Avaya and Steve Jobs (Revisited)

Early on in one of my first projects “breaking the internet” with content was The Museum of Telephony which was wordpress-dot-com product until 2020 when it was moved on our hosting platform. I can speak freely again because the previous manager is no longer involved. Anyways 4 months into the endeavor, I had posted A Post on Apple and Avaya Together . Within a week, a Google Search referral (because in 2012 you could get this data, not so much – even on your own hosting platforms)  “Steve Jobs fan of AT&T Merlin phone” .

If the pic rings a bell, it was the inside picture in the hard cover of Walter Issacason’s bio of the said man.  (of which I should re-read.) I said at the time that it was a no-brainer. Steve Jobs was man of detail, including his preferred list of vendors, whether it was Apple, NeXT or Pixar. It was so blaintely obvious he was drawn by Ma Bell, and that AT&T Merlin phone in his home was another giveaway.

Despite the Merlin being made in the 1980s and discontinued by 1990, AT&T and later Lucent and Avaya was well known for continuing to market these systems as refurbished models well into the mid 2000s. Also, the 7400 series Digital “Voice Terminals” had the Merlin casing, but was used in the System 75/Definity Generic 3 PBX, of which was the PBX used at NeXT, Pixar and Apple, the infamous boxy 8400 Series Digital Voice Terminals did not come to market till 1994 and by 1995, these decade old sets would finally be End of Sale, but this 1980s look continued well into the 2000s because Lucent (and later Avaya) allowed it. Hence why my 7407 or 7102 sets are next to my Office of Yesteryear where my Color Classic sits. The thing is telephony and IT do not go hand in hand. A phone from the 1980s and a PC from the 1990s aren’t required to match, because telephony on the enterprise level was not part of MIS or IT for many businesses.

As a sidenote: though Apple did not refresh the desksets often, some of Apples earlier campuses still had the 1970s Multibutton Electronic Telephone of which AT&T wanted to nix by the time 1990 came along…. now I am going outside the scope of this post…

Would Steve Jobs still be a fan of Avaya? 

I am not sure. Avaya was in the process of acquiring Nortel, prior to his departure of the company and his life. In reality, while Avaya disconnected Nortel’s offerings, the management and many of their engineers was retained. A lot of Avaya from the Steve Jobs admiered era (the System 75/Definity G3/Merlin/etc) was kinda getting phased out with that infamous Aura experiment, and the botched IP Office offerings (the small end systems often found at Apple stores); and other oddball moonshot stuff that Avaya has done.

I am not sure if Jobs had opinions of vendors in the same way he did for the Apple products, since these would be operations and would be in Tim Cook’s old position. I would think he would say things like those damned B100 series of IP sets to “be full of shit”. Those gawd-awful 2-wire DCP 9500s to be “more shit” and probably would piss on the cost of having Avaya equipment in an enterprise like Apple.

It’s unclear if the new Apple campus is wired to Cisco or Avaya, I wouldn’t be surprised it’s on the former. Apple’s retail has slowly gone on to the KallStrangler bandwagon, and would Apple want to pay ridiculous contracts to finance internet trolls defending Fucking Kari’s Law? I certainly would hope ill of Avaya to declare Chapter 11… oh wait, they did didn’t they?!

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Fact. The Google Search Engine Works. *In Theory*

When I used to manage The Museum of Telephony from 2012 to late 2019; one of the surprising antidotes I can say is: the Google Search Engine works. Period.

I didn’t pay Google a dime! I am going to be honest, and say it was really weird to see my own work come up in first or second pages when I was gawd-honest trying to find present telephony stuff, that in way was commingled in my content.

Not to mention the self-reflection I would see. Sometimes I would cringe just seeing my own work. On the other hand, there was this need to be responsible, but things went haywire by 2020.

Now how did Google get this if I didn’t pay to play like some YouTube hack creators?

  1. Unintentional SEO. It was never intended to be a Search Engine Optimized site, it just coincidentally happened that way. One was alternate text and titles in the images. The alternate text was very descriptive, because I always wanted my content I create to be accessible for all persons. It wasn’t too detailed, but it gave the reader an overall summary of the picture
  2. The iTheme’s built in Tag cloud. Since the inception, the iTheme was the overall visual identity for TMOT. Like most WordPress sites, it too had the tag cloud. I used the tags liberally and with relevance as well. Not to mention the categories as well.
  3. Daring to share. In 2018, I made social media companions. I resisted as long as possible, but made a Facebook and Instagram page. With the linking on my YouTube (under my alternate name), this gave the algos likely a feedback loop.

So when I hear Google’s search is rigged, it cannot be always true. TMOT was not a non-comm platform per se, but it was not by any means making any financial gains to expand or what. When it moved over to our own hosts, the hits were not as strong, despite the clickford.net domain being in use for over 5 years, and was acting as a redirect for a couple of years, before moving onto an off-prem host in late 2019.

I do not take what I did lightly, I broke the Internet, and while I slowed down, others made their own.

It was a great time for me in the 2010s.

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TMOT: Analysis (The History of Telephony)

As part of divesting content from The Museum of Telephony, anything identified by moi has been sent back to me as being the rights holder. 

Steven M. Clickford

As I am writing this history, it’s 2020, nearly a century after the Spanish Flu; and the midst of the growth of telephony that grew around that time. Also: our country is more divided, not just red and blue, not just Republican or Democrat, not Ford vs Chevy, not Nortel vs. AT&T or Avaya Red vs. Avaya Blue. We are up against a very divided country; and allegedly the U.S. is dealing with what could become the deadliest pandemic since 1918 known as COVID19 or the novel Coronavirus from China. In the technical sense of division; from the mind of an engineer, conflict brings innovation; but from a customer, division confuses them; from a business standpoint since the 1980s, it’s all about making money and being rewarded with cash… but what do they do with it? Sit on it!

What about the middle class? Why is my Cisco phone “Made in China”? What about the people who were proud to work at Ma Bell at the repair plants? What about the Boomers and people like my gram’s age who is very sensitive to reliable telephony?

We have forgotten what made the past so great that brought us the present. Too often Americans (by choice) want to have short attention spans. Americans do not care about “the past” they by choice “want to move forward”. Today many Gen Z (the youngest generation coming to age) want to spend money on “experiences” completely opposite to the Baby Boomers of yester-generation. But like the Boomers, they want things cheap and will laugh at the price of an iPhone; but yet will whine about the “monopoly”.

The so-called “monopoly” by the technologists today is far from what it used to be. AT&T would’ve been shamed if they were hoarding cash or gave a Western Electric exec stock options, since stock options wasn’t really a “financial instrument”. The Bell System was for sure corrupt, at some parts of the company. For whatever reason some other groups felt “secure” that their phones worked, that they had “service” that they “took care” of their customer. The ones who had a grudge was people who were fixated on price, the engineer who didn’t like using a telephone, and wanted to extend the Internet, etc.

AT&T would’ve been better of breaking up the communications equipment; go into their failed attempt in computing, and then keep the all local telephone service. The company was loosing margins on their Long Lines (or long distance services) from the 70s to the Divestiture.

What the 1984-implemented Divestiture caused

  1. allowed dog-eat-dog, cut throat competition.
  2. Shareholders came first; customers, employees came second (MCI was known for cheap long distance service; the amount of customers and cash coming in resulted in a high stock price, enabling “insiders” to use MCI as a private bank to leave the company, start it up, if it succeeded or failed, they’d return back.)
  3. Local telephone service was under siege by the Telecommunications Act of 1996; ElChea0 Telephone could by law co-locate with a Baby Bell central office, and the Baby Bell had to comply!
  4. With the Telecommunications Act, this forced Baby Bells to merge and consolidate, to grow their profit margins (remember shareholder-first)
  5. Lenient laws for “innovation” = new markets, but enabling sub-par standards (such as crappier audio quality)
  6. Lenient laws to “maximize shareholder profits”, taking skilled labor (whether you like unions or not) out of a job.
  7. “High tech” companies brought today’s new economy on zero regulation, with zero corporate governance, and zero accountability, forcing customers to “trust” these “digital companies” that reinvent (err rewriting) standards/policies/goal posts to throw smaller people out of business (Baby Bells, etailers like Amazon and eBay)
  8. The consumer is more confused by whose the villain or the hero in the economy, when in reality the populous views is far from accurate (the smaller “innovative” companies are profiting like crazy while the service providers are being sucked out of cash, even though they are pocketing customer’s money too.)

The fact is, that after the breakup, the very same thing the market wanted would actually be the beginning of the end of telephony, or standardized telecommunications, the end of customer social norms, and the inmates controlling the asylum (the shareholders and corporate executives.)

I was born 3 years after Divestiture. I didn’t follow much of AT&T’s past, until a few years before the first carnation of The Museum of Telephony. The old AT&T’s reputation was tainted by popular opinions that was probably conflated facts. The Divestiture confused a bunch of customers. Post Diveisture, customers were confused. Like some techies, some looked up to IBM even if they had skeletons in their closet, mine was literally AT&T (the competitive company of course.) I literally saw Ma Bell literally fall to her death. I remember they spun off NCR when 5 years before they bought them out as National Cash Register, the same year IBM divested ROLM. I remember AT&T’s buyout of TCI, then Media One, to then sell them off to Comcast. To then see AT&T basically sell themselves out to SBC, the Baby Bell of the West Coast and Connecticut.

The AT&T after 2005 was basically a Baby Bell inheriting their mother’s name, but still operating in that dirty corporate culture that America so wanted so badly in the 1980s; that they are bitching about today.

Lastly, because of the “cutting edge”, progressive, anti “antiquated” tech mindset, the 1 year refresh cycle (remember the 3 year cycles in the Wintel/Cisco world?); as technology has evolved, there is rarely something, that is a thing, an object that unifies us. Most Millennials can’t tell a story of a item that others shared, except if you’re like me a deep techie. But for the older, non techies, that infamous plastic clad, 500-type rotary dial telephone, brings older generations with stories or “remember-that”?

For the human side of technology, the best unity was before PCs, clearly before mobile phones, and anything that was made prior to 1987, let’s just end that the year I was born was the end of unified technology that multi-generations can relate to.

For many of my audience, I’m an old heart, and don’t subscribe to IT-group-think nor do I care for today’s consumer tech. This narrative was written out of respect of the technology that long came before my existence, because I knew there was a world before I came onto this planet too!

TMOT: Lorriane Nelson Profile (AUDIX Voiceover)

I had done an email interview of the once well known voiceover to millions of voicemail boxes domestically for The Museum of Telephony in 2016. Since I no longer manage TMOT nor did the new management care about this highlight, I’m allowed to retain the rights and have the original piece featured here.

There was as sidenote in 2019: By winter of that year; there was an attempt by your’s truly to reach out to her to do an actual interview (whether it was to be a phoner or video call; she did respond and was willing to do so, March was the start of the planning process; but the decision to drop it was me; as ongoing personal conflicts prevented me from doing it altogether.)

Welcome to AUDIX. For help at anytime, press star-H. Please enter your extension and pound sign.

Default AUDIX Login prompt

In part of the continuing series of the early history of modern day Avaya PBX systems, you humble curator had actually reached out to the “Voice of Voicemail”, Lorraine Nelson. I would like to thank her for her cooperation with the project.

image of Lorraine Nelson from voicelady.com

Image courtesy from voicelady.com

This investigative project is mostly the background to the voice behind the legendary voice mail system, that has been branded AUDIX (the acronym known as Audio Information Exchange), Intuity, Modular Messaging and smaller systems like Partner and Merlin Messaging. Technical information or specific dates or years is not part of the narrative because she doesn’t have that information. Regardless, the early days of the enterprise voicemail system has some interesting history in itself.

 Despite her claim to fame, she was not the first voice of Audix.  According to her, a woman with a Texan drawl (the person’s name is unknown) had done the prompts for at least Release 1. The Bell Labs team wanted the voice to sound more New York, however they didn’t know where to go. Hey I wouldn’t blame them too. In the world of business, if you had a Texan (or heck someone from the West Coast) giving you prompts, would you go asleep or a loose a prospective customer? Especially when a product of AT&T was about to evolve into the competitive marketplace during the time Divestiture?

A man who had once worked on a Bell Labs project of a system with an A/V interface that could bridge such equipment in various rooms or classrooms through a telephony system; was tasked to find the voice. The said project is believed to never gone to market. This manager called a film producer in the Yellow Pages and asked he knew any voice over talent. The film producer had recommended a radio talent to the Bell Labs manager. They spotted a radio news reporter in the Denver market who worked at KADE in Boulder, then KADX going by the name “Lauren Hendricks.”

Despite the illusion of multiple personalities (read below), the woman they found would be Lorraine Nelson.

(On a sidenote: I guess name spoofing wasn’t just isolated to the world of Shadow Traffic or Metro Networks reporters! I never understood concept of a same voice, but  different names on different radio stations – thought it was always a slap in the face to the listening audience’s intelligence.)

Editorial aside, this was probably the best move. A native (and now a resident again) of Connecticut, as she told me where she “grew up to speak properly!” who also studied at the University of Colorado with a Communications major – not the telecommunications, but in the radio, TV scope. She met their crieteria – but could she pull it off?

 After the discovery and making the decision, she would arrive to a frugal Bell Labs factory, with low end technology with no quiet place to record since this was a manufacturing plant. Not only that, apparently AT&T could’ve paid her a little better for such an enormous task.

 How come? What they had was a reel to reel tape deck in a cubicle, and apparently according to her they wanted to mimic (in her words) a “telephoney” sound. Because of this low tech practice in a dark time in the 1980s; people didn’t like the voice, and it felt too quick or abrupt. They gave her another chance to re-record the fragments this time they didn’t over direct her. By this time she interjected her own personality (and from seeing that other video – this would explain the “nicest secretary” vision.) This seemed to help according to Nelson and kept it for Audix 1 and 2 (again released in mid to late 1980s most likely.)

Despite publicized peer reviewed reports on the System 75 in January 1985, with developers touting the design of the human in mind, the Audix team apparently didn’t have the interests of the users in the beginning according to Nelson.  She would record nearly a thousand prompts (known formally as “fragments and menus”) into the phone at the factory after the work day ended there and had to go through each one and dial it in to be able to record, enter the fragment number, press a command to playback, and if it didn’t sound well to hit a command to rerecord. She was annoyed at how she would record it without any problems, but the system would cut off part of her speech.

 Essentially what she did was no different than a customer getting root or Administrator access to the system and basically change the voice prompts, because in modern voice mail systems if you dislike the voice over you could in theory rewrite their voice. (If only I could get those 100 prompts to rewrite my Asterisk box it would be so awesome!) In the early days, there was no studios, no MP3, WAVE or AIFF PC/Mac based files; this was a simple rewriting over the voice of that Texan woman by logging into a telephone and press buttons to do the overwrites.

 Because the AUDIX history (at least in the mid 80s) is hard to find and hardware probably been vanished from Earth (and thank you Avaya for destroying your historical collection!) I could possibly speculate how they would reproduce the new voice on newly produced systems. I can imagine that the new AUDIX became test machine for the new voice in the shop; perhaps take a backup of the new voice and just insert them into the new systems and do it over and over  – since afterall she was recorded this first version on the shop floor. (And phone systems, mind you, don’t get reproduced often like PCs, like making thousands a day. A lot of times, these specialized systems would be made specifically for their customers near the time of purchase.)

Reflecting this primitive procedures, one would consider the production or development of this system as a glorified answering machine despite the very high rich, expensive nature of the equipment. First thing I compared this to today’s standards was, if say a friend with a good voice you wanted on your answering machine, and he recorded it on an MP3 send it you and play it off a BlackBerry. (I did this before we moved to a new house and use the service provider’s voicemail.) Or even 25 years ago if you wanted friend to record a quasi professional recording on a micro cassette player for you on those other tape based answering machine.

She would come in for changes over time including additional work for Lucent (by this point) recorded with enhancements to AUDIX, a faster pace, voicing over for two commands per prompts (oh I mean “fragments” and “menus”) and provided the voice for the Partner Messaging and Merlin Messaging (mid to late 90s) as well and even the IP Office in the last decade. And by this time it was more professional and was recorded digitally as well.

 She is still strong and active, and still heard by millions (including your humble currator, when his mother occasionally misses a call made by me to her office set.)

Note: Many thanks to Lorraine for her cooperation, answering and the prompt response through email. If only there would be more people that could send meaningful email within a few minutes, it’s a rare exception. 

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Update: The Back Story to Acquiring my Avaya PBX, part two

This is the second part of a 2 part story

By March 9th (nearly a week and half after he offered the system) the package made its way from Montana to New Hampshire. The next challenge? Trying to be home on the day it would arrive and then try to get (what was clearly over 80 pounds) into the house at least in one piece for it to work. And do this so the UPS Guy doesn’t trip and fall on the ice. That would be tragic for both the Brown guy and the PBX. Well it came on time at my normal UPS Ground route for my neighborhood (and stalking the package with my iPhone with its tracking number.)

How did I get this bad boy in the house?

Thankfully the 9th had milder weather as opposed to a cold February (where only one day was above freezing.) I was making some dollars on that day just clearing out the ice on the walkway. Sliding on the ice was already dicey (my grandmother is not getting any younger) and obviously this had to be cleared out so the PBX could be in one piece. I lugged it from the deck somewhat dragged it gently to the other deck steps because we have a pool and the steps to the deck are built for security/insurance purposes. Then, brought it down to the doghouse (the access point to the basement which is underground. However some have bulkheads – if say the basement/ground is exposed.  Some Cape houses are exposed full 3 stories, ours is underground. In this entryway, we have a full height entry space as I descend down a dozen steps.)  Without railings I got it situated in the laundry room. Thankfully, this individual named Jason had put these foot long circuit boards in actual Avaya boxes that typically are packaged with, and the administrative software was stuck on tape to the PBX unit itself.

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