lalita larking

An obsession with cryptic crosswords. Everything else falls in place.

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Location: Kolkata, India

Monday, March 06, 2006

Men's my one failure...

How many numbers does it take to get Lali into the screaming heebie-jeebies mode? Answer: any above one.

Okay. At the onset, let me tell you I am a numerophobe. But civilisation forces me to use numbers at every other turn. We have civilisations because of our ability to think in numbers, good grief!

I am talking about telephone numbers, and by extension, cell-phone numbers, though.

If you have ever had a friend drone out the number of a mobile phone at you; if you ever had to memorize an extension number; if you ever had to hunt for the code for a given area; if you hate numbers and are forced to use them... You will know what I am talking about.

But...

Why can't people figure out how to remember or recite numbers? I am a certified air-head and I have no trouble remembering how to break them up, so why should the rest of the population be so dimwitted about it?

In the bad old days, telephone numbers had only five digits (This is absolutely true, I so swear, :D). As I went through my course of learning typing as it was taught and shorthand ditto, I also got some lessons on how to recite telephone numbers :- it was part of the secretarial course.

With five digit numbers, you recite it 'blah blah pause blah blah blah.' Or in other words, you state the exchange code, and then the subscriber number. The breaking up of a five digit number into an easily memorable thing was by way of separating the exchange code.

Of course, things got complicated. Telephone lines multiplied, and exchanges got saturated. Subscriber Trunk Dialling was a great thing, in it's day. As a fledgling telephone operator, I needed to learn to memorise STD codes, too. Most of the boondocks had barely four digit numbers for subscribers, but you had to memorise most of the STD codes, all the same.

I learnt nifty tricks about prioritising calls, adding a zero to any number dialed (don't try this unless you know what you are about :D), STD codes for most of India; I made friends with the operators who managed overseas calls, and learned how to eat lunch while managing a switchboard in the absence of substitutes. Hey, I was the substitute.

Enter Sam Pitroda and the telecom revolution: area codes and exchange codes kept getting longer. Now there are eight digits for even local exchanges. Now add satellite telephony to the picture; it started as something for a few select people who need to be in touch all the time and could afford the clunky early models. But now I call my plumber on his cell-phone if I need his services.

As a rogue operator who made a few personal calls when she was manning the board, I find the revolution nothing short of miraculous. STD locking was a big thing less than a decade ago. Nobody could have predicted the proliferation of cell-phones, or the pricing wars that are going on. The world is gearing up to make Arthur C Clarke's prediction of a phone-call costing the same all over the world a reality. ( But these days, the opportunities for sneaking in a personal call are close to nil, if you don't want to be caught. :D)

But, and here begins the rant. Folks, you may stop reading if you choose.

Give a ten digit number to people and they will mangle it, make it difficult to remember when they recite it to you. I gnash my teeth and stop myself from launching into how to break up phone numbers for easy recital or recall.

Just go 'blah blah pause blah blah blah, longer pause and then blah blah pause blah blah blah.' Simple enough. Right? :D People seem to not possess enough braincells to do this simple thing.

Go on, the next time someone gives you their number, try to remember it the way they recite it, and then try it my way. 2+3, 2+3. Tell me which is easier. Ah, well, you are going to tell me it is stored on your phone, so you won't need to actually memorise it. :D

By the way, Crispa, who retired from compiling crosswords a while ago, had a wonderful clue.

"Men's my one failure": Mother of nine (9)

Answer: Mnemosyne. Anagram.

She was the mother of the nine muses in Greek mythology. She is evoked every time we use mnemonics to remember something. :D

Cheers!

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