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

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Unequal employment opportunity.

A while ago, one of the biggest regional phone companies was trying to hire someone to write sales brochures about new service offerings.

They found a candidate with a perfect combination of qualifications: a good writer with knowledge and experience in telecom.

He had two insurmountable disadvantages, however. He was a white male, and the company was under pressure to hire people who were neither white nor male.

The interviewer confided that without him, "the company will suffer, the customers will suffer, and the stockholders will suffer." He added that the ideal employee would be a one-legged Hindu Eskimo lesbian, and apologized for not being able to hire him.

On the bottom of the employment application was a statement about the company being an "equal opportunity employer," and a list of agencies in Washington that rejected job candidates could contact if they felt they were discriminated against because of race, gender, religion, disability or sexual orientation.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Remember the Maine.
But after 108 years, you can forget the pain.

Most people think of luxury tax only when they play “Monopoly,” and have to pay $75 to the banker.

Another less obvious luxury tax can decrease your assets every day.

In 1898 the USS Maine, an American battleship in Havana harbor, sunk after an explosion. The cause of the explosion was not determined, but it caused the US to go to war against Spain, which ruled Cuba.

The Spanish American War war lasted about six months, with fighting in the Pacific and the Caribbean. The war was costly in human lives and dollars.

There was no federal income tax back then, and phones were rare enough to be considered luxuries. The feds instituted a luxury tax on various items and services, including long distance calls, to pay for war expenses.

Finally last week, after 108 years, the US Treasury announced the end of the tax. The Justice Department will no longer sue for payment, and the IRS will issue limited tax refunds totaling an estimated $13 billion. Taxpayers can apply for refunds of the 3% tax paid during 2004, 2005 and 2006, when they file tax returns in 2007.

Since the tax has been bringing in about $6 billion per year, you can be sure that Washington will find another way to attack your wallet.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Paying for nothing.

This item is not really about telecommunications. It involves cable TV service from Cablevision; but since the company also provides phone service, and it's a good story, here you go:

Cablevision had a customer with 14 TV sets. Eight of them were connected to cable boxes which had monthly fees, and six of them were connected directly to the cable, and were not charged for.

Cablevision insisted that all TVs that were connected to its service -- even those producing no revenue -- had to be included in its records. They also had to appear on the monthly bills, even if nothing had to be paid.

The format for the monthly bill allowed just ten items, so Cablevision had to separate this customer's TVs into two accounts. Each month the company sent one bill that included the eight cable boxes, plus another bill -- with a different account number, different envelope and additional postage -- listing the six TVs that had no cable boxes and no monthly charges.

The second bill showed monthly charges of six times nothing, with a total due of zero dollars and zero cents.

After several months, Cablevision's computer noticed that no payments were received to pay the zero balance, and turned the account over to a collection agency.

The collection agency's computer then started to threaten the customer, detailing the dire consequences if the payment of zero dollars and zero cents was not made promptly. Phone calls to the agency and Cablevision were fruitless. The customer service people at both companies blamed the computers, and had no way to intervene.

Ultimately the disgusted customer presented a check to Cablevision for $0.00, and the account was credited for the "payment," and everything was fine... for a few months.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Pay AT&T more, and get less.
Or pay AT&T less, and get more.

AT&T used to publish a huge catalog called the Source Book.

It included hundreds of products, ranging from inexpensive cords and adapters, to multi-thousand-dollar phone systems.

One stupid error appeared year after year. A four-wire phone jack ("RJ14C") was priced a dollar more than a six-wire jack ("RJ25C").

Anyone who needed a jack with just two or four wires, could order the six-wire jack, ignore the extra wires, and save a buck.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Singapore's bilingual policy has not been completely successful.

The Singaporean government designated English as one of four official languages 50 years ago, and started compulsory English education 40 years ago.

This email was received by a telecom equipment dealer in the US:

I'm customers from Singapore country and want to make business with you. I get looking interest for some your product because my company user for that and want to build small business office (trading shop) in my city. So maybe you could help me to find and supply the best about this. If you accepted this request PLEASE TO CONFIRM BACK and i will back to send you about product for my order. Awaiting for your comment to above answers and proposals, hope we've be able to deal with your company in near future as well. And i hope you can be responsible.

NOTE : But before a place my order to purchase I would ask you regarding the product.
- Do have international business and do you ship to Southeast Asia / Singapore country ? - Do you accept for overseas order ? - Do you accept and take payment by credit card ( Visa/Mastercard ) by manual debit electric payment to process the transaction ? ***" We can not accept PayPal and Bidpay or other Net Media system " ( because my company livin in Southeast Asia and all that net system maybe can't accept my card autorization ) - Could you despact the order by Federal Express , UPS Express method ?

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Should the head of the company
do better than the company?

A CEO compensation survey just published by the Wall Street Journal shows that some telecom bosses are thriving despite lousy performance by the companies they boss.

  • Net income at AT&T dropped 18.7% from 2004 to 2005, but CEO Ed Whitacre's salary and bonus went up 10.9%.
  • BellSouth made 30.8% less money in 2005 than the previous year, but CEO F. Duane Ackerman's check decreased only 11.5% (to $3,600,200).
  • Verizon's income fell 5.5% in 2005, but CEO Ivan Seidenberg took home 26.7% more than the previous year.

  • Why do companies reward bad performance?

    Monday, May 22, 2006

    OOPS! Another author needs a fact checker.

    Author Jeffrey L. Rodengen claims that in the early 1970s, "there were no domestic phone system manufacturers except AT&T.”

    He inexplicably ignores GTE (with roots going back to 1892), Stromberg-Carlson (1894), ITT (1897), Northern Telecom (founded in 1895 in Canada and operating a US factory since 1972), and Rolm (1969).

    Jeff also misspells company names, and seems to confuse intercom systems with phone systems.

    He's a writer/publisher who specializes in limited edition corporate ego books, with sleep-inducing titles like "The Legend of Litton Industries" and "The Spirit of AMD."

    His website boasts of "meticulous research," and the book acknowledges "accurate and resourceful" research assistants.

    These folks produced an error-filled book about phone system maker Inter-Tel. They'll sell you a copy for $39.95; or you can order it on Amazon.com for 41 cents.

    The book is very frustrating because it has a lot of material that is interesting to its intended audience; but errors put its authority in doubt. If you find mistakes on the simple stuff, can you believe the complex stuff?

    Friday, May 19, 2006

    Is that CPE CPE, or is it CPE?

    The telecommunications business has terrible communications.

    CPE used to mean Customer-Provided Equipment in the AT&T empire, or its opposite, Company-Provided Equipment, in the GTE empire.

    Now it's just Customer Premises Equipment.

    Harry Newton's Telecom Dictionary can help you figure it out.

    Thursday, May 18, 2006

    Important question

    A Cablevision technician recently appeared at a customer's front door.

    He said to the homeowner," I'm from Cablevision. Why am I here?"

    Wednesday, May 17, 2006

    Writers aren't perfect.
    Publishers should try to be.

    All writers make mistakes. Even me.

    Online errors can be fixed quickly. Bloopers in books, magazines and movies can circulate for centuries, and get repeated and believed.

    That's why publishers employ fact-checkers and editors; or at least why publishers SHOULD employ fact-checkers and editors.

    I just started reading "Hacking the TiVo" by William von Hagen. It won't help you do anything illegal, but can help you improve your TiVo.

    In a pretty good section on networking, von Hagen explains that the essence of Category 5 cable is "shielding that insulates the cable from outside electromagnetic influence and... not giving off poisonous smoke if the plastic exterior of the cable burns off." Both statements are wrong. Cable and wire "categories" relate to data transmission speed, not shielding or insulation.

  • Common network wire does not have shielding (in fact, most of it is classified as "UTP," Unshielded Twisted Pair).
  • Wire of any category can be made with insulation (often Teflon) that does not emit toxic fumes in a fire. It is commonly used in "plenum" ceilings where air is circulated without ducts.

  • Von Hagen has impressive credentials and is apparently an expert on computers and TiVo, but that doesn't make him an expert on wire. No one knows everything. Not even me.

    On the second page of the book, the publisher acknowledges the possibility of errors, and denies responsibility. That's irresponsible. These errors could have been easily corrected before publication.

    The author can be forgiven. The publisher can not.

    Tuesday, May 16, 2006

    But wait:
    AT&T is even worse than we thought.

    An AT&T technician visited a telecom distributor today to buy a bag of modular plugs that he needed for his work. He said he didn't need a receipt, because AT&T wouldn't reimburse him.
  • He also mentioned that the company would supply him with an unlimited number of flashlights, but no batteries.
  • The new AT&T is just as dumb
    as the old AT&T. Maybe even dumber.

    I just got an AT&T check for THREE CENTS. It had to cost them two or three bucks to prepare and send the check.

    The paperwork didn't indicate why they sent me the money. Maybe it should really have been $251.03, or $3,000,000; so I called the toll-free number printed on the check.

    After entering my account number three times and swearing at the automated voice response robot four times, I finally reached Paul, who thanked me for calling "the new AT&T."

    Paul checked the records, and told me that the three cents was a refund for an overpayment on a bill for the fax line I cancelled in February.

    I didn't cancel our fax line or any line. The line Paul said I cancelled is used every day, and we pay AT&T for it every month. If I really did overpay, the three cents could have been applied to a bill.

    If you're a terrorist,
    make your calls in Miami or Minneapolis.

    While public reaction is mixed about the recent accusation that the National Security Agency collected records on millions of domestic phone calls, it appears that the government's performance was also mixed.

  • BellSouth says the Feds never asked it for phone records.
  • Qwest says it was asked, and said no, and was not asked again.
  • Verizon says it could neither confirm nor deny that it helped.

  • BellSouth, AT&T and Verizon are being sued for $200 BILLION for providing call info to the Feds.

    Friday, May 12, 2006

    Idiotic Email #704

    This email was sent to a telecom equipment dealer:

    Before its too late make peace with GOD, and make sure the ones you love do also. You need to pick between a eternity of joy or one of torment. Accept him. Repent. Get baptized. And have a nice eternity. In grubby we can poland as always sarah serenade theirfore woodside is polo and schoolwork.

    Free long distance calls from jail.

    Joseph Nacchio, the former CEO of Qwest, is awaiting trial on 42 counts of insider trading. Federal prosecutors say Nacchio and other former Qwest executives perpetrated financial fraud on investors. The company had to restate about $2.2 billion in revenue and pay a $250 million fraud fine. Prosecutors claim that Nacchio knew Qwest would miss its financial projections when he sold more than $100 million in Qwest stock.

    Company retirees, who are fighting reduction in their benefits, said that rather than pursue restitution, the Qwest board gave Nacchio an extra $12.2 million in severance pay, a $3 million consulting contract, medical benefits for life and free long-distance service for 10 years.

    Qwest started as a long-distance carrier in 1996, and in 1990 merged with U S West, holding company for former AT&T subsidiaries Mountain States Telephone & Telegraph, Northwestern Bell, and Pacific Northwest Bell.

    (based on Denver Post article)

    Thursday, May 11, 2006

    Smart decision that seems stupid #53

    A while ago, the French government financed a marketing outpost in New York City to help French telecom manufacturers sell their products in the US.

    At that time, French phones were as laughable as French cars, but the government and "France Telecom" were determined to change their unfortunate image.

    Naturally, the office needed a phone system for the French folks to use while spreading the word.

    They couldn't take a chance on phone failure, so instead of using one of the French systems they were trying to sell, they bought an ITT phone system, made in the USA.

    Wednesday, May 10, 2006

    Bad Decision #603

    In 1997, AT&T spinoff Lucent joined Dutch electronics giant Philips (parent of Norelco, Magnavox and Sylvania) in a joint venture to make and market consumer phones and cellphones.

    The partnered companies initially used the Philips brand name -- a very bad decision, because neither "Philips" nor "Lucent" means much on the shelves at Circuit City. After a few months, Lucent got permission to use the AT&T name.

    Even with the good name, the joint venture was a bad idea. The Americans couldn't get along with the Dutch, and the deal was killed quickly.

    In 1999, Lucent tried to sell its consumer phone business. There was nothing very special about its factories or product designs. Its biggest asset was the AT&T label, which it twice planned to give up, but could not live without. The Lucent/AT&T package was sold at a cut-rate price to VTech, an Asian maker of phones and electronic toys.

    Idiotic Email #388

    This email was sent to a telecom equipment dealer:

    As a mother of 4 daughters, I can't tell you how many times I have been grateful for your company and the family friendly clothing you have provided especially for preteens and teens. Recently, however, I have been disappointed, not only in the thong and other suggestive underwear displayed in your OKC store -- which I might ad is right next to the children's wear -- but also in the underwear commercial which you have now been airing on the TV Land channel.

    TV Land is our favorite channel because when we go there, we can be sure that what we view will be family friendly. Your latest commercial showing scantily clad models in suggestive poses is a source of great concern to me. You have a company that is solid and has always been there for the family. Please reconsider the direction you are taking with your advertising. Families need a friend that they can count on. I hope you'll prove to be the friend that you have always been.

    Aren't Indians supposed to be smart?

    Hindustan Telecom illegally copied many pages from the website of an American telecom dealer. The thieves were so stupid, they even copied the American company's customer list, left in the name of the American company, and the site shows many products that are not available in India, and some that were discontinued years ago.

    To automate their theft, the bozos did a search-and-replace, substituting "India" for "United States." They forgot about the word "the," so the site has dumb phrases like "First info in the India."

    The Hindustan site has bad grammar, bad typography, tacky animations, non-functioning links, non-functioning search, and bad spelling. They even spell their own company name incorrectly!

    These folks need to do some out-sourcing. There are probably some smart American webmasters who need the work.

    Tuesday, May 09, 2006

    Idiotic Email #27

    This email was sent to a telecom equipment dealer:

    Im looking for a piece of hold music. It is used for AOL hold music and bars are used on GE appliance schedualling. It starts with drums and has progressive strings in it. Can you tell me what the name of this would be?

    Bad Decision #73

    Headset-maker GN Netcom used to make a nice binaural (two ear) headset with a 2.5mm plug for use with cellphones, cordless phones and some office phones. It was a special-order model, and one headset dealer sold lots of them; but GN canceled the product after a couple of years.

    The dealer then designed its own headset, which competes with the products of the former supplier.

    Bad Decision #654

    In 1997 Panasonic introduced a phone called the Telenium, that worked as a cordless phone in the house and a cellular phone outside. It seemed like a good idea to Panasonic, but there were problems:

  • The product may have made sense for a one-person household, but if daddy took the phone to the office, there was no cordless left for mommy and the kids.
  • The handset was big and analog, when the world was switching to small and digital.
  • Panasonic promoted the phone with some expensive magazine ads showing apparently real people who liked their Teleniums. People who saw the ads could call toll-free phone numbers to hear the "real people." One of the characters was a contemporary rabbi, but the recorded voice sounded like Jackie Mason, and offended some potential customers.
  • Telenium died quickly, and expensively.
  • Bad Decision #106

  • In 1999, AT&T acquired TCI, the second largest cable TV company in the United States, for $48 billion.
  • In 2000, AT&T paid $54 billion to add cable company MediaOne, becoming the nation's largest cable TV company.
  • In 2002, AT&T sold its cable TV business to competitor Comcast for $47.5 billion. $54.5 billion in value disappeared in two years. Comcast got an amazing bargain, and now uses its huge cable TV network to provide phone service, competing with AT&T.
  • In 2006, AT&T went back into the TV business, competing with Comcast, and minus 47.5 billion bucks.
  • Idiotic Emal #371

    This email was sent to a telecom equipment dealer (that did not sell the phone referred to in the email) :

    "My new phone is working great for incoming calls, but I cannot call out. Every time I dial a phone number, a voice comes on and says that I exceeded the allotted time for dialing, hang up and try again.

    I would like to have this phone working before my husband gets home as he told me I did not need a newfangled phone."

    What the people really want.

    A while ago, AT&T spent a lot of money to determine the most desired phone features.

    The winners were not Caller ID, voicemail, speed dial, redial, conferencing, speakerphone, VoIP, long-life batteries, or any other high tech.

    Most people wanted long cords and big buttons.

    Would you prefer bebop, blues,
    rap, reggae, motown or gospel?

    Panasonic sold phone systems that
    provided "black ground" music.

    Idiotic Email #121

    This email was sent to a telecom equipment dealer:

    "I found a phone on the street. The incoming volume is low and people say they can't hear me speak. It rings most of the time. It is blue. How much tradein will you allow me?"

    Monday, May 08, 2006

    When should you believe Inter-Tel?

    Inter-Tel is an old and usually-respected maker of business telephone systems.

    The company has a large website, filled with downloadable pictures, demos, brochures, manuals, etc., for use by its dealers.

    Links to the downloadable items are much higher up on their "sales center" page, than a tiny link at the bottom that leads to a copyright notice.

    In fact, anyone can easily download and re-publish a considerable amount of material, without ever scrolling down to the last line on the page, and then clicking on the link that leads to another page that says that permission is needed to copy the material that was already copied.

    At least one certified Inter-Tel dealer who followed the instructions on the top of the page has been threatened with expensive lawsuits and fines for copyright infringement.

    Flunking Biology 101

    Lots of companies that make and sell electronic products -- particularly cellphone headsets -- think that the connector on the end of the wire is a JACK.

    It's not. It's a PLUG!

    Despite it's male name, a jack is considered to be a "female" connector, and is usually part of a phone or other piece of equipment.

    Connectors have genders. Plugs are male. Jacks are female.

    If you don't understand this, gather a bunch of people of various genders, get naked, and look into a mirror.

    Lots of electricians make a similar mistake, referring to an electrical outlet on a wall, as a "plug."

    MNEMONIC DEVICE: "plug" and "penis" begin with the same letter and have the same gender.

    TELECOM HISTORY: In its manuals and other technical literature, AT&T used "connector" instead of "jack." A common adapter with one plug and two jacks was (and often still is) called a "CPC adapter."

    Sunday, May 07, 2006

    Your federal tax dollars at work

    Shortly after Hurricane Katrina whacked New Orleans, FEMA ordered a bunch of emergency telecom equipment from a distributor.

    Ten days later, FEMA placed another order for the same equipment from the same distributor.

    It's not that they liked the stuff so much that they decided to get more.

    They lost the first shipment.

    "Brownie, you're doin' a heckuva job." ...George Dubya Bush

    Whom do you trust?

    At a major consumer electronics trade show in the mid-1980s, Northern Telecom (now Nortel Networks) hosted a press conference to reveal the results of a big-buck market research study.

    The company's researchers had detected a shift in consumer color preferences, and announced that they would stop making phones in the previously popular dark blue.

    At the end of the press conference, reporters marched down the hallway to enter another room, for a press conference hosted by AT&T.

    AT&T had also conducted a big-buck market research study, and gleefully announced that the hot telephone color for the coming year would be (drum roll, please) dark blue!

    Who said "talk is cheap?"
    Not the guy with the

    According to the Associated Press, a Malaysian man, Yahaya Wahab, canceled his father’s phone service after the father’s death in January, and then paid the final bill, equal to $23.

    In April, he received a notice from Telecom Malaysia’s collection agency, demanding the equivalent of $218,000,000,000,000 within 10 days.

    Someone must have used the dead man’s phone for a LOT of calls to 900 numbers.

    Idiotic Email #803

    This email was sent to a telecom equipment dealer:

    "Please send this fone for free i shell be very thankful to your company Please Please Please Thank u!"

    Lucent and the middlemen.

    Lucent Technologies is a huge and inept AT&T spinoff that makes and tries to sell a wide range of telecom products. Lucent stock has seldom gone above five bucks a share recently, and has agreed to merge with (actually, get eaten by) French telecom giant Alcatel.

    Lucent makes telephone wire. They sell it to wholesale distributors. The distributors sell it to dealers. One of those dealers, sells the Lucent wire back to Lucent.

    The distributor makes money. The dealer makes money. UPS makes money. Lucent loses.

    Will this stupidity continue after the "merger" with Alcatel? Of course it will.

    Wanna get rich? Sell signs to AT&T.

    In 2005, AT&T Wireless stores were either closed or converted into Cingular stores.

    In 2006, Cingular stores are being converted into AT&T Wireless stores.

    They can't use the signs that were taken down last year, because the new AT&T (which is really SBC, which bought AT&T), has a new uglier logo, so all of the stores need new signs.

    In one New England city, Cingular is constructing a new store to replace one across the street. The new place is bigger and nicer, in a better location with more parking spaces. It's not open yet, but brand-new Cingular signs were recently hung on the exterior walls of the building. They'll go in the dumpster a few months after the new store opens.

    There is probably more money being made selling signs to AT&T, than AT&T makes selling cellphones.

    Idiotic Email #406

    This email was sent to a telecom equipment dealer:

    "I have Panasonic cordless phone. I don't know the model number. Can u please send me the user manual?"

    Wal-Mart sells fax machines,
    but can't receive faxes.

    A while ago, I returned something to a Wal-Mart store. I didn't have the sales receipt, so they said they would send me a refund check. After 30 days, I got nothing and called the store. The customer service lady said she couldn't find any record of my return. I offered to read the numbers off the return receipt, but she needed to see the numbers, not just hear them. Silly, but no big deal, I thought.

    I then uttered one of the most common contemporary four-word phrases: "What's your fax number?"

    I was shocked at the four-word reply: "We don't have one."

    Wal-Mart is the world's retailing giant, a $300 billion-per-year behemoth that brags about its efficiency and technology, a success-story that sells zillions of pieces of merchandise each year, including fax machines... and they didn't have a fax machine for use by their own staff or customers.

    And, NO, I can't send a fax to a demo machine in the electronics department. And, NO, I can't send it to the fax machine in the garden department. And, NO, I can't send it to the corporate-sibling Sam's Club in the same building.

    This temple of technology, the world-beater company that sells everything to everyone, the biggest retail business in the universe, insisted that I MAIL them a copy of my receipt.

    C'mon Wal-Mart. Get connected. I know where you can get a good deal on a fax machine. Take a look in aisle five.