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Author Topic: Telephone keypad designed to slow down dialing?
Baikal
Happy Holly Days


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I was talking with a friend today, who told me that his mother's friend, who worked for AT&T "back in the day," said that telephone keypads had been designed to slow down people who were used to typing on calculator-style keypad layouts, and so the order was reversed to slow folks down.

Now, this smacks of the old QWERTY canards, and in any case a bit of research has convinced me that, if not completely shut out, this theory is not very likely, in any case. What I'm wondering, however, is if anyone else has heard this before? Prior to today, I'd not heard anything of the sort regarding the noble telephone keypad--though a spot of googling shows that the story isn't completely unheard of.

-Bai"Pennsylvania 6... 5... 0... 0... 0..."kal

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I'm just a typical American boy from a typical American town.

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AnglsWeHvHrdOnHiRdr
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Why, though? And before touch-tone was the norm, it didn't matter how fast you punched in the number, the phone only dialed as fast as the pulses went.

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"When a stupid man is doing something he is ashamed of, he always declares that it is his duty."--George Bernard Shaw

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Nick Theodorakis
We Three Blings


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The Straight Dope had a column on this subject.

Nick

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Dear Babby
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My dad always related the info that was in the original post--where he got that idea, I don't know and he is no longer living so I can't ask. The Straight Dope does not bear that theory out and their ideas make more sense.
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Baikal
Happy Holly Days


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Agreed, and the SD article was the first thing I thought of when I heard the story related to me. Mostly, I was just wondering if I was the only one in the dark about the sinister secret behind keypad designs.

-Baikal

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I'm just a typical American boy from a typical American town.

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Troberg
Angels Wii Have Heard on High


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From the SD article:

quote:
The Touch-Tone phone emerged in the early 1960s. Before that, there were rotary dials, with the numbers starting at 1 at the top right and then running counterclockwise around the dial to 8-9-0 across the bottom. Why would "0" be on the bottom? Probably because the dialing mechanism was pulse, not tone. Since they couldn't do zero pulses for 0, they did ten pulses, and hence put the 0 at the end. (Thanks to Radu Serban for this suggestion.)
Not true everywhere. Many countries (including Sweden) has 0, 1, 2 ... ,8, 9. Those that have this arrangement also has each number represented by number+1 pulses.

You can easily test this by tapping the number on the hook. For instance, my phone number (80615, I'll leave out the area code) would be 9 taps, pause, 1 tap, pause, 7 taps, pause, 2 taps, pause, 6 taps. If you do it in a 1 to 0 country, you would have to use 8, 10, 6, 1, 5. This is also why you have to replace the numbers on the dial when moving a phone between some countries.

Oh, while we are at it, tapping the number on the hook does NOT make the call free, it's just an alternative way of dialling. The same goes for playing dial tones into the microphone. At best, it can allow you to dial out from a phone that has no dial/buttons to prevent from dialling out.

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/Troberg

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RealityChuck/Boston Charlie
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Cecil touches on the issue, but misses one point: calculators put the 1 on the bottom for a perfectly logical reason.

Again, we're talking about older calculators, the ones with a row of keys for each decimal place. These were mechanical: the key pushed down a roda that turned a wheel that kept the calculations. If you pressed a "1," the wheel would turn one place; if you pressed a "9," the wheel would turn nine places (zeroes were ignored).

Clearly, then, the "9" key would have to have a longer rod than the "1" key. It would thus stick up further than the "1" key.

Putting the "9" on the bottom would be an awkward arrangement; you'd run a greater risk of pressing two keys at once, like hitting the "9" when reaching for the "5," since it protruded more. Further, it would angle the keys away from the user, an arrangement that's not intuitive (note, for instance, that even today, a keyboard is usually angled toward the user).

I've seen this arrangement on my grandfather's old mechanical calculator. I don't know about early cash registers, but once the button-type design was used (some early ones had dials or horizontal buttons, and some had individual buttons for each amount), it would seem likely that there's be similar reasoning.

When electronic calculators were invented, they kept with the convention of mechanical calculators and put the numbers on the bottom, adding the zero below the 1-2-3 row.

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stoolie
I'm Dreaming of a White Sale


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quote:
Originally posted by Troberg:
Oh, while we are at it, tapping the number on the hook does NOT make the call free, it's just an alternative way of dialling.

This did work for free calling in New Zealand back when pay phones were pulse driven. The emergency number is 111, which could be called without depositing any money. The pulse sequences were reversed, so a 9 was one pulse, and a 1 was nine - a 0 was ten pulses. The great thing about this was that the 0 and 1 numbers were the hardest to 'tap' consistently - and because 1 was free for emergencies,and 0 was free for the operator, those digits could be dialled.

So to call free, you subtract your digits from 10, and tap the pulses on the hook leaving a pause between each number. Rumour has it that the exchanges had rotary arm switches that moved so many degrees per pulse, and technicians working in the room could detect hand tapped calls but the erratic pulsing.

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Ganzfeld
Let There Be PCs on Earth


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The real reason is probably that they didn't give it much thought. Whoever decided where to put the buttons was probably more concerned with the internal workings of the machine, not where the buttons went. The buttons were probably put on 1, 2, 3,... in the most logical order for reading them, not using them. The zero at the bottom, becase it had always been last on the rotary dial (at lest in the US), not necessarily because it had been on the bottom.

I don't remember where I read it but I recall reading that the arrangement didn't make much difference with the first keypad phone systems because almost anyone could easily type the numbers too fast for the system, whether they were used to the arrangement or not. (Could be one of Norman's books?)

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erwins
Deck the Malls


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[hijack]

quote:
Originally posted by Baikal:
Now, this smacks of the old QWERTY canards,

Why do you say "canards"? While it is debatable whether you can characterize the design of the QWERTY layout as designed to slow typists down, there is no question that the layout was not designed for maximum keystroke speed. And as a practical matter, in trying to keep manual typewriter key hammers from striking each other and hanging up, the arrangement slowed typists down. There are other, much superior layouts, such as DVORAK.

(Discussed here)[/hijack]

erwins

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Esprise Me
We Wish You a Merry Giftmas


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quote:
Originally posted by RealityChuck, the punisher:
Cecil touches on the issue, but misses one point: calculators put the 1 on the bottom for a perfectly logical reason.


Slight nitpick: Cecil didn't answer this question. It was a "Staff Report by the Straight Dope Science Advisory Board," written by some guy named "Dex." I prefer the ones Cecil writes himself.

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"If God wrote it, the grammar must be infallible. Perhaps it is we who are mistaken." -MapleLeaf

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Baikal
Happy Holly Days


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quote:
Originally posted by erwins:
Why do you say "canards"?

For two reasons. Firstly, the notion that telephone keypads were designed to impair typing to prevent equipment failure is almost exactly the same as the story told about the design of the QWERTY keyboard, and I wanted to suggest that this explanation was probably not really correct either.

Secondly, because it is. Dvorak superiority is at best questionable and at worst, I suspect, a product of wishful thinking and the placebo effect. Perhaps the most oft-cited article on this, though I would caution not the final word, can be found here The authors make a couple of salient points, namely 1) that early studies purportedly demonstrating the DSK's superiority were either methodologically suspect or the product of studies run by Dvorak himself, 2) more recent studies have failed to confirm a supposed wide improvement, and 3) the QWERTY keyboard didn't spring from nowhere; it beat out a number of competing designs to become the keyboard standard.

I don't dispute that there are people who claim vast improvements in their typing ability when switching from QWERTY to DSK. People will claim a lot of things, and I'm a case in point: Monday, UPS is supposed to deliver my new keyboard--based off the old IBMs, with the buckling springs. I do this to replace the keyboard I use now, a fifteen year old mechanical switch model. I will swear up and down to you that my typing improves on these keyboards over the flimsy membrane types that breed like bacteria today--but I don't really think it's proof of any inate superiority.

-Bai"bring back my Selectric!"kal

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Ganzfeld
Let There Be PCs on Earth


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quote:
Originally posted by Baikal:
3) the QWERTY keyboard didn't spring from nowhere; it beat out a number of competing designs to become the keyboard standard.

Great post. But I have to take issue with a couple of points. There are lots of standards that have survived because they were part of products that were successful for other reasons. So just having beaten the competition doesn't mean the keyboard was the best. (It became a standard at a time when typing speeds were much much slower anyway.) While it is not true that the QWERTY was designed to slow people down, it was designed to avoid the typebar clashes that were common on typewriters. (Anyone who has used a mechanical typewriter knows the layout was not always successful at this!) So you may be right that QWERTY is no slower than other keyboards but the "canard" is not so far from the truth in that case. It was designed to put space between adjacent keystrokes (but not necessarily time).
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Baikal
Happy Holly Days


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No, you're right, and I may have been a little harsh on the anti-QWERTY way of thinking. I think it's a curious legend, at its core, though--urban legends frequently have morals or try to teach us things. The focus of the legend (as opposed to the reality) is on technology perversely slowing down our progress as opposed to being a great leap forward, and on irrationality being preserved as tradition (e.g., the church with the extra genuflexion, the extra man on the artillery team) and that was the kernel I was getting at here.

Still, I did overextend, I think.

-Baikal

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I'm just a typical American boy from a typical American town.

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erwins
Deck the Malls


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And the Economics article you cited has its own critics. http://www.mwbrooks.com/dvorak/dissent.html.

I can't speak to the credibility of one study over another.

But I do know that the DVORAK design does, empirically, result in less finger travel distance. It seems pretty unlikely that the movement savings doesn't translate into speed increase.

And yes, I am a DVORAK user, and since picking it up, my speed increased. I'm willing to concede that part of the speed increase was due to the fact that I dedicated considerable time to practicing. But, part of why I switched was because I was developing repetitive strain injury from typing. I have far less RSI after switching.

This site articulates some of the ergonomic advantages: http://www.tifaq.com/keyboards.html. But it certainly isn't the be-all end-all of ergonomic keyboards.

And, by the way, I totally agree that the UL about QWERTY being designed to slow typists down is just as you say -- based on a common technophobic theme that is in various other ULs.

I also think there are other reasons that DVORAK did not succeed. I mentioned to an older secretary once that I type in DVORAK, and she became instantly hostile. She said something like "yeah, they tried to make us all switch to that back in the 60s. It was ridiculous!" Forcing highly competent professionals to go back to square one incompetence at one of their most highly valued skills -- not likely to get a lot of buy in.

erwins

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