My annual February birthday month fund-raising campaign for Behind the Black is now over. It was the best February campaign ever, and the second best of all of my month-long fund-raising campaigns.


There were too many people who contributed to thank you all personally. If I did so I would not have time for the next day or so to actually do any further posts, and I suspect my supporters would prefer me posting on space and culture over getting individual thank you notes.


Let this public thank suffice. I say this often, but I must tell you all that you cannot imagine how much your support means to me. I’ve spent my life fighting a culture hostile to my perspective, a hostility that has often served to squelch my success. Your donations have now allowed me to bypass that hostility to reach a large audience.


Even though the February campaign is over, if you still wish to donate or subscribe you still can do so. Regular readers can support Behind The Black with a contribution via paypal:

Or with a subscription with regular donations from your Paypal or credit card account:


If Paypal doesn't work for you, you can support Behind The Black directly by sending your donation by check, payable to Robert Zimmerman, to
Behind The Black
c/o Robert Zimmerman
P.O.Box 1262
Cortaro, AZ 85652

AT&T: How to Use the Dial Phone

An evening pause: I would not be surprised if some of the younger readers of Behind the Black would need the instructions in this silent film in order to properly use a rotary phone.

Introducing any new technology requires instruction. This was strange stuff to homeowners in 1927, but a great improvement over party line phones that required an operator to do the dialing. And this was cutting edge then, and a symbol of the future.

Hat tip Jim Mallamace.

Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit.


  • wayne

    good stuff.

    …a related clip from 32 years later

    Direct Distance Dialing 1959
    Southwestern Bell Telephone Company

  • Localfluff

    Graham Bell invented the word “hello” (that’s information technology!) In order for someone to hear something over his noisy phone lines. The sailors’ “Ohoy” in the fog wasn’t good enough since it uses the same vowel twice. He started out with “Halloween”, but that’s a bit silly to start every conversation with. When it’s the wrong season.

    I think that clunky physical user interfaces will make a comeback. Because we are all getting fed up with those Korean touch screens. If the electronics isn’t smoking, it isn’t working.

  • We had a rotary phone at home until 1980. No redial, you had to memorize numbers (I don’t know *any* numbers now), and you’d better not miss a digit or you had to start over. Thank goodness for Star Trek tech.

  • eddie willers

    (I don’t know *any* numbers now)

    I can tell you my childhood phone: MElrose 4-2768, but I have to press ‘contacts’ on my smartphone nowadays to get my own number.

  • wayne

    Tommy Tutone

  • Localfluff

    I use my childhood’s phone number as a PIN-code today, (I hope no criminal figure that out). I rarely call myself. The line is always busy when I try. Today one can talk with the phone rather than with someone through the phone. No need for friends anymore.

  • Andi

    Interesting! I was wondering why there was no narration, until I realized that this was made in the silent film era.

    Also thought it was interesting that there were no letters on the dial, just numbers.

  • wayne

    good stuff, all around!

    Your obscure-clip finding skills, are top notch as always.
    (and btw– great rocket-launch database website, you referenced in another thread last week.)

    similar experience. (we must be in the same age cohort)
    I recall the switch from pulse to tone as well.

  • wayne

    good point.
    interestingly, “sound films” start in wide spread commercial use around 1927.
    Ref: “phone numbers,” — the 1920’s was the era of “time and motion studies,” and the start of serious psychological/neuroscience study. They determined 7 digits was the maximum data chunk people could handle for short-term memory recall, and that using exchange prefix’s made it even easier.

  • wayne

    pivoting to “television,” this is a great short:

    Philo Farnsworth
    “the most famous man you never heard of…”
    Jessica Farnsworth 2013

  • Localfluff

    The concept of phone numbers that one could dial directly must’ve been a great invention to offload the operators. The internets was a mess from the beginning. I suppose that’s why it is called a web. Each customer had a personal copper wire from the house to the operators’ local central.

    The Swedish phone equipment manufacturing company Ericsson was btw founded just because Graham Bell for whatever reason didn’t patent the phone in Sweden, so the entrepreneur L.M. Eriksson simply stole it. They were leading in automatic switch boards in the 1970s and those #*-codes with which one can use services like conference calls and take an incoming call on a busy line. That was a gold mine for “phreaking”, i.e. phone hacking, because there were secret codes one could type to make free calls. A local call used to cost something like ten cents a minute. There was this rumor around that one could call someone silently and listen on the microphone while it’s on the hook. A bit of a security risk.

    Back then in Sweden, although we were not behind the iron curtain, phones were the property of the government, you weren’t allowed to own one yourself. It cost $100s of dollars to have one installed, after having applied for permission on a paper form you mailed to them. And it took several weeks until a governmental installer came in his orange little SAAB v4 sports car. Their lousy service was a theme for many jokes. It’s funny how things change over time. I’m getting old.

  • wayne

    good stuff.
    In the United States, we as well, were forbidden to actually own our physical phone equipment well into the 1970’s.

    …extensive archival film on the mass production of wired memory modules for use in electronic phone switches.
    (talk about labor intensive! truly the height of analog manufacturing)

    ESS: Electronic Switching System
    1965 Western Electric Telephone Technology

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