I was amused to read this article in the Register recently about the big bucks generated in Qatar for an auction of the mobile phone number 666-6666 (over 2.5 million dollars!), and it seems only fitting that on 6/6/06 I share my own experiences with the prefix of the beast…
When I was first getting involved with telecom I worked for a good, upstanding Jesuit university in San Francisco in the early 90s. They were wisely replacing their ancient telephone system, one of the last large rotary dial key systems that was left in the city. Putting in a modern PBX meant new luxuries like direct incoming numbers for staff and faculty, and since the on-campus dorms were getting put on the new system too, a very large block of consecutive DID numbers were requested from the local phone company. There was only one existing prefix in the area with enough capacity, or so we were told. But I know I wasn’t the only one who wondered if someone at Pacific Bell must have been having a good laugh as the Catholic university got assigned numbers in the 666 prefix.
I was just a technician at the time but I recall some of the executives at the university being very unhappy with that arrangement. If memory serves, PacBell would only create a new prefix for the university for some astronomical fee, which the school felt was gouging and wasn’t willing to cough up. (I notice something has given way over the years though, as they do now have a less controversial prefix.)
As we got ready to turn on the new system we noticed that the 6000 number range was one of ours, and my boss, the telecom manager, decided to take the number 666-6666 for his own. I thought that was kind of a neat idea, and went for 666-6667 myself.
As you can likely imagine, there were many jokes and good times to be had with these numbers. And some weird lunatic prank calls, though not a lot. But what drove my boss crazy most of all about having that fateful number was the amazing number of “googoo gaagaa” calls he received. You know, those calls you get when an infant has gotten a phone off the hook and has inadvertently dialed you up and is cooing and babbling into the phone? Well, maybe you don’t, but trust me, if you ever get a phone number with all of the same digits, you will. Apparently pounding repeatedly on the 6 button is a fairly easy thing for a baby to do.
That’s my 666 story. More than anything devilish or scary, that ominous phone number was plagued by baby calls. In retrospect, I’m kind of surprised the university stood for getting that number assignment from the local phone company in the first place. And it sure never occurred to me that we had something on our hands that was potentially worth millions of dollars.
I dedicate this post to my old boss, Hawk, who was a mentor and inspiration to me. Next time I’ll tell you about how the students hacked into the new voice mail system that we had installed and one VERY embarrassed department secretary…