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Why Don’t Cell Phones Have Dial Tones?

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Phones have come a long way since the old landline days. Our smartphones are light, fast, and have more computing power than NASA used to put a man on the moon.*  Some advances came not by adding things to the phone, but by taking things away. Noticeably missing for anyone of a certain age is the dial tone. What happened to it?  We don’t need it anymore. Or, at least the phones don’t.

Back in the early days of telephony, a switchboard operator would answer when you picked up the handset and connect you with whoever you were calling. When operators were replaced with an automated system that connected calls in the late 1940s, the dial tone was created so that callers would know that the phone was connected to the system, the system was live, and they could place their call.

For most people, this was helpful, but it threw President Dwight Eisenhower for a loop at first. Ike had never had to use a rotary telephone and had never heard a dial tone before (he had a dial-less phone in the White House that connected him to a switchboard). When he retired in 1961, he had to deal with both in an embarrassing incident witnessed by a Secret Service agent. According to the Eisenhower National Historic Site, “Upon lifting the receiver and being confronted with a dial tone, the President began to repeatedly press the dial tone button. When that achieved no results, he hung up and began turning the dial as though the phone were a safe. He finally gave up and turned to the agent for assistance.”

Ike eventually mastered the rotary phone, and decades later, Bell Laboratories was ready to move the telephone world forward another big step: supplementing, and, for some people, replacing, landlines with cellular mobile phone technology. Tech guy Dan Goldin was reading The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation when he met the man who killed the dial tone. He quotes the book:

Meanwhile, Phil Porter, who had worked with [Richard] Frenkiel on the original system, came up with a permanent answer to an interesting question. Should a cellular phone have a dial tone? Porter made a radical suggestion that it shouldn't. A caller should dial a number and then push "send." That way, the mobile caller would be less rushed; also, the call would be connected for a shorter time, thus putting less strain on the network. That this idea—dial, then send—would later prove crucial to texting technology was not even considered.

The phone could do what it needed to without a dial tone, so why keep it around? That Porter’s dial-and-send idea, called “pre origination dialing,” and decision to leave the dial tone off the mobile network also did us the favor of paving the way for text messages is a nice bonus. Goldin wonders, “How many other technologies and businesses are built on top of SMS that wouldn’t have existed without this decision? I’m sure an SMS-like technology would have come along regardless of this decision but it still makes me wonder how significantly past technological decisions influence us in the present.”

For all the good its death did, some people still miss their old dial tone. The company Jitterbug capitalized on this with a  mobile phone and service—including a dial tone—that appeals to baby boomers and old folks. [Via Dan Goldin, via Gizmodo]

*I forget where I heard this or who first made the observation, and I wonder how accurate it is. That’s a post I should totally do, right guys?

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Big Questions
What Are Carbohydrates Used for In Our Bodies?
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What are the carbohydrates used for in our body?

Ray Schilling:

Carbs are varied. There are complex carbohydrates that are absorbed slowly and you hardly get an insulin reaction. On the other end of the spectrum there are refined carbs like sugar, which are rapidly absorbed in the gut and to which the body reacts swiftly with an insulin reaction to lower high blood sugars.

Generally speaking all carbs are broken down into glucose and absorbed in the gut. Glucose is the fuel that is metabolized inside the cells in the mitochondria to give us energy. This is particularly important in the brain, which lives solely by glucose as its energy supply, but our muscles, our heart, our liver, and kidneys are all very rich in mitochondria for the metabolism of glucose.

But there is a dark side to refined carbs that we need to know about: When all our glucose storage spaces in the liver and the muscles are full (glycogen is the storage form of glucose), then the liver starts processing glucose. With our sugar consumption having spiraled upwards in the last 183 years, this surplus sugar metabolism is causing more and more problems.

The liver produces triglycerides from the extra sugar and LDL cholesterol, the bad cholesterol. This causes hardening of the arteries and causes heart attacks, strokes, and high blood pressure.

We need to come to our senses and cut out processed foods (which have extra sugar in them), switch to a Mediterranean diet and only consume complex carbs, contained in legumes, vegetables, and fruit. It is also recommendable to cut out starchy foods with a glycemic index of higher than 55 in order to bring our liver metabolism back to normal (normal triglyceride and LDL cholesterol production). This will mean cutting out pasta, potatoes, rice, bread, and muffins.

If you're wondering what kind of recipes you could follow, I have included one week’s worth of meals in this book: A Survivor's Guide To Successful Aging: With recipes for 1 week provided by Christina Schilling.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Big Questions
Why Do Cats Freak Out After Pooping?
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Cats often exhibit some very peculiar behavior, from getting into deadly combat situations with their own tail to pouncing on unsuspecting humans. Among their most curious habits: running from their litter box like a greyhound after moving their bowels. Are they running from their own fecal matter? Has waste elimination prompted a sense of euphoria?

Experts—if anyone is said to qualify as an expert in post-poop moods—aren’t exactly sure, but they’ve presented a number of entertaining theories. From a biological standpoint, some animal behaviorists suspect that a cat bolting after a deposit might stem from fears that a predator could track them based on the smell of their waste. But researchers are quick to note that they haven’t observed cats run from their BMs in the wild.

Biology also has a little bit to do with another theory, which postulates that cats used to getting their rear ends licked by their mother after defecating as kittens are showing off their independence by sprinting away, their butts having taken on self-cleaning properties in adulthood.

Not convinced? You might find another idea more plausible: Both humans and cats have a vagus nerve running from their brain stem. In both species, the nerve can be stimulated by defecation, leading to a pleasurable sensation and what some have labeled “poo-phoria,” or post-poop elation. In running, the cat may simply be working off excess energy brought on by stimulation of the nerve.

Less interesting is the notion that notoriously hygienic cats may simply want to shake off excess litter or fecal matter by running a 100-meter dash, or that a digestive problem has led to some discomfort they’re attempting to flee from. The fact is, so little research has been done in the field of pooping cat mania that there’s no universally accepted answer. Like so much of what makes cats tick, a definitive motivation will have to remain a mystery.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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