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bobnotes Personal but not Private Who Came Calling? Memorial Day

Memorial Day, the next day, found me in the afternoon talking over my strange experiences of the previous day with friend Chuck at the near-by Wild Iris café. After a pleasant time talking, I was on my way walking back home when a call came in on my cell from a woman, Sue, I had met the Saturday morning before at Starbucks. Sue and I had both taught English in China and our ten-minute conversation was broken off before we’d finished really getting started. So I’d called her and left a message and she was now returning the call. Routine.


Sue was headed out of town and would get back in a couple of months. Maybe we’d check in with each other again. Fine. So I got home, put the cell on the table of my office right inside the door and went back to the kitchen to wrestle up some more coffee. But the phone rang again, and I scooted back to pick it up. Not routine. Sue’s cell but not Sue. A purse call.


I will confess that, being well primed for strangeness by yesterday up on Thumb Butte and by the talk with Chuck at the Wild Iris, the unexplained scratching rising out of my speaker phone one more time gave me the chills. After my “Hello” and its alternate silence and scratching, I tried something like “Hello, Oma” and then, with unaccustomed presence of mind, thought to record the call with my trusty Sony IC. When I hung up after 4.45 minutes, I immediately called Sue back, and that conversation was caught on the same recording. Here’s how it went.


No. Wait. Skeptics may want to CLICK HERE FIRST to hear a short excerpt from the whole recording in which I found words spoken. Do this first so I do not set a confirmation bias that might influence what you hear.


0.0.0-copy Sue nr myst call 5.18pm 160530 (Check farther down for short excerpts.)


    The incoming call came at 5.17 pm. 5.18 is the time I began the recording on my Sony IC. Times to the nearest minute. 160530 is the date.

    This is just a direct copy. No editing has been applied. The entire duration, including the call to Sue, is about 6.25 (6m 25s).

    The Sony IC was placed near the phone, set to speaker phone, on the table.

    There are light traffic sounds in the background from the street I’m on. The front door was open.

    There is more silence than “purse scratching” coming from the phone.


In some calls to AT&T technical service, I found out that the calls could either be “spoof calls” or genuine accidental calls from my friends’ phones. Spoof calls use internet-available aps that permit their user to call any number and show any other number on the caller ID function of the receiver’s phone. At first I thought that must be what happened, even though it made little sense, because I felt that accidental calls were pretty unlikely with new phones that require a side-button slide and a choice of at least two appropriate screens subsequently to come at a number. But I did know there was a function that automatically redialed the last-dialed number on my previous phone when I used it with ear buds and microphone for a brief time. That’s what I was asking Sue about in the brief talk with her.


But talk with Chuck revealed that his phone history did in fact show calls and durations that conformed to the ATT records I got from their technical service. So his phone made two accidental calls to mine the day before that agreed with my own records and AT&T’s --- see previous page for those details. That made it seem more likely that Sue’s call was also an accidental purse call. Besides, various people have told me that they receive these accidental calls from friends or family from time to time. It seems likely that Sue’s call was the same sort of thing even though I have not been able to get confirmation from her so far that her phone shows an outgoing call at the time I received this mystery call.


But all of that is fussy background, not even prologue, to the truly interesting story that unfolds from closer examination of Sue’s call. If you’ve already listened to the tape I linked above, you will have noticed that at one point I understand that a voice on the phone has spoken the word “light.” And as I listened there were somehow subtle suggestions of other words in between the scratching sounds. This needed closer inspection.


I happen to have on my computer a Cyberlink video editing program that includes an audio editor, called Wave Editor. It gives a wave-form view of an audio recording and permits several useful edits to be made, like slowing down the speech and boosting the sound. Here is what the whole phone call looks like on the editor:



There is another, identical right channel.


So let’s look at the part where I thought I heard the word “light.”



There are no purse-scratching sounds in here. But there are three smaller bumps between my question and the phrase “the light.” Close, repeated listening may show you that the first two bumps are a very quiet response to my question, “OK.” The other bump is just a blip without apparent phonetic content.


Here is the part you see above as a separate audio file you can play repeatedly to judge foryourself:


0.2.1 Can u say anymore-OK-the Light 1.09.2-1.18.7


And here are three more, smaller files made from that one, two slowed down by half, and one still at normal speed:


0.2.2 OK 1.5 sec HALF SPEED


0.2.3 The Light 1 sec normal


0.2.4 The Light 1 sec HALF speed


Having figured this out, I naturally began to look for other words that might be brought out by slowing down or just repeated close listening. As there are quite a few little bumps like those that make the word “OK” above, and as the mind easily finds what it’s looking for, this process is a bit fraught, as people say. I’ll give another instance that I think is pretty unambiguous, pretty certain. The file names are self-explanatory.


0.1.0-Is this Oma It's me 0.09.2-0.16.5


0.1.1-Is this Oma It's me .6 sec HALF SPEED


0.1.2-Is this Oma It's me .6 sec QUARTER SPEED


So that was my Memorial Day. It was OK.






And there was an earlier day, as it turns out.

As I have only recently discovered, there is a rather long history of voices mysteriously appearing on audio recorders and other devices. Here is a solid source. And here is an excellent documentary entirely devoted to this strangeness in its various forms. It streams without cost from Vimeo.