Why a rotary cellphone?
February 11, 2020 4:10 PM   Subscribe

"Because in a finicky, annoying, touchscreen world of hyperconnected people using phones they have no control over or understanding of, I wanted something that would be entirely mine, personal, and absolutely tactile,while also giving me an excuse for not texting. " Justine Haupt has developed a truly wonderful homebrew rotary cell phone. Many other fascinating projects are on her portfolio page.

(via JWZ)
posted by jenkinsEar (70 comments total) 76 users marked this as a favorite
 
That is genius and I wish I could be on her Christmas gift list because she seems exactly the right kind of mad scientist to make you a toy bird that nests in paper clips.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 4:30 PM on February 11 [24 favorites]


I want one.
posted by notsnot at 4:30 PM on February 11 [4 favorites]


BEST OF THE weB!
posted by Glomar response at 4:34 PM on February 11 [2 favorites]


Every so often you encounter a hacker hobby project so perfectly executed, it gives one hope. (It's good that people are discovering how to make LEDs blink. I don't need to hear about it.) This is great! And makes me seriously consider getting around to finishing the aluminum-cans-and-strings bluetooth headset project that's been sitting abandoned in a drawer for 14 years.

Now that my spouse lives in a distant city without decent cellphone access but with fast internet, I haven't actually used my phone as a phone in months. I would never use this. But, it's great.

On clicking through to the artist's page and realizing I know them in a professional context. . . I'm no less impressed, but I am less surprised..
posted by eotvos at 4:36 PM on February 11 [4 favorites]


this fucking rules
posted by Sokka shot first at 4:39 PM on February 11


I soooo want one of these.
Be sure to peruse her other projects. Fascinating mind at work, there.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:40 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


I assume it comes with an address book and a ballpoint pen dangling from a chain or is that an upgrade?
posted by jim in austin at 4:41 PM on February 11 [13 favorites]


Well, that is on a whole nother level than the sparkfun project kit.
posted by pwnguin at 4:45 PM on February 11 [3 favorites]


If I had money, I would mod one of these and make it into a cell phone and have a wonderful time walking the streets, talking, with the cord dangling.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 4:57 PM on February 11 [4 favorites]


That instant-response LED signal meter reminds me a bit of Ethernet hubs back in the old days, when the port activity lights were driven directly by actual network activity. You could sometimes see something was wrong with your network just by spotting something odd in how the lights were blinking.
posted by FishBike at 5:27 PM on February 11 [10 favorites]


Like this?
posted by rfs at 5:27 PM on February 11 [2 favorites]


> while also giving me an excuse for not texting

I dunno, it would be worth experimenting with T9 at least.
posted by ardgedee at 5:37 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


I love the e-paper going around the edge. This should be in an art museum.
posted by bonobothegreat at 5:45 PM on February 11


Re. tactile nature of rotary dials, I have a yard sale rotary dial phone on a table by the front door, and no-one can resist it.
posted by carter at 5:52 PM on February 11 [4 favorites]


This is so damn beautiful.
posted by egypturnash at 6:07 PM on February 11


I dunno, it would be worth experimenting with T9 at least.

Rotary T9 is such a wonderful mélange of anachronisms and I can't stop giggling about it internally.

I'm so glad to learn of Justine Haupt, her projects are fascinating and it's also just an amazing feeling of warmth and awe I get when I see someone who's both very creative and has such an incredible level of skill as to be able to implement their ideas at this level. Like eotvos says, I'm really happy to be party to maker spaces where people of all skill levels are encouraged in their pursuits (which is good because I'm at the level where I need that) but it can be a little stultifying and to have people like Haupt and Simone Giertz out there showing what you can do if you really work at it is a great way to stay inspired.
posted by invitapriore at 6:27 PM on February 11 [8 favorites]


this is gorgeous!
posted by Greg Nog at 6:45 PM on February 11


I want this AND the bobbin holder.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 6:54 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


fun and satisfying-to-use rotary dial

I'd guess that's a phrase not likely to be uttered by anyone old enough to have grown up with the damned things. There's a reason we so happily switched to phones with touch-tone buttons.

The power switch is an actual slide switch. No holding down a stupid button to make it turn off

Also, I can easily imagine my palm inadvertently throwing that prominent switch in the middle of a phone call.

I mean, I'm all for interesting projects, and more power to her. I'm just often bemused by people's choices.
posted by Greg_Ace at 6:54 PM on February 11 [4 favorites]


Haupt's 3D printed concertina (linked on her portfolio and miscellaneous page as "3D Printed Wood That Will Make People Think You're an Idiot") is nifty, too.
posted by Iris Gambol at 6:55 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


Not only is that a slick creation, but a really high-quality write up. Well done.
posted by armoir from antproof case at 7:00 PM on February 11


Does it come in candlestick?
posted by clavdivs at 7:11 PM on February 11 [4 favorites]


This is delightful.
posted by adamrice at 7:15 PM on February 11


This project is awesome and I love it.

Funny story about that FONA module. I had one on the breadboard for the first time, and I'm reading the docs and poking at it with the meter and plugging in the headset and the serial line so I can type ATDTs at it. And my boss is sitting at the desk across from me talking with with some of the web people and his phone rings and he's like, "Oh god, whose number is this? Ugh!" and answers it and I say, "Hey, looks like this thing works!" and wave at him.

I thought it was funny.
posted by Horkus at 7:31 PM on February 11 [9 favorites]


I love the kludgy several-different-tech-eras nature of it (a rotary dial and e-paper? Wow, someone hit "blend" on the time machine!), but about the only thing I want out of a phone right now is for people to stop fucking spamming it.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:38 PM on February 11 [4 favorites]


I have no desire to own that phone but I would dearly love to have the skills to make it.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:40 PM on February 11 [11 favorites]


Is WANT still a thing? Because WANT
posted by Crane Shot at 7:55 PM on February 11


That is a good looking art-phone. Having grown up with rotary dial phones, I’m not nostalgic for the technology, any more than I would want to have to do all my writing on a typewriter.

But as an art piece, this is great.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:58 PM on February 11 [2 favorites]


Does it come in candlestick?

In keeping with The Wild Wild West thread a few days ago, I wanted a flip top cell phone with a single telegraph key.
posted by rochrobbb at 7:59 PM on February 11 [10 favorites]


We still have a black rotary phone bolted to the wall in the kitchen. It was there when we moved in and we can't bring ourselves to remove it.
posted by octothorpe at 8:07 PM on February 11 [5 favorites]


I'd guess that's a phrase not likely to be uttered by anyone old enough to have grown up with the damned things. There's a reason we so happily switched to phones with touch-tone buttons.

Yeah, there seems to be a tread of middle class (mostly white) people saying to themselves: "How can I make this piece of technology more shitty?" For some reason, it's never lower class people of color trying to make their phone more like a brick. Actually, I'm kidding, the reason is that poorer people aren't morons when it comes to making their lives more miserable on purpose.
posted by sideshow at 8:08 PM on February 11 [2 favorites]


I mean, it's one button press to dial the person she talks to most, and for sure nobody's going to steal the fucking thing. Also, it's not spying on her. Seems pretty practical?

I love that we're living in this golden age of microcontroller and SDR projects. There's a digital TV dongle that people figured out can be turned into a general-purpose radio receiver. Not only is it sensitive enough to decode weather sattellite signals (with a decent antenna), people have used it -- combined with the fact that the world is absolutely permeated with random radio signals these days -- to build passive radar receivers. You can get a goddamned vector network analyzer for $50 these days. That used to be a $1000 device! For a low-end model!
posted by tobascodagama at 8:23 PM on February 11 [5 favorites]


Maybe I'm crazy, but I'm pretty sure I've seen a rotary cellphone before.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:29 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


There was this Rotary Cell Phone Prototype, a few years ago.
posted by Iris Gambol at 8:33 PM on February 11


If I had money, I would mod one of these and make it into a cell phone and have a wonderful time walking the streets, talking, with the cord dangling.

I had the Bluetooth version of that for a while. The Bluetooth part was really flaky (this was like ten years ago), but the handset itself was certainly a lot more comfortable for long calls than holding a warm brick to your face. I wouldn't try to claim that it's better than a proper modern headset, but it was better than using a cellphone by itself.
posted by tobascodagama at 8:52 PM on February 11 [2 favorites]


We still have the rotary phone we kept in use literally until the day they eliminated pulse dialing wherever we were living when they did that. I love rotary phones. I've been able to pulse dial numbers by flipping the switch rapidly since I was a teenager. It's a lost skill these days.

Back in the mid-90s I was working at an elementary school and there was one day when a student came into the office to call their parent and they carefully pressed their finger into the dial hole for each number, but did not know how to pull to dial the number.

I still have my Telephone User License (or whatever) from Telly The Telephone, gotten at some point in 2nd grade. It was official Ma Bell user training for children.

I think a big part of using a dial telephone is the weight of the handset, its shape, the weight of the base piece if you carry that around the room... conversations using one were via a tether and required being in place or being willing to carry this THING around if you wanted to pace the room.

There was no leaving the room, really.
posted by hippybear at 9:01 PM on February 11 [8 favorites]


Note the Rigol MSO1104Z in the background. A WONDERFUL random present from my husband David one year

Also, how to marry well.
posted by mykescipark at 9:10 PM on February 11 [3 favorites]


conversations using one were via a tether and required being in place

I remember this being a popular maneuver among my friends when I was a teenager...which usually led to something like this.
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:04 PM on February 11 [10 favorites]


I remember this being a popular maneuver among my friends when I was a teenager...which usually led to something like this.

Just seeing that tangled phone cable gives me a twitch in my right eyelid again.
posted by faceplantingcheetah at 12:25 AM on February 12 [3 favorites]


Yeah, the practical reality of this phone is that she will hardly ever have to dial a number on it. This is a combination of the couple of buttons for pre-programmed numbers, and the fact that people talk on the phone less today than they did when rotary phones were your only option. I probably dial a novel phone number on my cell phone somewhere between once a month and once every few months, on average.

So it's trading a small amount of convenience for what amounts to artistic value.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 12:35 AM on February 12 [2 favorites]


Well, that is on a whole nother level than the sparkfun project kit.

This new pocket version may be more "practical", but that sparkfun from back in the day remains my dream rotary cellphone.
posted by fairmettle at 12:57 AM on February 12 [3 favorites]


For some reason, it's never lower class people of color trying to make their phone more like a brick. Actually, I'm kidding, the reason is that poorer people aren't morons when it comes to making their lives more miserable on purpose.

This is perhaps the worst possible take - arts and crafts are for morons?
posted by thedaniel at 1:17 AM on February 12 [19 favorites]


When the subject of rotary phones comes up, I will never not link to this.

(It's an old comment of mine with a couple of YouTube videos that show what all your rotary-dial pulses were doing on the other end to switch and connect your calls. It's neat.)
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 3:14 AM on February 12 [4 favorites]


This site is currently unavailable

Gosh darn it!
posted by james33 at 5:04 AM on February 12 [5 favorites]


The website appears to be down, but you can still see the phone here.
posted by Cardinal Fang at 5:08 AM on February 12 [4 favorites]


Actually, I'm kidding, the reason is that poorer people aren't morons when it comes to making their lives more miserable on purpose.

Yet again, I instinctively started typing 'But they all use social m...'

It's becoming a straight choice between removing the electrodes or just enjoying the pain.
posted by Cardinal Fang at 5:11 AM on February 12


Yeah, there seems to be a tread of middle class (mostly white) people saying to themselves: "How can I make this piece of technology more shitty?" For some reason, it's never lower class people of color trying to make their phone more like a brick. Actually, I'm kidding, the reason is that poorer people aren't morons when it comes to making their lives more miserable on purpose.

hahahah, if someone wants a cellphone that must be able to do certain things (make and receive phone calls, has one-button dialing for the most-called number, be personal/unique, have a tactile element, and have it be obvious to anyone that the phone can't be used to send texts) and no such phone exists, and so they just end up MAKING the Exact Phone They Wanted But Which Didn't Exist, that's not an example of someone making their life more miserable on purpose, that's someone improving their life by having their phone be exactly what they wanted it to be.

"B-b-b-b-b-ut I'd be miserable with that phone!" Good thing the phone wasn't being made for you, then, lol
posted by 23skidoo at 5:54 AM on February 12 [20 favorites]


Mr Bad Example,

My dad had a friend who worked in a switching station and I got to visit it once. A huge room filling an entire building full of these machines.

I was very impressed.
posted by Wilbefort at 6:03 AM on February 12 [2 favorites]


is this down for anyone else? Both links? Metabombed?
posted by es_de_bah at 6:16 AM on February 12 [2 favorites]


Link is down for me.
posted by ZeusHumms at 6:40 AM on February 12


If I had money, I would mod one of these and make it into a cell phone and have a wonderful time walking the streets, talking, with the cord dangling.

I also had one of these, though it was more like 15 years ago, when BlueTooth was the new hotness and people were rushing to make the stereo/toaster/cat BlueTooth-compatible. I've carried a lot of weird gadgets, and gotten a lot of weird looks for my troubles, but I don't think I've ever experienced anything quite as viscerally satisfying as the looks of dawning incomprehension and horror on the faces of passersby when I'd talk in public on that thing. Mine was apparently an original handset, too, since it weighed about three pounds and felt like it could be used as a bludgeoning weapon.

I've seen plenty of "plug this rotary-phone handset into your phone and screw with your friends!" gadgets for sale in the ensuing years, but none of them have the BlueTooth dongle, which is essential to the premise of the thing. Any fool can talk on a handset plugged into their pocket; you only get the full effect of making strangers doubt your (or their own) mental well-being if the end of the spiral cord is visibly dangling in the breeze.
posted by Mayor West at 7:09 AM on February 12 [6 favorites]


Yup. Link down.
posted by terrapin at 7:21 AM on February 12


wayback machine link (most of the images are borked).
posted by jenkinsEar at 7:24 AM on February 12 [1 favorite]


It's pretty high up on HN site. Probably more effect from that.
posted by aleph at 7:38 AM on February 12 [1 favorite]


Seems to be up at the moment. It's beautiful.
posted by zamboni at 8:00 AM on February 12


The best part of this is it will remind people why we hated our friends with 0 and/or 9 in their phone number.
posted by sonascope at 8:11 AM on February 12 [4 favorites]


Yeah, there seems to be a tread of middle class (mostly white) people saying to themselves: "How can I make this piece of technology more shitty?" For some reason, it's never lower class people of color trying to make their phone more like a brick. Actually, I'm kidding, the reason is that poorer people aren't morons when it comes to making their lives more miserable on purpose.

Maybe I kind of get your reaction even if the phrasing is outrageous. I mean, the phone is just a really nifty piece of work. The generosity & quality of the write-up, also excellent. As a work of art it handily holds its own both in idea & execution. If they'd left it at that that would be it. But there is a kind of puritan vibe to the claim that this spartan communications tool is, not just cool, not just artistic, but actually functionally (morally?) superior. That does bring to mind aspirational notions about mindful / decluttered / minimalist / tiny-housed / non-fat lifestyles which I think do (or are marketed to) appeal in particular to a plurality white, creative class.

I mean, I'm one of them, in some ways, so I get the idea. I hate phones and used to have a Motorola F3. Two lines of six characters on an epaper display. Made texting an absolute nightmare. Wonderful battery life. Couldn't call anyone. I used it for about two months. It was fun. But it definitely wasn't "better", nor did it make me any better.
posted by dmh at 9:02 AM on February 12 [1 favorite]


it's a neat project, but i disagree with a couple of her points. For many people the phone app is right on the first screen, or at the Favorites/Quick menu at the bottom of the screen, and then your most recent calls are usually right there when you open the app. I've never felt a "hassle" of calling anybody on my smartphone.

As far as the power button goes, who actually turns their phone off anymore? I leave it on silent most of the day, and airplane mode if need be is in the quick pull down menu.

It's still a really cool execution though.
posted by numaner at 9:22 AM on February 12


sonascope: ...we hated our friends with 0 and/or 9 in their phone number.

My Dad's work number included a 6, a 5, and five 9's. It was faster to ride my bike to his office to deliver a message than it was to call him.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:28 AM on February 12 [6 favorites]


That is sooooo cool!
posted by BeeDo at 10:15 AM on February 12 [1 favorite]


As far as the power button goes, who actually turns their phone off anymore?

Radio astronomers. It looks like Haupt's day job involves instrumentation for the Vera C. Rubin Observatory, but she does at least some radio astronomy.
posted by zamboni at 10:19 AM on February 12 [5 favorites]


"Please enter your number, followed by the pound or hash key."

I always preferred the Trimline dial, with the rotating finger stop.
posted by MtDewd at 10:46 AM on February 12


This is ridiculous. I want one.
posted by Splunge at 10:56 AM on February 12 [2 favorites]


This is like the end of a Twilight Zone episode.

The Genius Inventor emerges from her lab proclaiming: "I've done it! A portable, wireless rotary telephone!"

[looks around at the hellscape of 2020 where nobody ever talks on the phone anymore]

"Curse you maniacs! What have you done?!"
posted by straight at 1:07 PM on February 12 [7 favorites]


I am one of the few people left that do not have a cell phone. But I would use this!
(Why yes, I still have my old rotary phone, sob...)
posted by a humble nudibranch at 1:45 PM on February 12


Any fool can talk on a handset plugged into their pocket; you only get the full effect of making strangers doubt your (or their own) mental well-being if the end of the spiral cord is visibly dangling in the breeze.

There are these telco servicemen phones that have a rotary dial either halfway between the microphone and the earpiece, on the inside curve of the handset, or more or less near the microphone on the outside. They'll have an extra-long cord with croc clips, which you would bundle up with the clips dangling freely. It should well be possible to build the innards for a phone like Haupt's, minus the display, into one.
posted by Stoneshop at 1:45 PM on February 12 [2 favorites]


Apropos of absolutely nothing that's transpired in this thread, I'll note that sometimes people say things that are ridiculous on their face because they have a direct or indirect financial incentive to do so, and I assume it's because on some level they recognize the odiousness of such a behavior that they co-opt the language of social justice to make their point even though they almost certainly don't give a shit about the groups they marshal to make their point. Happy Apple iPhoning!
posted by invitapriore at 7:27 PM on February 12 [2 favorites]


I grew up with rotary dials and I love and miss them. They were SO much fun. Don't understand how anyone could not enjoy a rotary dial.
posted by tiny frying pan at 8:36 AM on February 13 [1 favorite]


I still have a rotary phone attached to my home landline (unlike the cordless phones, it never disappears, and I can hear it from the backyard) and still use a dumbphone for my cell. This is awesome, and totally my thing.
posted by fimbulvetr at 8:50 AM on February 13 [3 favorites]


Wired: How a Space Engineer Made Her Own Rotary Cell Phone, by Lauren Goode
posted by ZeusHumms at 1:22 PM on February 13 [4 favorites]


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