Dial Zero
A look at what's surprising, silly, scary or stupid in telecommunications and data

Friday, March 28, 2014

Cops called because someone STUNK

People call 911 for all kinds of real or perceived problems. There are fires, car crashes, car thefts, burglaries, heists, heart attacks, poisonings, floods, mudslides, missing pets, drownings, shootings, stabbings, domestic disputes, cats in trees, rowdy kids, loud music and even shortages of ketchup in fast food restaurants.

A few days ago police in Hannibal, MO twice responded to peace disturbance calls because someone in Hannibal's city hall smelled really bad.

“A Hannibal officer was called to 320 Broadway Tuesday morning in reference to peace disturbance. The officer was contacted by several employees who complained of a subject emitting an odor that was deemed to be significantly noxious and offensive,” said Lt. John Zerbonia of the Police Department, according to the Hannibal Courier-Post.

According to Hannibal Municipal ordinance 16-162, subjects can be cited for peace disturbance because of a “noxious and offensive” odor.

The stinker, whose identity was not revealed by authorities, was no stranger to city hall. “He’s been here on numerous occasions,” said the city staffer. “He did not appear to be conducting any business at city hall. He was just sitting.” According to Zerbonia, the “subject was asked (by the officer) to leave the premises and attend to the issue.”

While the individual left city hall, the story doesn’t end there. At 10:26 a.m., police received another peace disturbance call, this time from 113 N. Third St. “After leaving 320 Broadway the subject entered a neighboring business and was asked to leave there as well, due to the offensive odor,” said Zerbonia.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Turkish leader plans to eradicate Twitter. YouTube was previously banned. Facebook was threatened.

Turkey has blocked access to Twitter. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan boasted, “We now have a court order. We’ll eradicate Twitter. I don’t care what the international community says. Everyone will witness the power of the Turkish Republic,” Erdoğan said at a campaign rally on March 20, 10 days before the upcoming local elections, according to the Hurriyet Daily News.

The Press Advisory of the Prime Ministry later clarified Erdoğan's statement, arguing that Twitter officials currently "ignore" some court rulings in Turkey, which order the social media platform to "remove some links" as per the complaints filed by Turkish citizens.

"[In Erdoğan's speech] it is stated that as long as Twitter fails to change its attitude of ignoring court rulings and not doing what is necessary according to the law, technically, there might not be a remedy but to block access in order to relieve our citizens," the statement said.

On Feb. 25, Erdoğan had accused a “robot lobby” of targeting the government through Twitter messages, while strongly denying the authenticity of new phone recordings leaked onto the Internet and implicating his government in corruption allegations.

During protests last June, Erdoğan described the microblogging website as a “trouble,” claiming that “unmitigated lies are there [on Twitter].”

On March 6, Turkey’s premier had also threatened to shut down Facebook and YouTube “if necessary,” via the controversial law. YouTube has been repeatedly banned in Turkey in the past decade.

Meanwhile, Twitter has recently started to remove fake accounts created in Turkey with allegedly “manipulative” political motives. Twitter has become an increasingly bitter battleground between pro and anti-government forces in Turkey in recent months.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Plumbers fought over Tommy Tutone's famous phone number

One-hit wonder Tommy Tutone made the phone number 867-5309 famous in the band's 1982 hit single, which uses the digits over and over in its catchy refrain: "Jenny don't change your number, 8675309." A Rhode Island company and a national company battled over the right to use the number, which doesn't reach "Jenny," but could connect callers to a plumber.

Gem Plumbing & Heating of Lincoln, RI, trademarked the easily-tapped phone number, which reached No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Gem acquired the number in Rhode Island when its original owner, Brown University, gave up 867-5309 after growing weary of the constant prank calls.

Gem's number worked in the 401 area code in Rhode Island and the 617 area code in Massachusetts.

But Florida-based Clockwork Home Services, also a plumbing company, used a toll-free version of 867-5309 in New England. 

In 2007, Gem brought suit against Clockwork Home Services, alleging a violation of its trademark. Clockwork contended that Gem's trademark was invalid. They argued that a company can only trademark a vanity number, like 1-800-FLOWERS. Effective in May 2007, Clockwork was ordered by a court to stop using the number in New England. As of today, it is used by Gem.

Tommy "Tutone" Heath said that he'd prefer that neither company use the number. "It's ridiculous," said Heath. "If I wanted to get into it, I could probably take the number away from both of them." (info from The Associated Press and Wikipedia)

CLICK for more about the song and its impact

Monday, March 03, 2014

Not a Chinese virus. Twitter was brought down by Ellen's Oscar selfie

Samsung was one sponsor of last night's Academy Awards broadcast, and host Ellen DeGeneres used a white Samsung Galaxy Note 3 smartphone to take selfies with celebs in the audience. She said she wanted to set a record for re-tweeting.  CLICK for video of selfie session.
The group photo was quickly retweeted more than two million times, breaking the previous record set by President Obama with the picture of him hugging FLOTUS Michelle after his 2012 re-election.
Twitter tweeted an apology because the Oscar retweeting disrupted service for more than 20 minutes. Chinese hackers: take note.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Man died trying to get phone in burning house

A man in Plano, Texas died early Thursday when he rushed back into his burning home to get his cellphone.

Rex Benson was initially able to escape the powerful blaze but braved the sky-high flames with another man to retrieve a phone to call 911, fire officials said.

The unidentified companion escaped, but Benson was unable to cheat death twice. He was found dead inside the house by members of the Plano Fire Department.

Benson's adult daughter and an unidentified roommate were able to escape the fire and survive.

Fire Capt. Peggy Harrell said in her experience that roughly 90% of people who go back into a fire don’t make it out alive.

“I don't think people realize how quickly fire grows. Evidentially, they felt they had the time to go back in,” she said. Neighbors were perplexed as to why Benson didn’t come to them for a phone. “He could have come to any of the neighbors’ houses to call 911,” Nakita Weseman said. “I know he realized probably he didn't have his cellphone, but that's definitely replaceable, but he wasn't.”

Info from http://www.nydailynews.com 

Monday, February 24, 2014

Netflix and Comcast do a deal for better streaming

Without FCC-imposed "Net Neutrality," Netflix and Comcast have established a more direct connection that’s already delivering an "even better user experience to consumers," while also allowing for future growth in Netflix traffic. Netflix receives no preferential network treatment under the multi-year agreement.

Terms were not disclosed, but the Wall Street Journal said that Netflix will pay Comcast for the speedy service. Reuters said this deal will "
open the possibility that more content companies will have to shell out for better service."

According to NPR, "Netflix had 33 million U.S. streaming subscribers at the start of the year and accounts for about one third of all traffic at peak times on the Internet, according to research firm Sandvine. As the video steaming company has grown, Internet service providers like Comcast have pushed the company for more structured deals to enable its content to be transmitted smoothly and reduce the strain on their networks. Netflix is already experimenting with different rate plans that charge slightly more for households that want to stream its shows and movies on four different screens simultaneously. Comcast was ranked as the 14th fastest Internet service provider in January, according to a table on Netflix's website. By connecting directly to Comcast's network, Netflix should be able to boost the quality and speed of its video streaming as it adds more customers and prepares to start streaming its content in the ultra high definition format this spring. Other large Internet companies such as Google already pay broadband providers a fee to enable more direct connections. Comcast is the nation's number-one pay TV and Internet provider under its XFINITY brand. The company said earlier this month that it had agreed to acquire Time Warner Cable for $42.5 billion in stock."

Friday, February 21, 2014

Death caused by homo sapiens, not LG cellphone


A death originally thought to have been caused by an exploding cellphone was later blamed on a co-worker who confessed to making up the story after accidentally striking the victim with a drilling vehicle, South Korean police said in 2007.

The quarry worker, identified only by his family name Seo, was found dead with a melted phone battery in his shirt pocket. Police and a local doctor who examined his body said a malfunctioning battery may have killed the man.

However, after an autopsy suggested damage to Seo's internal organs was too great to be caused by a cellphone explosion, police questioned the colleague who first reported Seo's death.

The man, identified only by his surname Kwon, told police that he accidentally killed Seo while backing up a drilling vehicle, acknowledging that the exploding cellphone story was fiction.

Kwon told investigators after the accident that he moved his vehicle to throw off police, but did not say he set the phone on fire.

Police said the phone was made by LG Electronics, the world's fifth-largest handset maker. LG said it knew all along that its cellphone was not the killer. "LG rigorously tests all the products not only for functionality and design, but safety as well," the company said. (info from The Associated Press)

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Is hypersensitivity to Wi-Fi a legitimate disability? Will a foil hat protect your brain?

In 2008, the City Council of Santa Fe, New Mexico unanimously approved a plan to provide free wireless Internet service in libraries and other city buildings, over the objections of those who say they are electrically sensitive. 

"My first reaction is, it's a disaster. My second reaction is, they're inviting a lawsuit," said Arthur Firstenberg, a leading opponent of the proposal. Opponents complain they are sickened by electromagnetic pollution and say it will keep them from using the libraries or attending meetings in city hall.

City attorney Frank Katz, who had been asked to determine whether the opponents are covered by the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, said there's no legal case in which hypersensitivity to wireless signals has been found to be a disability, nor has any case identified Wi-Fi as its cause. That "doesn't mean that someone couldn't bring a case," he said.

Julie Tambourine, an advocate for the disabled and homeless, said that the legal analysis was flawed, because it didn't take into account those with diabetes, seizure disorders, respiratory ailments and other conditions that can be adversely affected by microwave radiation. She also said the opponents could have been accommodated under federal law by having one of the three library branches be designated Wi-Fi-free.

City Councilor Patti Bushee proposed taking city hall out of the wireless plan -- "since this is the local seat of democracy" -- but that motion failed. Other councilors said wireless is a useful tool for them during meetings. The council chambers is the one spot in the city complex now with wireless.

Opponents of Bushee's motion also argued that wireless service bleeds into the council chambers from nearby businesses, so opponents wouldn't gain anything by having the city eliminate it there. (Photo from Drveec. Info from The Associated Press)

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Wacky judge lost job for mass cellphone jailing

A Niagara Falls (NY) City Court judge who jailed 46 people who were in his courtroom when a cellphone rang, was removed from the bench by a state commission.

Judge Robert Restaino "snapped" and "engaged in what can only be described as two hours of inexplicable madness" during the March 2005 session, Raoul Felder, chairman of the state Commission on Judicial Conduct, wrote in the decision to remove Restaino from the $113,900-per-year post.

A phone rang during a case in the courthouse that has a sign warning that cellphones and pagers must be turned off.

"Everyone is going to jail," Restaino said. "Every single person is going to jail in this courtroom unless I get that instrument now. You are all going."

When no one came forward, Restaino ordered the group into custody, and they were taken to jail, where they were searched and packed into crowded cells. Fourteen people who could not post bail were shackled and taken to another jail. Restaino ordered them released later that afternoon.

Restaino told the state panel he had been under stress in his personal life and appealed his firing.

In a 6-0 decision in 2008, the Court of Appeals concluded that “by indiscriminately committing into custody 46 defendants, petitioner deprived them of their liberty without due process, exhibited insensitivity, indifference and a callousness so reproachable that his continued presence on the Bench cannot be tolerated.”

(info from The Associated Press and WSJ, photo from UCLA) 

Monday, February 17, 2014

Obama had nothing to do with free "Obamaphones"

Republicans and other conservatives have vociferously slammed the so-called "Obamaphone" program (really "Lifeline") that supplies free cellphones to poor people.

According to TheHill.com, "forty-four House Republicans called Lifeline a 'failed program' that symbolizes 'everything that is wrong with Washington.' "Sadly, Lifeline has become a prime example of how the culture of dependency is weakening America," the GOPers stated.
The lawmakers, led by Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) said they would repeal the program if they could.
Right-wing loudmouths including Matt Drudge, Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh similarly condemned the program.

Sorry folks, there is no Obamaphone.

Subsidized phone service for poor people in the United States goes back to the Communications Act of 1934 -- long before cellphones or Barack Obama existed. You can blame FDR if you want, but not POTUS # 44.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Swatting is much worse than texting or sexting

The FBI said there has been a significant increase in the illegal activity know as “swatting” where criminals and pranksters call in a fake 911 in hopes of drawing a response from law enforcement, usually a Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team.

Swatters typically spoof phone numbers to conceal their identity. Swatters often tell tales of hostages about to be executed or bombs about to go off. The community is placed in danger as responders rush to the scene, taking them away from real emergencies. And the officers are placed in danger as unsuspecting residents may try to defend themselves.

The FBI said it arrested five swatters who, between 2002 and 2006, called 911 in more than 60 cities nationwide, impacting more than 100 victims, causing a disruption of services for telecommunications providers and emergency responders, and resulting in up to $250,000 in losses. Swats that the group committed included using bomb threats at sporting events, causing the events to be delayed; claiming that hotel visitors were armed and dangerous, causing an evacuation of the entire hotel; and making threats against public parks and officials, the FBI stated.

In 2007 a 19-year-old Washington state man pretended to be calling from the home of a married California couple, saying he had just shot and murdered someone. A local SWAT team arrived on the scene, and the husband, who had been asleep in his home with his wife and two young children, heard something and went outside to investigate—after first stopping in the kitchen to pick up a knife. What he found was a group of SWAT assault rifles aimed directly at him. Fortunately, the situation didn’t escalate, and no one was injured.

In another case a Washington State teenager used his PC to access Orange County, California's 911 emergency response system and convinced the sheriff's department into storming a home with a heavily armed SWAT team. The DOJ prosecuted a swatter last fall it said involved a swatting conspiracy that involved more than 100 victims, up to $250,000 in losses, and disruption of services for telecommunications providers and emergency responders. 

Why did they do it? Kevin Kolbye, Assistant Special Agent said: "Individuals did it for the bragging rights and ego, versus any monetary gain." Basically, they did it because they could. (info from Network World)

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Samsung wants to be the new Blackberry

Samsung is making a new push for business from American enterprise and government customers, putting more pressure on Blackberry, the near-dead company that once dominated the enterprise and government cellphone business.

According to the Wall Street Journal, "Samsung recently won an order for roughly 7,000 smartphones from the U.S. Army and is close to an order for several thousand devices from the U.S. National Security Agency. . . . 

The Army order is for the company's Nett Warrior system, which outfits soldiers with a chest-mounted Samsung Note II smartphone to use while on the battlefield. While Samsung already had an initial contract to supply devices for the Nett Warrior system, the new order expands the number of Samsung devices in use there. The NSA order would be for the agency's Fishbowl Project, an initiative it started several years ago to update the devices used by NSA personnel. Both the Army and the NSA equip the devices with their own, secure software.

While those orders pale in comparison to overall phone sales at Samsung, they signal to other companies—especially in highly regulated industries like banking and health care—that Samsung phones can work in sensitive environments, long the bread and butter of BlackBerry.

This momentum could spell trouble for new BlackBerry Chief Executive John Chen. Shortly after taking the helm at BlackBerry in November, Mr. Chen said he would focus on winning back enterprise customers.

But his predecessor, Thorsten Heins, said this too, in September. The problem then, as now, is that many of BlackBerry's enterprise customers have already moved on—and deeper-pocketed competitors like Samsung are encroaching on BlackBerry's territory. In 2010, BlackBerry had a market share of nearly 70% among business customers in North America, according to IDC. In 2013, that figure had dropped to around 5%, IDC said. Globally, BlackBerry's business-market share has slipped to around 8% from 31% in 2010, according to IDC.

Mr. Chen has been on the road for the past three months making his pitch to banks and government agencies, but so far there have been few signs of progress.

BlackBerry said it has more than 80,000 enterprise customers globally, but 50,000 of those customers are on the company's older network. And of the 30,000 customers on the new network, many are only testing the service. BlackBerry hasn't said how many customers have actually installed the new service.

"We have sharpened our enterprise focus to government, regulated industries and other large organizations," and "have developed a broad vision of how we will serve these companies," John Sims, BlackBerry's president in charge of the enterprise, said in an emailed statement. "Customers are listening and we believe they will respond positively to our strategy."

The company built its reputation and won thousands of customers largely on the strength of its proprietary network, called BlackBerry Enterprise Server. When the company shifted to a new operating system last year, BlackBerry 10, it also tried to shift companies to a new version of its network, called BES 10. Mr. Chen's job is to convince more customers to make that shift.

Mr. Chen has his work cut out for him dealing with Samsung, which is hiring former BlackBerry executives to help. Samsung had already hired away dozens of executives and employees from BlackBerry and other Washington, D.C., contractors."

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Screw AT&T.
Screw Walmart.
Screw LetsTalk.
Screw Verizon.

A few years ago I smashed the outer display screen on my Samsung Sync cellphone -- a phone I had grown to dislike over the year I owned it. It's a PITA to open with one hand, activate the speakerphone and take pictures -- but the displays were gorgeous.

I went to AT&T and paid them $150 (with a stupid mail-in rebate that the first Postmaster General Ben Franklin would have liked) to go backward a generation for a Moto Razr V3xx flipper, with a less-vibrant display, but easier-to-use camera and speakerphone. Even the AT&T salesman said the phone was overpriced. Screw me.

Then I discovered that the Walmart website was offering the same phone for just $50, or the much more advanced Motorazr2 V9 for just $100, with the same two-year contract renewal I had to agree to, to get the dumber V3xx for $150 from AT&T. Screw me, again.

I had an easy decision to make.

I went back to the AT&T store, but they would not meet the Walmart price. If Walmart's low price is based on a kickback they get from AT&T, why can't AT&T just give me the same deal and avoid the bookkeeping expense?

However, they were very nice about giving me my money back and putting the SIM chip back in my old Samsung phone. Now they have my used phone, they'll have to reduce its price by a hundred bucks and sell it as a refurb. Idiots.

Next I tried to buy the new Moto, and it was ScrewMe #3.

It turns out that LetsTalk, Inc., the scumbags who operate the cellphone operation for Walmart, who call themselves "the smarter way to buy wireless," "helpful" and "consumer advocates," would not allow me to renew my perfectly adequate $39.99 AT&T monthly plan. I would have to agree to a 50% increase to $59.99 to get the phone I wanted. ScrewMe #4.

Thomas, the less-than-helpful "consumer advocate" at LetsTalk, advised me to get the phone directly from AT&T. Unfortunately AT&T doesn't sell the V9 in their stores. It has to be ordered online, for $200. A less attractive version is in Verizon stores for $50 more. Walmart and Sam's didn't have the V9, and Costco didn't have any Razrs at all. ScrewMe #5 through 9.

So, I decided to continue to use the hated Samsung with the cracked screen until there was no blood left to drip out of my fingers when I grasp the phone.

Motorola's cellphone business was in deep trouble then, and got much worse. Why should it be so damned hard to just go into a store and buy the Moto phone I wanted to buy for 200 hundred bucks?

Screw everybody!