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Anonymous public voicemail inbox (afterthebeep.tel)
401 points by unixispower 10 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 98 comments





I don't know why, but this reminded me of going to school in the early 90's, we'd go through the university's voicemail system inputting random phone numbers and trying the default password, '0000', which meant the voicemail on that number had never been set up. When we found one, we'd record a song as the greeting. We then posted notes by the various public phones on campus for our 'dial a song' directory so anybody could enjoy a song, like a big public jukebox.

The entire thing worked well for a semester, until some killjoy updated the phone system default to disable voicemail for unused numbers and blew away all our songs.


Oh my God, I remember doing this to my friends. The default voicemail password always worked so I reset their voice messages to strange sounds or me doing voices.

It’s amazing how insecure everything was. I remember as a kid walking around with a cordless phone realizing you can pick up other peoples’ conversations.

There was something so charming about technology back in the day. I don't think it's purely nostalgia. I think part of it was that our lives didn’t revolve around it so poking around never really hurt.


I feel the same way thinking about computer security back in the early 00's. Nothing was ever really locked down, sometimes you could get administrator access by pressing "Cancel" on the login dialog three times, network drives were just open to everyone and you could install new software by just bringing it to school on a floppy and installing it on the lab computer. I think that environment was what really fostered my love of tinkering with systems the same way phone phreakers did a few decades earlier.

Now everything is locked up like a vault and it's all group policy this and mobile device management that. Nothing can be unlocked and nobody has permissions because if it isn't your device ends up encrypted with a ransom note telling you to send cryptocurrency to a state sponsored hacking group in Russia.

I do feel like younger people are really missing out on the "hackability" that everything had before we collectively realized how computer security worked.


In the late 90s at my first job I would invite all my housemates to my office after hours for LAN parties using my co-workers computers. There were no logins and it didn’t even bother my co-workers unless a newly installed game took up too much drive space.

I feel we viewed computers more like expensive toys that should be shared rather than than the highly personal items they are today.


I think at that point we were still thinking of computers as expensive tools to be shared; it hadn't been that long since a computer took up a whole room and would be shared by all users in several businesses. We also weren't as concerned about security because most of the really important business stuff was locked away on the mainframe.

I had fun spoofing friends' email addresses (only for harmless jokes). Amazing to think now that there was a period when anyone could convincingly and effortlessly send an email as anyone else, and it wasn't widely abused.

Is regedit still a thing in Windows?

We had good fun with it in school computer labs back in our day.


Yes, but the Group Policy editor has superceded it in many ways.

> It’s amazing how insecure everything was.

Something I really miss from that era that I'm confident we'll never get back (for good reasons) is the open and transparent nature of everything. Everything felt hackable and based on trust. Where as today we can't trust anyone.

It's tempting to say peoeple were nice and didn't abuse the system, but I think more likely some people just didn't know the amount of money they could make from the abuse.


Nah, it was actually a nightmare. The small number of people who understood this and exploited it lived like Gods. It gave malevolent people far too much power.

And while a smaller percentage than today were in it for the money, a lot still were. Plus the ones not in it for the money were sometimes worse, since they were motivated solely by ego, power, and sociopathy.


> The default voicemail password always worked

That kept newspaper editors in scoops for years https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/News_International_phone_hacki...


I really hate this. Who were the songs hurting? Nobody, someone just decided to make the world a little bit worse because it wasn't "proper".

Hurting anyone, no, but the whole jukebox probably cost the provider at least a penny all told, and that's a good enough reason for someone to close the oversight.

EDIT: thinking about it again, there is such a thing as surplus capacity. Like how before we all transitioned to pay-as-you-go elastic cloud services you would just have an idling CPU you could point at SETI and folding@home.

The jukebox probably didn't strain the host enough that they had to expend any actual expense, so I changed my mind, somebody might have thought they were shutting down some freeloaders but they weren't costing any money really.

OTOH there are cases where viral phone forwarding blew past the system's capacity and did cause downtime, see "You and the little mermaid can both go fuck yourselves, I can't find The Books, they must be in La Jolla" [0] (Act One)

[0] https://www.thisamericanlife.org/203/transcript

[0.1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ROLM


To be fair, while our jukebox couldn't really cause an issue, that wasn't where we stopped. We also figured out a test code that opened a long distance line on any phone. Since we had to pay for long distance calls back then, that was likely much more damaging to the school when we spread that around.

I think idle CPUs still exist, people are just afraid to share them now. For example, for lowest latency you want your application servers close to your end users. Your end users probably all go to bed at about the same time and wake up at the same time. So your server is just sitting there taking up space, maybe saving a little power, overnight. But, nobody is will to take the risk to let someone else use their computer for a batch job of some sort, so the best you get is slightly less heat output and slightly less power consumption instead. For those that don't really care, the cloud providers have shared core instances, so some batch job is probably using your cycles late at night.

I think the thing that killed SETI@home was crypto mining. Why help others when you can collect stuff for yourself? Plus, everyone woke up to the electricity arbitrage going on; when every employee started using their work computer to mine crypto, and the electricity bills got high, someone started looking for answers. The edict came down from on high: don't steal our electricity for yourself or for human good. Rest in peace, SETI@home and folding@home. (I was always personally a fan of Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search when those things were cool. I guess I didn't know much about protein folding or searching for extraterrestrial life, but I did understand factoring numbers.)


I agree that crypto killed donating cpu cycles, it was only surplus insomuchas it couldn't be converted to coins

Did anyone use the Red Talking Phonebook in the 1990s?

It had a phone number you could dial and then you could enter codes to get different information such as movie times, jokes, the time of day, and so on.

I liked trying random codes in it to see if I could find hidden services... and eventually I did. I don't recall the exact code, but I think it was like 9987. It turned out to be basically this - an anonymous public voicemail box where you could listen to recordings other people made, and you could make your own.

A few other people stumbled upon it, too, and there was a range of messages on there: some funny, some very silly, some fairly scary or weird.

I've never come across anyone else who had stumbled upon this though... surely someone here has?


Closest thing to this, was a number a friend of mine was told about. We called it, and you could hear 100s of people talking, some sort of crossed analog line issue. This was in the 80s in a very rural area.

Anyhow I remember everyone having fun, yelling at everyone else to be heard, but also, a few people really mad. It seemed like some people wanted to make a phone call, everyone else was just having fun.

A few days later it vanished, probably to the happiness of those lines directly affected.


This reminds me of the 90s - but not just from the looks.

There was a time in the mid 90s in Chicago ( maybe most cities? ) when pagers were the thing, and a pager would come with a free voicemail box. The pager companies would set the voicemail pin to the last 4 digits of the pager number. The customer was meant to change it when they first signed up for their account.

And so I knew quite a few people who would test numbers all day and night to steal voicemail numbers and then use them for all sorts of things.

Promoting raves and other parties

Party lines

Message boards

Various things involving graffiti.

It was a normal thing back then to find a local pay phone and call a couple known voicemail boxes for figure out what to do that weekend or to see where friends were going to be.


Super cool - reminds me a bit of The Secrets Hotline

https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/the-secrets-hotline/id...


What audio codec and parameters are used for the recordings? You've really nailed the 90s landline sound.

You could probably just apply a 300Hz-3300Hz band-pass filter to any given recording and make it sound really close to analog phone call audio [1]

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plain_old_telephone_service#Ch...


audio coming right off the TDM phone network will be 8-bit samples, 8 kHz sampling rate, companded. Doing anything else requires direct IP peering (e.g. with a cellular carrier) which is out of reach of your typical inexpensive VoIP trunking provider.

They come from my VoIP provider as 16bit 8kHz WAV files. I crunch them down to MP3s using ffmpeg before uploading. I don't get any say in the source quality, but I'm quite pleased with it as well.

On the telephone network it was probably µ-law (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%CE%9C-law_algorithm) encoded 8-bit 8 kHz data. This is what was used on the backbone of analog landlines, and now on VoIP for landlines (outside USA and some other countries there's the A-Law, very similar stuff). It's a logarithmic encoding that gives more quality than 8-bit PCM sound while only using 8 bits per sample. If you want to convert it to plain linear data without quality loss then you need 16-bit, whence that comes out from your provider. (µ-law encoded WAV files are also a thing)

> but I'm quite pleased with it as well.

Have to say that despite the filtering of high frequencies making it sound, well, like a telephone... µ/A-law data sounds pretty well. Much better than GSM and most low-bandwidth codecs, especially if the encoded sound is not just pure voice but also background noise that comes with it.


the voicemails are genuinely wholesome and theme of the 90s, i cracked up at the hot pockets one

some more details about stack and implementation would be great too curious how this was built


Site is static built using Jekyll. Voicemail inbox is hosted using VoIP.ms. I pull the voicemails manually by running a Python script, edit the Markdown file that the script spits out to add a memo, then run another script to build and upload the site to Neocities.

I thought about making a dedicated "app" for all of it, but why make it more complicated than it has to be. I manually moderate all the calls anyway, so I just stuck with a simple smattering of scripts and static hosting.

You can see all the site source and scripts here: https://gitlab.com/unixispower/after-the-beep


Are you manually creating the memo? Or are you using something like whisper for transcription and then extracting the first few words, or maybe using an LLM to write the memo?

All manual. I listen to each one and write up a short memo by hand. Sometimes its a summary, sometimes it's a statement from me about the content.

Any interesting ones you couldn't publish?

Right now the ones that aren't in English, and a couple ones that are aggressively political. I'd like to take a pass at the non-english ones when I have some time to find a way to translate them.

Whisper can transcribe/translate non-english speech to english text

There's a different person that also has this kind of project going on, it's pretty cool to see people do this more.

https://linktr.ee/at_the_beep


Really cool, thank you for posting

Are you using something like asterisk or FreeSWITCH to connect to the siptrunk? If so, do you have a backend for the dialplan?

Would love to see the code if possible


For fun I self-host Asterisk at home, but I'm using a cheap VoIP provider (VoIP.ms) to take the burden of hosting for this project. The code that I did write to pull messages is just some boring API interfacing in a simple Python script: https://gitlab.com/unixispower/after-the-beep/-/blob/main/_u...

Awesome, thank you!

How do you like voip.ms? Any other providers you’d recommend?


voip.ms has been pretty good. They got DDoS'ed shortly after I signed up which soured the experience for about a week, but I haven't had an issue for the 2 years I've been using them since. I like that they have a wiki that explains how to set up ATA devices for their service -- that's what sold me on them initially.

I found them to be good for terminating Canada and US calls but the international routes sound like crap (barely intelligible) even with premium routing. I would recommend them if you’re calling numbers outside these countries.

I also don’t think they can be depended on for business. They’ve probably learnt a lot from their ddos a couple years ago but they were down for weeks as a result. As a customer you couldn’t place calls for the entire duration.


Not OP, but I recommend and use sipstation. I moved from VoIP.ms because they often had troublesome outages. Sipstation has been reliable and a good value.

Also not op, and nothing against any other provider, but callcentric is another provider that has been around probably 2 decades now and has never let me down. Basically everything is a la carte and cheap.

> If so, do you have a backend for the dialplan?

not wanting to take away from the ops work, but on FreeSwitch you could do the SIP side of this with the default config and a free or cheap sip provider. As default it'll provide voicemail services to offline phones, so if you add your sip provider and direct all incoming calls to (eg) extension 1000 but never connect a sip handset to that extension, everyone gets sent to voicemail and you end up with a folder of wav files. What you then do with the front end is beyond me, though at home I just have apache serving an index of that directory.

If the SIP side of it is the mystery and you're interested in it, I'd really recommend installing Asterisk or FreeSwitch and having a play. You'll be stuck writing weird INI files or XML for config and there's a lot of new terminology, but it can be cheap and fun to play with. And a terminally deep rabbit hole if you actually want to fall down it.

Personally, the only reason I still run my pbx (aside from something to faff with, and a platform for testing silliness) is the fact I can easily record phone calls. Most of the time it's only because I have a bad memory and take useless notes, but there doesn't seem to be a single modern mobile phone on market that allows me to record both sides of the audio when making a voice call.


> Personally, the only reason I still run my pbx (aside from something to faff with, and a platform for testing silliness) is the fact I can easily record phone calls.

I was running an Asterisk server in the early 2000s and recording phone calls was one of the things I did, so that I could record phone calls with friends and family and replay them decades later.

Fast forward a few years, we moved, cell phones became standard issue in daily life, the server got put in storage, and my father passed away. During an equipment purge, I took the drives out of all of my old crap and wiped them before sending them off as e-waste. It wasn't until later in the week that I realized what I had done.

Make sure you back those recordings up.


You seem to know your stuff, perhaps you could suggest some direction for an offhand idea I had? I'd like to build a standalone version of something like this site for an art installation at a festival a friend is hosting. I was thinking of having an analog phone plugged into a USB modem in a Raspberry Pi that doesn't even produce a dial tone when you pick it up the handset. It'd just go directly into a voicemail prompt. I assume there's a software stack which could accomodate this but I know basically nothing of telephony.

Any suitable projects come to mind which might facilitate this?


If you want to use an actual analogue phone, then you'll probably want to connect it to something using an ATA (Analogue Telephone Adapter). Modems are expecting a powered phone line which can be worked around but I wouldn't recommend it (and haven't tried it in decades and don't remember the details).

The ATA converts analogue telephone into SIP, if you then want voicemail recorded on a Pi install FreeSwitch or Asterisk as your voicemail server. The magic you want from the ATA is "Offhook Auto-Dial"; as in, when it detects the handset being picked up (going off-hook) it automagically dials a number for you - in this case your voicemail extension on your Pi based SIP server.

Unless you're specifically trying to relive the analogue days, I'd probably go digital earlier rather than later in the chain (handset to ata, rather than handset to fake phone line, to modem coopted to do something most people aren't) as it'll make things easier and make no difference to the end user.

This might not be the most elegant way, but it's the tools I'm used to using, so :\

Out of curiosity, what's the plan for the recordings after you've made them?

username[at]gmail if you need any specific advice; this sounds weird enough I'm interested and should be easy :)


The Grandstream GS-HT802 has been working for me, for my fax and analog cordless for 3 years now.

Yeah, thanks to certain big states having misguided (in my humble opinion) laws that say you can’t record a conversation you were a party to without all-party consent, I’m assuming nobody wants the liability of making that simple and automatic.

In my humble opinion it’s weird to say someone cannot augment their own memory with something, or especially, keep proof of something a corporate entity told them. so I hate the 2-party consent law.


It can definitely be annoying, but there are ways to get similar benefits: note-taking

You may not record the call, but you may certainly take notes, and you can write the whole conversation down if you want, and you can use that in court


Left a msg several hours ago, but it's not showing on website. What am I missing?

The site is manually moderated. I made the mistake of posting it over my lunch break and had to go back to work which caused a significant delay. I'm back on processing things now.

Thanks for moderating it, I figured it was too good to be true that none were horrifying/"ear rape" without manual moderation. Out of complete curiosity, what type of things are you finding the need to filter out/remove the most?

Not too much, actually. People hanging up without a message are the most common. There are also a few people that have played recordings of songs or other sound clips from copyrighted sources, and I don't want to deal with that mess if I don't have to. There are also the ones that are in other languages that I can't put a good memo on or moderate properly. I keep them all and just leave the ones that I don't post marked as "unpublished" in my static site builder (Jekyll) so that I can take another pass at them later when I have the time / resources.

Very few have been "inappropriate". There was one with some questionable jokes that I held back and another where someone was quite angrily talking about a particular political party (there are other "political" statements I've allowed; I just don't want to the page to become some place for people to yell at each other -- not going for that vibe).


@unixispower , you might consider adding the site to TheOldNet webring ( https://webring.theoldnet.com/submit ). I have discovered it from a yesterday post about ucanet (a DNS for retro site). Your site would be an excellent ring member!

Thanks for the heads up. I'll have to make up some banners later and submit. I have a few sites that would go nicely there.

It seems to be manually moderated by one person so it might take a while.

He just updated the website.

I've tried to dial from Mexico and it seems like the phone is not available.

I'm dialing +1 442 667 2337


It worked for me just as you dialed! My carrier is Telcel.

it seems like it's working again, thanks everyone for taking a look

you'll need to dial international.

I believe the exit code is 00 for Mexico so dial

00 1 442 667 2337


That wasn't the unary plus, it's the international exit code

What a great idea! Just of curiosity, how much does it cost per month with voip.ms? Looks like a bunch of little costs per month but I could not figure out the total…

I don't really know yet. My provider charges by the minute, so it's heavily dependent on usage. I'd imagine the post to HN will cause a nice spike on my bill though lol

Collecting voice data to create train AI to speak in?

Nope, just collecting them to listen to :)

They Might Be Giants flash backs to Dial-A-Song.

NCN has a great show called Voice Jail [0] that includes a huge collection of comedic audio cutups on this topic.

[0] https://nationalcynical.bandcamp.com/album/midnight-voicejai...


the retro windows gui is such a perfect match for this. amazing work!

The talking Minesweeper smiley is really the icing on the cake, love it!

Remind me of http://cel.ly, where sms is available online. Looks like they are not operational anymore.

Incredible and nostalgic. Excellent project!

Longmont Potion Castle vibes

I was hoping that we would be able to post a voice message :(

You leave a message by calling the number at the top of the page

Was there an issue with the inbox? I check them manually, so it takes me a bit to publish them

Great idea. Americans are so funny.

Bug: Menu doesn’t work with Skype

(I love the design!)


This should be a bug in Skype if anything, it should conform to normal phone interfaces.

I've had the same problem in the past. I think you're likely using Skype on iOS and typing numbers for the menu on the iOS phone virtual keyboard. Instead, you should do it in the Skype app -- the phone menu ones don't work.


Thank you for solving this mystery!

Is this time ever coming back?

how is the last message march 31? does this thing update live?

I manually moderate the voicemails and run a script locally to build out a static site and upload it to Neocities. The site is relatively fresh (created within the past year); it just hasn't seen much traffic yet.

If the site blew up in popularity how would you plan to continue moderating the voicemails?

I'm not really sure to be honest. The traffic today has me stepping away from work occasionally to process calls in little batches :) I would probably just streamline the moderation process to make it a bit easier. For various reasons I wouldn't want it to be completely automatic (for one I just like to listen to the messages).

love this site. Check out Justine Tunney’s blog posts for pre-processing content filtering with AI using bash commands:

http://justine.lol/oneliners/

http://justine.lol/matmul/


What’s the current acceptance rate, roughly?

So far I've only marked 1 out of 50 as a "no". There are 2 more I need to translate. So, ~94-98%? The sample size is small so far though

I would assume that it wasn't necessarily designed to blow up in popularity, but just to be a fun quirky webpage

TTS, an LLM to vet them

Bad idea. The appeal of sites like this is the humanity of it. Don't take that away.

STT not TTS

Nice to see you using voip.ms for all your science -- The number I just left for you is also hosted on it, its a fun little IVR Maze

Are you waiting for news on your colon? Refresh. Jacob just left you a message a few minutes after you posted this comment.

Just wanted to appreciate you and this wonderful comment.

great design. loved it.

lol, it's all dudes.

I am not sure about "I'm a real boy!"

what's the relevancy? this isn't a dating app

In all honesty, people tend to start dating on most apps (including games). :P People always find a way to do that!



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