgrade, and Lawrence wasn't in charge of it. He didn't get called in until things went wrong. [expand full text]
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Re: Long Distance

2012-05-15 08:08 • by ParkinT
As I learned long, long ago (in what seems like a Galaxy far, far away) during my [first] career;

When troubleshooting a communications system walk the ISO model.

Re: Long Distance

2012-05-15 09:04 • by CAPTCHA: oppeto (unregistered)
The comments page looks so...
empty...
fragile..
vulnerable...
I wonder how many comments will there be already when I finish posting this.

Re: Long Distance

2012-05-15 09:08 • by flop
I would have expected something like the 500 mile email ...

But well, we take what we get, right?

Re: Long Distance

2012-05-15 09:09 • by KattMan
this sounds like SOP for the mid 80's.

Re: Long Distance

2012-05-15 09:19 • by TGV
381182 in reply to 381180
flop:
I would have expected something like the 500 mile email ...

But well, we take what we get, right?

That's a great one!

Re: Long Distance

2012-05-15 09:24 • by Doubter (unregistered)
So... multiple phone lines for each PC, plus all the hardware was more efficient than the leased lines, just so they could run 3270's?

/boggle

Re: Long Distance

2012-05-15 09:38 • by Flash
381184 in reply to 381183
It's very possible that this setup was a reasonable thing to do. Leased lines were quite expensive.

Re: Long Distance

2012-05-15 09:42 • by William (unregistered)
I hope he kept a sharp ear out for banjos in those backwoods.

Squeal like a pig, computer boy!

CAPTCHA: gravis, which are what I like on my grits

Re: Long Distance

2012-05-15 09:42 • by 3rd Ferguson (unregistered)
381186 in reply to 381183
Doubter:
So... multiple phone lines for each PC, plus all the hardware was more efficient than the leased lines, just so they could run 3270's?


It's a more efficient use of the company's money for sure. The PCs are a one-time sunk cost or perhaps a depreciating three-year lease, same as the terminals would've been and probably not much more expensive.

POTS lines are cheap compared to leased lines where you're (in principle) paying the phone company to set up and maintain a piece of copper between two points that exists solely for you.

Why install an 8087 for accounting?

2012-05-15 09:42 • by Raymond Chen
That 8087 was inappropriate for its purported purpose. Apparently nobody told management that accounting should be done in exact integer/decimal arithmetic, not floating point. Unless somebody was also doing a little Superman-style penny-shaving.

Re: Long Distance

2012-05-15 09:42 • by William (unregistered)
381188 in reply to 381185
That should have been "squeal like a 300 baud modem!"

Re: Long Distance

2012-05-15 09:44 • by Fake Nagesh (unregistered)
381189 in reply to 381183
Doubter:
So... multiple phone lines for each PC, plus all the hardware was more efficient than the leased lines, just so they could run 3270's?

/boggle



I worked at Coney Island Hospital in NYC at the time when they were rolling out their "upgrade". They switched from dumb terminals to windows 98 running terminal emulators.

Support calls went from a dead terminal once every week or so, to "My Computer is frozen" several times a day.

They couldn't at least go to NT 4? I mean seriously "Windows 98"?

Re: Long Distance

2012-05-15 09:46 • by Hakan (unregistered)
Surely a multiplexer and a single modem line would be enough to replicate all of the dumb terms. What's the point of having a very expensive modem (damn, in those 80s even a 300 baud was an arm and a leg) for each PC?

Re: Long Distance

2012-05-15 09:47 • by emaN ruoY (unregistered)
381191 in reply to 381189
Fake Nagesh:
Doubter:
So... multiple phone lines for each PC, plus all the hardware was more efficient than the leased lines, just so they could run 3270's?

/boggle



I worked at Coney Island Hospital in NYC at the time when they were rolling out their "upgrade". They switched from dumb terminals to windows 98 running terminal emulators.

Support calls went from a dead terminal once every week or so, to "My Computer is frozen" several times a day.

They couldn't at least go to NT 4? I mean seriously "Windows 98"?


As if NT4 was any more usable. Sure, it may not have crashed as much, but user training would have been crazy.

Re: Long Distance

2012-05-15 09:47 • by ctd (unregistered)
half the time they were just running a 3270 terminal emulator.


In other news today, a $25 computer is emulating not just a 3270 terminal, but the whole darned mainframe: http://www.designspark.com/content/my-raspberry-pi-thinks-its-mainframe

Re: Long Distance

2012-05-15 09:58 • by nonpartisan
If it was truly that back woods, how were they technologically-advanced enough that they could use touch-tone to reach the long-distance operator?

Re: Long Distance

2012-05-15 10:04 • by Lyle (unregistered)
First!

Greetings from Alabama

Re: Long Distance

2012-05-15 10:11 • by Mcoder
381197 in reply to 381183
Doubter:
So... multiple phone lines for each PC, plus all the hardware was more efficient than the leased lines, just so they could run 3270's?

/boggle



That's called progress. Now let me do some actual work at the VT100 emulation I run on a virtual manchine in my 8GB of RAM six core PC.

Re: Long Distance

2012-05-15 10:24 • by mt (unregistered)
Um, wouldn't an acoustic coupler work in that situation?

Then again, training might have been a nightmare.

Re: Long Distance

2012-05-15 10:30 • by $$ERR:get_name_fail (unregistered)
"When the computer attempted to dial out, he heard the sound of touchtone bleeps followed by a crackly voice saying, "Number please.""

I pity those poor telephone operators who got prank-called a hundred times with strange beep noises while they tried to get this to work.

Re: Long Distance

2012-05-15 10:45 • by Gomer Pyle (unregistered)
381200 in reply to 381195
Still kinda slow down there, eh Lyle?

CAPTCHA: causa - what came before effecta?

Re: Long Distance

2012-05-15 10:46 • by AB (unregistered)
FAIL FAIL, FAIL FAIL, FAIL FAIL.

Re: Long Distance

2012-05-15 10:57 • by P. Almonius (unregistered)
I once was sent to install an IVR system in a city that didn't support touch-tone dialing ...

Re: Long Distance

2012-05-15 10:59 • by Zylon
In a phone system without direct-dial long distance, it seems unlikely that they'd support touch-tone dialing.

Re: Long Distance

2012-05-15 11:17 • by MadtM (unregistered)
381205 in reply to 381188
William:
That should have been "squeal like a 300 baud modem!"


+1

Re: Long Distance

2012-05-15 11:25 • by Beau (unregistered)
381206 in reply to 381204
They probably didn't.

Re: Long Distance

2012-05-15 11:26 • by Nagesh (unregistered)
381207 in reply to 381205
MadtM:
William:
That should have been "squeal like a 300 baud modem!"


+1


There ain't such thing as promotion coments anymores. :(

Re: Long Distance

2012-05-15 11:31 • by Nagesh (unregistered)
381208 in reply to 381207
My clue is Alex is being lazing around now everyday. He ain't caring about this website for now.

Re: Why install an 8087 for accounting?

2012-05-15 11:37 • by Ted (unregistered)
381209 in reply to 381187
Raymond Chen:
That 8087 was inappropriate for its purported purpose. Apparently nobody told management that accounting should be done in exact integer/decimal arithmetic, not floating point. Unless somebody was also doing a little Superman-style penny-shaving.

Not to mention that all of the accounting was being done on the mainframe. I doubt the terminal emulator was even touching the 8087.

Re: Long Distance

2012-05-15 11:41 • by operagost
381211 in reply to 381193
nonpartisan:
If it was truly that back woods, how were they technologically-advanced enough that they could use touch-tone to reach the long-distance operator?

Or have a leased line?

Re: Why install an 8087 for accounting?

2012-05-15 11:49 • by Maurits
381212 in reply to 381187
Raymond Chen:
That 8087 was inappropriate for its purported purpose. Apparently nobody told management that accounting should be done in exact integer/decimal arithmetic, not floating point. Unless somebody was also doing a little Superman-style penny-shaving.


Adding up debits and credits should be materialized into whole pennies, absolutely. But if you're calculating a monthly payment on a loan, or if you want to do some forecasting, floating point is appropriate.

Whether this is "accounting" or "finance" is an open question, though.

Re: Long Distance

2012-05-15 11:59 • by Nagesh (unregistered)
381214 in reply to 381211
operagost:
nonpartisan:
If it was truly that back woods, how were they technologically-advanced enough that they could use touch-tone to reach the long-distance operator?

Or have a leased line?

Here in Hyderabad, leasing ain't being option for mose servises, because it must being aproved by Dehli government.

Re: Why install an 8087 for accounting?

2012-05-15 12:01 • by Nagesh (unregistered)
381215 in reply to 381212
Maurits:
Raymond Chen:
That 8087 was inappropriate for its purported purpose. Apparently nobody told management that accounting should be done in exact integer/decimal arithmetic, not floating point. Unless somebody was also doing a little Superman-style penny-shaving.


Adding up debits and credits should be materialized into whole pennies, absolutely. But if you're calculating a monthly payment on a loan, or if you want to do some forecasting, floating point is appropriate.

Whether this is "accounting" or "finance" is an open question, though.

You ain't should be using floating point for dolar amaunts. Using string is preserving consistancy without loss of presicion. Are they ofering numerical analysis in american colege coarses?

Re: Long Distance

2012-05-15 12:10 • by Rick
381218 in reply to 381193
nonpartisan:
If it was truly that back woods, how were they technologically-advanced enough that they could use touch-tone to reach the long-distance operator?
You are probably thinking that the phone company was AT&T. I can imagine that back then, AT&T made it difficult to connect a relatively modern independent local phone system to their long distance service.

Re: Long Distance

2012-05-15 12:43 • by Jerry (unregistered)
381219 in reply to 381189
Fake Nagesh:
I worked at Coney Island Hospital in NYC at the time when they were rolling out their "upgrade". They switched from dumb terminals to windows 98 running terminal emulators.

Support calls went from a dead terminal once every week or so, to "My Computer is frozen" several times a day.
Can't be true. Windows has never had any problems. Ask any MS astroturfer fanboi.

(Cue "it used to be bad, but the latest version..." in 3... 2... 1...)

Re: Long Distance

2012-05-15 12:46 • by Frank (unregistered)
the first thing Lawrence did was crank the volume on the modem speaker. When the computer attempted to dial out, he heard the sound of touchtone bleeps followed by a crackly voice saying, "Number please."
Dumb bitch couldn't figure out it was a computer calling and interpret the beeps? See, that's why we had to fire them all and replace them with machines.

Re: Long Distance

2012-05-15 12:46 • by FedITGeek (unregistered)
381221 in reply to 381193
Part of the phone system easily could have moved over to tone dialing, yet still had some outdated infrastructure. I lived in NC in the early 80's, and while we had people using modems for BBS connections, and yet we still occasionally ended up on shared "party line" calls depending on the area of the county, who you were calling, etc.

Re: Why install an 8087 for accounting?

2012-05-15 12:48 • by James (unregistered)
381222 in reply to 381215
Sting? Are you DAFT? Hope I don't have to submit a DailyWTF based on your code! I would just love to debug code that performed dollar amount calculations in strings, that would be just lovely!

Of course they teach numerical analysis in American College Courses! But obviously, you failed "English"...

Re: Long Distance

2012-05-15 12:49 • by Nagesh (unregistered)
381223 in reply to 381219
Jerry:
Fake Nagesh:
I worked at Coney Island Hospital in NYC at the time when they were rolling out their "upgrade". They switched from dumb terminals to windows 98 running terminal emulators.

Support calls went from a dead terminal once every week or so, to "My Computer is frozen" several times a day.
Cain't be true. Windows has never had any problems. Ask any MS astroturfer fanboi.

(Cue "it used to be bad, but the latest version..." in 3... 2... 1...)
FTFY

Re: Long Distance

2012-05-15 12:54 • by ExChickenFarmer (unregistered)
I'm the OP. Actually the computers were 8 Bit CP/M machines. They were custom built for our company (a WTF in itself). There were only 4 per plant so they just shared a dial-up phone line. It was very slow because with every screen it waited for the line to be free, dialed the mainframe, connected, submitted the request, received the data, and hung up.

My boss called in some favors so we were able to give some of the users two computers. That way they could type into screens on one PC while the other one was waiting for the other to connect and transmit.

The users hated the new setup but it did save a *LOT* of money by eliminating the leased lines with 3275 terminals. Leased lines were very expensive then. I wasn't privy to the figures on whether we were paying more for overtime than we saved on leased line costs.

Most of the towns where we had plants did support touch tone dialing and direct dial, but one didn't. The phone company there was very small with only a couple of counties as it's franchise. We could configure the modem to dial using clicks instead of tones, but it wasn't possible at that location to make long distance calls or calls to toll free numbers without operator assistance.

Prior to installation we contacted the phone company to make sure they supported direct dial and they said that they did. Of course, when we pressed them on that point they said that they meant that they "planned" to support it.

Re: Long Distance

2012-05-15 13:13 • by Zylon
381225 in reply to 381224
ExChickenFarmer:
I'm the OP. Actually the computers were 8 Bit CP/M machines. They were custom built for our company (a WTF in itself). There were only 4 per plant so they just shared a dial-up phone line. It was very slow because with every screen it waited for the line to be free, dialed the mainframe, connected, submitted the request, received the data, and hung up.

Cripes. Yet another case of Remy anonymizing stories almost to the point of being pure fiction.

Re: Long Distance

2012-05-15 13:23 • by ekolis
381226 in reply to 381224
ExChickenFarmer:

Most of the towns where we had plants did support touch tone dialing and direct dial, but one didn't. The phone company there was very small with only a couple of counties as it's franchise. We could configure the modem to dial using clicks instead of tones, but it wasn't possible at that location to make long distance calls or calls to toll free numbers without operator assistance.


Could you have done some sort of proxy thing where the one backwater town calls one of the other towns locally, and the second town calls long-distance to wherever the first one wanted to connect to?

Re: Long Distance

2012-05-15 13:24 • by ronintoronto (unregistered)
381227 in reply to 381193
nonpartisan:
If it was truly that back woods, how were they technologically-advanced enough that they could use touch-tone to reach the long-distance operator?


Modems always have supported Pulse dialing for "Alabama-level" telephone systems.

Re: Long Distance

2012-05-15 13:45 • by Paul (unregistered)
Wondering if it would have been feasible to have an acoustic coupling type modem and a handset, call the operator on the handset, give them the number to call long-distance and when they connect the call put the handset in the modem coupler and get the connection going. I've had to use similar workarounds to make long-distance/international fax calls with a calling card, dialing manually then hitting "start" when the ring-tone comes through.

Having to do that every time you needed to make a connection would have gotten real old, real fast though.

On that note I guess the "drop the connection after every screen" feature was at least partly inspired by the need to avoid racking up long distance charges while reading the contents of a screen. I used to live somewhere that had per-minute local call charges and when I first had dial-up internet I would connect, transfer mail and newsgroups messages, pull up any web pages I wanted to read, then disconnect while I read them. I do NOT miss those days.

Re: Long Distance

2012-05-15 13:54 • by Strolskon
381229 in reply to 381220
Frank:
the first thing Lawrence did was crank the volume on the modem speaker. When the computer attempted to dial out, he heard the sound of touchtone bleeps followed by a crackly voice saying, "Number please."
Dumb bitch couldn't figure out it was a computer calling and interpret the beeps? See, that's why we had to fire them all and replace them with machines.


I can actually imagine modems incorporating a "workaround" for these situations: the digits 0 to 9 prerecorded, played back in the necessary combination when they find a human.

That might be too advanced for a little 1980s modem. You'd need to incorporate a cassette player and all that.

Re: Long Distance

2012-05-15 14:06 • by Jack (unregistered)
381230 in reply to 381229
Strolskon:
Frank:
the first thing Lawrence did was crank the volume on the modem speaker. When the computer attempted to dial out, he heard the sound of touchtone bleeps followed by a crackly voice saying, "Number please."
Dumb bitch couldn't figure out it was a computer calling and interpret the beeps? See, that's why we had to fire them all and replace them with machines.


I can actually imagine modems incorporating a "workaround" for these situations: the digits 0 to 9 prerecorded, played back in the necessary combination when they find a human.

That might be too advanced for a little 1980s modem. You'd need to incorporate a cassette player and all that.


Didn't musical greeting cards exist in the '80s? They could have used something like that. It doesn't have to be especially clear, since none of the digits' pronunciations are that close.

Re: Long Distance

2012-05-15 14:14 • by Nagesh (unregistered)
In 1988 at univarsity, I need to write workaround for java.net.URL because it ain't working whilthout physical conection for destination.

Re: Long Distance

2012-05-15 14:27 • by Gunslinger (unregistered)
381232 in reply to 381201
AB:
FAIL FAIL, FAIL FAIL, FAIL FAIL.



Dammit, that was what I was going to say.

Re: Long Distance

2012-05-15 15:02 • by Jay (unregistered)
381234 in reply to 381224
ExChickenFarmer:
... We could configure the modem to dial using clicks instead of tones ...


And when I read that, my mind immediately said, "Sure, AT DP". I'm sure glad I remember Hayes modem commands, even though I haven't coded commands to a modem in about 20 years. Acoustic couplers are coming back, you know. This broadband thing is just a passing fad.

Re: Long Distance

2012-05-15 15:14 • by Jay (unregistered)
381236 in reply to 381228
Paul:
Wondering if it would have been feasible to have an acoustic coupling type modem and a handset, call the operator on the handset, give them the number to call long-distance and when they connect the call put the handset in the modem coupler and get the connection going. I've had to use similar workarounds to make long-distance/international fax calls with a calling card, dialing manually then hitting "start" when the ring-tone comes through.

Having to do that every time you needed to make a connection would have gotten real old, real fast though.

On that note I guess the "drop the connection after every screen" feature was at least partly inspired by the need to avoid racking up long distance charges while reading the contents of a screen. I used to live somewhere that had per-minute local call charges and when I first had dial-up internet I would connect, transfer mail and newsgroups messages, pull up any web pages I wanted to read, then disconnect while I read them. I do NOT miss those days.


RE dialing by hand: This is exactly how we did it when I was in high school. We had to call the school operator, get an outside line, dial in, wait for the carrier tone, and then put the handset into the acoustic coupler. It was awkward but it worked fine. But yes, if you had to do that for every screen, that would get real tedious.

RE long distance charges: That's why there were WATS lines, which stands for "Wide Area Telephone Service" or something ilke that. You paid a flat monthly fee for unlimited long-distance calls. I guess incoming WATS is still around: that's what an 800 number is. I don't know if there's still outgoing WATS. Cell phones these days tend to charge the same rate for local or long distance, it looks like that distinction is going away.

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