Redial: Interactive Telephony, Fall 2007
Shawn Van Every • Syllabus
This course explores the use of the telephone in interactive art, performance, social networking, and multimedia applications. New technologies, such as Voice over IP, and open source telephony applications, such as Asterisk, have opened the door for the development of interactive applications that use telephony for its traditional purpose — voice communications. (Telephony, Programming)
Calling Card Stories uses the functionality of a calling card system to tell stories. You start by getting a calling card with set minutes. Upon dialing an access number you are prompted to enter a pin. You use your available minutes to hear chapters of a story. The stories you will be hearing for this version of the project come from a series of recorded conversations between my family members living in both California and Mexico. Though the conversations jump from cousin to aunt to uncle, common storylines emerge: a death, an upcoming wedding, and God. At the end of the story you learn that the people in my family, as with any family, have very strong opinions regarding these things.
You may hang up at any time during the story, the calling card system will remember your most recent chapter location when you call back. If you reach the end of the story before your minutes run out, you are invited to record a response which will get posted to the Calling Card Stories (callingcardstories.org) web site.
Please note that there is a connection charge applied to your first minute of every call. Surcharges apply to calls made from payphones. A maintenance fee will be charged for every week you keep a balance on your card. You have 90 days to use your minutes before they expire. Other terms and conditions apply.
My goal with this project is to turn the calling card system in on itself. That is, connect the caller to the stories of people who normally rely on calling cards to keep in touch.
I want to do this for three reasons: First, I have an interest in exploring new narrative forms. Second, I want to create a project that deals with the immigrant experience, particularly with regards to the issue of keeping in touch with loved ones abroad. And third, because I love to talk on the phone!
My mother is an immigrant from Guadalajara, Mexico, migrating to the U.S. when she was 18 years old. My mother’s family in Mexico is very large. She is the youngest of 10 children, three of whom have also migrated to California. Throughout my life calling Mexico has been as constant as trying to find cheaper ways to do so. Most recently my mother has signed up for an international dialing plan that provides one low flat rate to Mexico instead of dealing with the hassle of calling cards. However, most of my other family members still rely heavily on calling cards for their international dialing.
In addition, it is much cheaper to call Mexico from the U.S. than the other way around. What ends up happening is that family in Mexico will “flash” or make a quick call to the U.S. to indicate conversation availability. The person stateside will return the call. This way the cost of the call is shifted to where the minutes are cheaper.
This project has three components: The calling card system, the gathering of content, and the callingcardstories.org web site.
1. The Calling Card System
2. Gathering Content
I wanted to automatically record a series of phone conversations in a chain I would initiate with my mother. The instructions were simple:
I purchased a virtual Guadalajara phone number. I mapped the number to our Asterisk server. When someone in Mexico called the Guadalajara number they were greeted with a message about my project. This message informed the caller that s/he will get to make an international call at a local rate, and that as a part of participating the call will be recorded. At the end of the message the caller would dial the U.S. number after a beep to get connected.
For family in the U.S. to call Mexico, they would dial the ITP Asterisk number, enter my extension, and receive a U.S. to Mexico version of this same recorded greeting.
3. The Web Site and Caller Feedback
At the end of the story in the calling card system callers are invited to record a response to what they just heard. Their response gets automatically posted to the callingcardstories.org web site.
The web site is a very simple Wordpress blog. The recorded responses are sent via email. I am using Shawn Van Every’s ParseMailScript to parse these emails and post the audio content to the blog. I also used his QuickTime Audio/Video Posting Plugin for Wordpress.
The project will go live at the ITP Winter Show
Sunday, December 16 from 2 to 6pm
Monday, December 17 from 5 to 9pm
721 Broadway, 4th Floor
My project will be in room 447, the room designated for mobile and other phone projects.
I would like to not rely on phone numbers for identifying entries in the database. I think people would be more willing to use it if it did not store their phone numbers. This would require building some sort of dynamic PIN system, or perhaps a combination of randomly generated PIN and user-selected ID. If this project were entirely web-based (with virtual calling cards instead of printed cards,) these things would be much easier to accomplish. But due to the high cost of printing, I am unable to print cards with unique PINs for this version of the project. For the ITP Winter Show, many cards will be printed with one PIN, callers are identified in the database by their caller ID.
I plan to use this project as proof of concept for my application for the 2008 Digital Artists Residency Program (DARP) at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum.
I would like to thank my mom and dad for being supportive of and receptive to “my cuh-razy ideas.”
I would like to thank Shawn Van Every for all the fish. And for his scripts:
Thanks to Patricia and Felipe for helping me troubleshoot the Wordpress audio posting.
Calling Card Stories: A calling card system as a storytelling device.
The goal of this project is to tell the stories of newly arrived immigrants. People new to the United States rely on calling cards to communicate with loved ones in their country of origin. Calling cards offer low rates but at the same time bury a multitude of hidden charges and fees in the fine print. Through this project you will be able to learn more about life in a new country by listening to the recorded phone conversations of immigrants. That is, if you have enough balance left on your card.
I want to create a calling card system as a storytelling device. I want users to be able to access a story and at the same time apply the functionality of calling cards to the user experience of hearing the story. As you listen, the balance on your card decreases. Since the stories will be serialized, you can hang up during the story and return to the nearest chapter marker when you call back. If your balance reaches 0, the system disconnects.
In theory you would have to get another card to refill your balance. For the final project however, you can simply call back and your balance will be restored. I am doing it this way because I am not producing unique PINs on each card. Instead, I am using the PIN as an extension that connects you to the story. There will be two stories, therefore two “PINs” (two extensions.) I will reproduce only 2 cards. I will associate card amounts to the phone number of the caller. When a new number gets added to a database, it gets credited with a certain amount. Or, when a credit reaches 0 and that person calls again, it receives a new credit.
Flowchart (click to enlarge)
Caller dials access number on calling card. She hears a recorded greeting. Meanwhile, Asterisk checks the callerID. If it is blocked, she is prompted to enter her phone number.
The number, whether user-entered or taken from callerID, is entered in a database and immediately associated with 2 fields: one field that gives value to the card (AMT) and one that keeps track of your place in the story (CHAPTER).
The caller is then prompted to enter the PIN printed on the calling card. The caller’s balance is announced. The story begins. The database calculates a fee for every minute the caller listens, with a connection surcharge for the first minute. This is subtracted from AMT. Calls are rounded up to the nearest minute.
The story is a series of recorded conversations each 1-4 minutes long. There are about 5 conversations, and each conversation is considered a CHAPTER. Between each conversation will play a 20 second clip of interstitial music. Once a conversation ends, the CHAPTER marker increases. This way if a caller hangs up without hearing the whole story, or if the caller runs out of credit, then s/he can return the last listened-to conversation without having to start from the beginning.
If the calling card credit runs out, the story gets interrupted with a message announcing the lack of remaining credit and then hangs up. The caller then has to call back to get more credit, it will remember the conversation location.
At the end of the story the caller is asked if she would like to record a response. She does so and it gets posted on the Calling Card Stories web site.
ITP Radio Show Reminder Service
In collaboration with Christian Bovine
Receive reminder phone calls a half-hour before your favorite shows air live! This is an opt-in service.
Goals for Redial Midterm
Beyond the Midterm…
Redial Week 3 Homework
I have created a find me, follow me application in my dialplan. You can try it out by calling the ITP Asterisk number then enter my extension (#221.) Basically, I used a lot of GoToIfTime commands to route your call in an attempt to find me. It works like so:
Version 1.0 Complete!
The voice menu system is complete to my satisfaction for now. I built the voicemail feature: There are three boxes, one for Mike, one for Tom and one for me. When you leave a message it gets emailed to that person as a WAV file. If you press an invalid extension, it plays the “invalid extension” sound file and starts the voicemail over again. If you fail to chose an extension when the greeting is done, after 15 seconds it will thank you for calling ITP Radio and then hangup.