telephone hold music: analog generator

Recently a friend recounted to me a visit to a cool museum which had, in one exhibit, a “hold music” generator (you know, elevator muzak… here have some Cisco sound samples).

That is, before there was digital recording and playback, telephone switchboard operators wanted to play soothing music to callers while connecting their calls. To do so, they used little analog electromechanical playback devices — what we now think of as those cute music box toys


but which included very serious and complex devices once-upon-a-time.


Anyway, so it turns out it was the Museum Speelklok (“Musical Museum”) in Utrecht, the Netherlands:

From Zoz comes this photo of the infamous Japanese telephone exchange hold music generator: (original content ahead! whoo)

Electromechanical telephone hold music generator. Photo credit: Zoz at MIT.
Electromechanical telephone hold music generator. Photo credit: Zoz at MIT.

[the end.]


Some wikipedia articles of interest:

    Which contains this “lolwut” anecdote:

    > For those still uncertain of the difference between “song title” and “mechanical” copyrights, consider the Capitol Records lawsuit for copyright infringement against Nike some 20 years ago. Nike legally obtained permission to use the Beatles song title “Revolution” from the title’s owner, Michael Jackson. They used the Capitol Records owned recording of the Beatles’ performance, but failed to obtain and pay for permission and use. Capitol Records sued and prevailed because Nike ONLY had a license to use the title and did not have a license to use the mechanical recording


Other interesting links I dug up while hunting for this museum before giving up and emailing Zoz:


Sun Paper: why do abandoned bikes get their rims all bent? is it snow plows?

tl;dr “it’s like bird spotting but for bike tacos”

It has come to my attention recently (on facebook) that with respect to the question

why do abandoned bikes get their rims all bent?

there is a lot of pseudoscience, rumors, speculation, passionate eyewitness accounts, and vague theories. take this forum thread:

I notice the same thing a lot on College Campuses and assume its drunk college students limping home after the bars close and deciding to indulge in some low-grade vandalism. Presumably they don’t really need a vice to get it to bend like that though, I think they just brace the wheel against whatever the bikes chained to and then kick/jump on the edges

wild speculation

Unlikely Scenario D: People carry a bent wheel with them and mount that on the bike when chained, and carry the good wheel with them to prevent bike theft.

even some mechanical engineering insight

Bicycle wheels are very strong vertically, and fairly weak horizontally.

here’s a friend of a friend’s thoughts on the matter

Reason I think it’s the snow is the bikes are usually parked a little away from the road. The weight of snow falling plus the weight of snow being pushed into them with plows== all bent up… 

okay, so it _is_ plows, but not that plows are directly touching bikes, they’re pushing ice rocks into the bike? that’s the winner?

but then someone chimes in from Florida

Right, I imagine there’s lots of people kicking bikes or hitting them with cars in florida (people can’t drive in Miami. I’m serious. They’re insanely bad drivers. And this is coming from someone who considers himself a fairly bad driver). This is about why virtually _all_ of the bikes are suddenly completely destroyed after the snow melts. Semi-abandoned bikes that are just left at a pole for a month or so during the summer in Boston may have their wheels stolen (or just be totally stolen), but they don’t get destroyed like this.

As you can see, despite all these rumors go around, there is no actual science on the matter.

We must address this issue with scientific rigor if we want to prove that everyone in the world can be a citizen scientist. I suspect the state of the universal “bike taco” phenomenon may be similar to the “same symptom but vastly different underlying causes” scenario.

The solution is to create a crowdsourced science application. Just like you can participate in science  by reporting sighting of banded birds, or by putting a feeder up and counting birds,


You should be able to report on how, exactly, bikes are getting “taco’d”.

Everyday scientists can

  • submit pictures of an abandoned bike over time
  • reports of what state the bike was in
  • see a timeline of related weather phenomena in that state
  • and submit eyewitness videos of bikes getting taco’d

We must get to the heart of this matter. Our bikes are at stake.

I’m too lazy so just use reddit:

Tues Startup: It’s like Yelp, but for Toilets

my new website will collect user reports and reviews of toilets around the world

this will help many travelers prepare for how to judge an entire society by their toilets

to get academics interested, we will flag people who post reviews as either natives or tourist, and have automatic translation capabilities

you can read about the inspiration behind this startup here

Alright, prior art check:


okay this is promising… people are trying to use yelp to review toilets… let’s keep going

Yelp may be great for reviews about restaurants, hair stylists or the nearest gas station. But if you find yourself in need of a public restroom, Flushd, a slickly designed app for iPhone and iPad, promises relief.

Flushd displays a list of public restrooms based on a user’s current location. The app uses data from Foursquare to identify the bathrooms.

It’s by no means the first of its kind, but Flushd has some promising features. People can offer up their own toilets for sharing by adding them to the list in the app. Features such as sorting—whether the bathroom has a changing table, for instance—are expected in the next version of the app, due in about three months.

“We want to make the bathroom experience better,” says James Edwards, creator of Flushd and CEO of Ahhh Media, the maker of the app. “Our goal is to offer an easy button for relief.”

What they don’t tell you in the press release: Flushd is a free app but if it gets popular, Ahhh Media plans to start charging and will donate a portion of the revenue to organizations working on sanitation issues.


NOOOOO I have been sniped. But now the market is open to the idea… I need merely make a better website than they did and reap their users… 😛


short post about toilets

First let’s start with
1) i’m chinese-american
2) I’ve travelled around the world a lot. Europe, Asia, Africa, South America.

Anyway, just commenting on how being a little more open-minded and having a different cultural background / immigrant background than a lot of English-speaking people makes it easy to poke fun at English websites.

I mean, you’d think the writer on a website dedicated to toilets would be a little self-aware and think about how different people can be within a single “culture”. But take a gander at this quote:

toilets in guangzhou
toilets in guangzhou, source:

Chinese toilets, at least those in the People’s Republic of China, can be highly communal. There is no place for privacy in a totalitarian state striving for the completely collectivist society. These are in Guangzhou, the large city formerly known in the West as Canton.


That’s uh, good to know. I guess Amsterdam, the large city formerly known in the West as the “Venice of the North“, is just s*** out of luck (pardon the pun) :'(

Judging their entire culture and society by their toilets and how they void bodily fluids, the Netherlands must be a zero-privacy hellhole, ruled by a dictator, I guess….

Photo via: Jane Dutton Utrecht (
Photo via: Jane Dutton Utrecht ( source:

So, long story short, this is why I’m announcing my new startup idea, “It’s like Yelp but for Toilets.” Not only will we help millions of people with the toilet experience, but we will also promote open-minded and inter-cultural exchange. It is truly an idea for saving the world, being a social enterprise, and making bank.

Thank you. Please stop throwing money at me. I’m so goody-two-shoes, I can only tell you to throw money at watsan (water and sanitation) charities instead.

here just click here:

or if you want to just share links and do slacktivism / clicktivism instead go here:

p.s. I bought this book and really enjoyed it; let me know if you want to borrow a copy: You can read a summary of some key points on core 77.


Addressing the “skeptics” on reddit: Woman up and talk to people in real life.

as before, posting my response here because I’ve handed off my reddit account to a friend so I can’t keep trying to fix the internet. I’ll re-post to reddit when I get access again in a week.

In response to “he said she said” comment, as replicated below:

4:29 AM: the point distro is now 3 for miotoss, 1 for me, instead of 2:2 as shown here. love you too reddit

I’m sure an arrest would satisfy your desire for truth [/sarcasm].

The fact that there are laws against something is evidence that it happens (so we make a law against it, e.g. no one is seriously making laws against murdering unicorns), not that it doesn’t happen. For instance, there’s laws against speeding and jaywalking, and they definitely still happen. Another example, rape is illegal and people do get arrested for rape, yet people still doubt it happens. Therefore, nothing you read on the internet will convince you, especially if you start from “everyone is lying to me / people are all liars” and the thought is on the tip of your tongue ready to leap out the second you read something contrary to your beliefs.

So seriously, just go talk to people in real life—everyone will be much happier, you and I included. In real life, you will have to look people in face and stare them in the eye and deal with the fact that you could end up feeling sh***y about yourself when you call your friends a liar to their face.

I tell my friends in real life when they are being wittingly or unwittingly sexist, and I feel sh***y as f**k all when I do so. But I deal with it, I deal with their anger and resentment and backlash, I deal with them saying “bulls**t” to my face, I deal with them saying “I’m too busy dealing with my own life and issues to listen to you”, I deal with them saying “I only care about hardcore technical issues and I’m proud of that”, I accept they will tell me “I don’t care about your pet cause, stop talking about it”, I listen to why they are feeling the way they do—I do all this so that we can grow together, and because I’m a grown-up woman and I’m their friend. Because I accept that, if I want them to listen to me, I need to listen to them too.

I listen to them, because I know what it feels like to not be listened to.

I’m far from perfect at listening instead of reacting in anger, because I’m human. But at least I try.

I’m challenging you to do the same. Get off the internet and go talk to people in person. Woman up, like I did, and confront them in real life. Engage with people in order to grow your empathy and understanding of why other people believe what they do, instead of trying to prove to yourself what you already believe. And don’t sleep easy until you do.

It will take effort and time away from honing your technical skills. You will have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable and distressed. You will have to accept people’s anger and distrust and hurt and discomfort and apathy and backlash at you. You will have to work to seek out opposing opinions instead of shutting them down. You will have to work to gracefully accept criticism when you inevitably get angry, fail at listening, and fail to hold yourself up to your own standards.You will have to acknowledge the limitations of statistics and the limitations of your knowledge—you will have to put all your opinions aside so that you can fully be there when your friend is asking you to listen to her. You will have to work to broaden your circle of real friends, not just token friends, so that you can talk to people with diverse life experiences with whom you have a history of doing things for in return, instead of just demanding their knowledge and opinion and attention in a one-way relationship—you will have to ask for their trust in you, instead of asking them to lay their painful life stories before your skeptical eyes for you to tear apart while you call them liars “who have zero issue lying” and give them no trust nor respect in return.

And this is the effort you have to put in to be a grown-up woman.

tl;dr Woman up and talk to people in real life. Don’t sleep easy until you are better at listening than at arguing, until you are comfortable doing to your friends in person the things you do to strangers on the internet.