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

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

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.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

AT&T to offer broadband in airplanes

Yesterday AT&T announced plans to launch a high-speed 4G LTE-based in-flight connectivity service for airlines and passengers in commercial, business and general aviation. The service, planned to be available as soon as late 2015, will be capable of providing in-flight broadband for customers including fast, reliable Wi-Fi and onboard entertainment. Following launch, aviation customers can also expect improved connectivity solutions such as cockpit communications, maintenance operations and crew services.

To deliver this new service, AT&T plans to build an air-to-ground network in the continental United States, based on global 4G LTE standards, to provide fast speeds and efficient utilization of spectrum already owned by AT&T. The company says it is the architect and operator of the nation’s most reliable 4G LTE network and has the expertise, spectrum and financial strength to transform airborne connectivity.

“Everyone wants access to high-speed, reliable mobile Internet wherever they are, including at 35,000 feet,” said John Stankey, Chief Strategy Officer at AT&T. “We are building on AT&T’s significant strengths to develop in-flight connectivity technology unlike any other that exists today, based on 4G LTE standards. We believe this will enable airlines and passengers to benefit from reliable high speeds and a better experience. We expect this service to transform connectivity in the aviation industry – we are truly mobilizing the sky.”

Honeywell recently issued its Wireless Connectivity Survey indicating that in-flight Wi-Fi currently causes frustrations for nearly nine in ten users worldwide, most often due to inconsistent or slow connections. AT&T plans to work with Honeywell to provide hardware and service capabilities to deliver the in-flight connectivity solution. Along with Honeywell’s expertise, AT&T’s technical strength and scale in building networks and managing their evolutions provide a unique opportunity to change the way passengers and airlines connect to the mobile Internet. With AT&T’s planned new network, passengers should be able to gain the reliability they have long hoped for in the sky. AT&T’s in-flight connectivity also offers the potential for improved communications between the plane and the ground through transmission of real-time aircraft data for optimizing, monitoring and evolving airlines’ operations.

In-flight connectivity is said to be a natural fit for AT&T, which over the past six years (2008 to 2013) has invested more than $140 billion into its wireless and wireline networks, when you combine capital investment and acquisitions of spectrum and wireless operations, and already operates what is claimed to be the nation’s most reliable 4G LTE network. AT&T has more than 116 million wireless subscribers, more than 16.5 million total broadband subscribers and serves many of the world’s largest corporations, including all of the Fortune 1000.  AT&T is continuing to innovate with its recent launches of its Connected Car platform and Drive Studio, and introduction of AT&T U-verse® with GigaPowerSM in select U.S. cities.

AT&T sees an opportunity to deliver an innovative and high-performing in-flight connectivity and entertainment service, and says it will build on existing relationships within the aviation industry to deliver a better customer experience than what is available from others today. AT&T plans for its in-flight connectivity service to support both business aviation and commercial airline customers from day-one of the service launch. AT&T will provide information on pricing and availability prior to launch.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Pioneering Brazil adopts Internet 'Bill Of Rights'

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff on Wednesday ratified a bill guaranteeing Internet privacy and enshrining access to the Web during a major conference in Sao Paulo on the future of Internet governance, according to the Associated Press. 

The legislation, which was passed by the Senate late Tuesday, puts limits on the metadata that can be collected from Internet users in Brazil. It also makes Internet service providers not liable for content published by their users and requires them to comply with court orders to remove offensive material.

Brazil has cast itself as a defender of Internet freedom following revelations last year that Rousseff was the object of surveillance by the United States' National Security Agency. She cancelled a state visit to the U.S. last October over the revelations, which came out of leaks by former NSA analyst Edward Snowden and showed Brazil's state-run Petrobras was also the object of American spying.

Rousseff had championed a measure requiring Internet companies to store the data of Brazilian users inside the country, as a way of protecting citizens from further U.S. spying, but clause was cut from the final bill amid fears it would prove too challenging to implement.

CLICK for more

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!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Why is it so damned difficult for people to end a speakerphone conversation the right way?

Stephen Baldwin is GUILTY of wasting precious time.

Using the handset to shut off a hands-free speakerphone is a stupid time-waster that really drives me nuts, and I've slapped people's hands when I've caught them doing this. 

It's good to dial your calls hands-free, and then switch to a handset when a human being finally picks up. (It’s even better to use a headset.)

But if you don't reach a person, or if you used the speakerphone for the entire call, you can end the call by simply tapping the speakerphone button.

Lots of people, including my dear wife, and actor Stephen Baldwin on Celebrity Apprentice, and motorcycle maker Paul Teutul Sr. on American Chopper, quickly pick up the handset and immediately put it down, to hang up a hands-free call. This wastes time, causes unnecessary wear on the phone, and really pisses me off!

If I see you doing it, I'll slap your hand, too. Don't do it! I'm serious. My wife had a slightly sore hand to prove it. (However, I probably would not slap Mr. Teutul because he might beat the crap out of me. I haven’t decided about Stephen Baldwin. He may have God on his side.)
Some recent bumbling offenders are the would-be terrorists sitting in Hamdi's kitchen in You Don't Mess With the Zohan. Twice, after using the speakerphone on an old AT&T 5500 cordless to call the Hezbollah Phone Line ("for terrorist supplies, press one"), one of the guys who plans to kill Adam Sandler's Zohan character, picks up and then puts down the handset.

It's much easier to just tap the speakerphone button.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Would you like Einstein's phone number? How about Hitler's girlfriend's number?

According to the Associated Press, if you had a question about the special theory of relativity back in 1930, you could call up the guy who proposed it. Ancestry.com has posted copies of German telephone books from 1915 to 1981 - including Albert Einstein's phone number while he was a university professor in Berlin. Back then, just asking for 2807 got you a direct path to the physics genius.

The genealogy Web site got Einstein's number when it scanned dusty phone books kept at the German National Library. Adolf Hitler's longtime companion, Eva Braun, also shows up in the 1937 Munich directory. The Web site says the records will come in handy for the nearly 50 million Americans of German heritage hoping to trace their ancestors.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Memo to cellphone thieves: don't use stolen phones to send selfies.

Yesterday, the New York Police Department tweeted, "WANTED: 2 males for armed robberies in Harlem - take cell phones & money."

Two aggressive-but-stupid men transmitted photos of themselves from a cellphone they stole during a string of Harlem muggings, according to DNA Info NewYork.

"The duo pretended they had a gun and demanded the phone from an 18-year-old man who was walking near Seventh Avenue and West 117th Street on Sept. 24, 2013 at 8:30 p.m. Some time later, the two thieves posed for selfies. The images were automatically uploaded to the victim's photo-sharing account.

On July 29, they pretended to have a gun and mugged a 55-year-old man who was walking into his Harlem apartment building about 3:45 a.m., according to the NYPD.

The pair resurfaced again that night about 11 p.m., this time with a real gun, and robbed a 29-year-old man near Eighth Avenue and West 116th Street, police said.

On Sept. 19, about 8 p.m., they are suspected of mugging a 17-year-old outside his Harlem apartment building, police said."

Also, thieves: if you are going to carjack a vehicle, be prepared to drive with a stick shift or paddle shifters. It will be very embarrassing to have to walk away from your intended prize. You might even get arrested.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

and the next PC maker to give up is . . . Sony

The list of former PC manufacturers is huge, ranging from tiny brands like Swan to major players like Gateway and even IBM.

For many years the PC business was a growth industry (but a highly competitive, often low-profit industry). Because of competition and improvements in technology, you can buy a PC today for $300 that is much better than one that used to sell for $3,000. In recent years many PC functions have been taken over by smart phones, tablets and even ebook readers. PC sales dropped 10% from 2012 to 2013.
  • Compaq was sold to HP in 2002.
  • IBM's PC business was sold to Lenovo in 2005. 
  • Gateway was sold to Acer in 2007.
Earlier today, Sony, dealing with huge losses in its consumer electronics business in the face of intense competition (no one cares about the Walkman anymore) announced that it would sell its money-losing PC business to Japan Industrial Partners, an investment fund. 

According to the New York Times, Sony predicted that it would lose about $1.1 billion in the current financial year, after previously forecasting a profit of $300 million.

"The Sony PC business, which makes notebooks and other computers under the Vaio brand, has become a symbol of Sony’s inability to keep pace in consumer electronics. The company that invented the Walkman has struggled in the era of the smartphone, losing its reputation for innovation to the likes of Apple and its leadership in manufacturing prowess to new powerhouses like Samsung and Lenovo.

While Sony’s problems reflect a broader crisis in the Japanese electronics industry, other companies, like Panasonic, have moved more aggressively to restructure. That company, which has been pulling out of certain consumer electronics markets, like smartphones, and focusing more on behind-the-scenes businesses like electric car batteries, this week reported that its quarterly earnings more than tripled, lifting its stock sharply.

Sony has been more reluctant to part with consumer electronics operations . . . .  Sony’s share of [the PC market] slipped to 1.9 percent worldwide in 2013 from 2.1 percent in 2012, Gartner says, making it the 9th-ranked PC maker worldwide.

“Somebody has to exit from the market because there are still too many competitors,” said Mikako Kitagawa, an analyst at Gartner. “This is an extremely difficult market in which to survive. That is not going to change.”

The agreement with Japan Industrial Partners will result in the formation of a new company created by the fund, Sony said. Sony said it planned to keep a 5 percent stake in the new company. Terms of the sale, including the price, remain subject to further negotiation, Sony said.

Japan Industrial Partners specializes in buying up unwanted assets from Japanese electronics giants, including companies like NEC and Olympus.

Japan Industrial Partners “believes that with its support, the new company that will operate the VAIO-branded PC business will be able to achieve future growth and profitability and meet the expectations of VAIO customers by leveraging the wealth of innovative design expertise and operational knowhow accumulated by Sony within the PC business,” the companies said in a statement."

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Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Hooking up with the BEEP LINE

Long before AOL, MySpace, FaceBook, YouTube, and even long before the Internet, college kids were hooking up with prehistoric chat rooms accidentally provided by their local phone companies.

I don’t know who discovered it, but when several people reached a busy phone number, they were connected together in a conference call, on a “beep line,” and people could speak between the beeps.

When I was a student at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA in the late 1960s, young men at Lehigh used the beep line to try to get dates with young ladies from Cedar Crest College in neighboring Allentown, or even with "townies" who worked at Bethlehem Steel.

Around 8pm on Saturday, a desperate dateless Lehigh guy would call his own busy phone number to reach the beep line, hoping a similarly dateless girl would have done the same thing.

The conversation might go like this:

"Hi BEEP I’m BEEP Steve BEEP a BEEP football BEEP player BEEP at BEEP Lehigh. BEEP. Does BEEP anyone BEEP want BEEP to BEEP go BEEP to BEEP a BEEP party? BEEP."

"Hi BEEP Steve BEEP I’m BEEP Cindy BEEP a BEEP hot BEEP freshman BEEP cheer BEEP leader BEEP at BEEP Cedar BEEP Crest. BEEP. I BEEP can BEEP be BEEP ready BEEP at BEEP nine BEEP. Call BEEP me BEEP at BEEP 86 BEEP 75 BEEP 55 BEEP 5 BEEP."

"OK BEEP Cindy BEEP hang BEEP up BEEP and BEEP I’ll BEEP call BEEP you. BEEP Do BEEP you BEEP have BEEP a BEEP car? BEEP. What BEEP kind BEEP of BEEP beer BEEP do BEEP you BEEP like? BEEP. Are BEEP you BEEP on BEEP the BEEP pill? BEEP."

I can’t tell you how many of the dates actually happened, or how many of them resulted in romance. As in today’s chat rooms, there was lots of lying. Many of the alleged football heroes weren't; and the allegedly beautiful-and-willing blonde 18 year-old college girl might turn out to be a 14-year-old junior-high-school student, and might not even be a girl.

Eventually, Bell’s central office equipment was "improved," and the Beep Line disappeared.

artwork from Microsoft

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Does Apple want its own piece of the Internet?

According to Wall Street Journal's Drew FitzGerald and Daisuke Wakabayashi, Apple is building a "network of Internet infrastructure capable of delivering large amounts of content to customers, giving the company more control over the distribution of its online offerings while laying the groundwork for more traffic if it decides to move deeper into television.

Apple's online delivery needs have grown in the last few years, driven by its iCloud service for storing users' data and rising sales of music, videos and games from iTunes and the App Store. But the iPhone maker is reported to have broader ambitions for television that could involve expanding its Apple TV product or building its own television set.

Snapping up Internet infrastructure supports all those pursuits at once. Apple is signing long-term deals to lock up bandwidth and hiring more networking experts, steps that companies like Google Inc. GOOG -4.03%  and Facebook Inc. have already taken to gain more control over the vast content they distribute.

Bill Norton, chief strategy officer for International Internet Exchange, which helps companies line up Internet traffic agreements, estimates that Apple has in a short time bought enough bandwidth from Web carriers to move hundreds of gigabits of data each second. "That's the starting point for a very, very big network," Mr. Norton said.

Apple's hardware business is increasingly tied into services delivered over the Internet. In 2011, it rolled out the iCloud service, which stores and syncs emails, documents, photos, music and video so users can access them from various Apple devices. In addition, it is delivering more content from its iTunes and App Store—which brought in $16 billion in revenue in the year that ended in September—while pushing out regular, data-laden updates of its mobile and PC operating systems.

The company's need for bandwidth and supporting infrastructure will grow if it moves further into television. Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook has said improving the TV viewing experience is an area of interest for the company and that it has a "great vision" for television. On a conference call last week to discuss its latest earnings with analysts, Mr. Cook said Apple is on track to break into new product categories this year, fueling speculation about a new television or revamped video service.

Direct connections between Apple's data centers and the networks that connect to customers would give the company more control over quality. An iPhone user who subscribes to Sprint Corp., for instance, might download a song more quickly if Sprint's network links directly to the Apple data center storing that song, rather than channeling the file through a series of middlemen.

Monday, February 03, 2014

iPhone fire in back pocket is much worse than accidental ass-dialing

Rodman said the student's first response was to “stop, drop and roll,” and to try to get out of the pants she was wearing. Rodman said the cell phone fell out of her pants during the process and was visibly burnt. “It was something that I don't think people had ever seen before. I've never seen anything like that,” Rodman said.

Rodman said the student's quick thinking, as well as that of those around her, prevented any worse burns or injury.
EMS Division Chief Andrew Palmeri said it appears that when the student sat down, with the phone in her back pocket, the phone's battery shorted out. The state fire marshal is investigating, he said.
“People should obviously use caution when placing their phones in their back pockets so as not to crush them and cause an electrical short,” he said.

info from http://www.seacoastonline.com Thanks.

Friday, January 31, 2014

First Target, then Neiman Marcus, now Yahoo gets hacked.
Be careful.

  1. On December 19, 2013 Target revealed that the company had been hacked between November 27 and December 15, 2013. As many as 40 million credit and debit cards could have been compromised. On December 27 Target disclosed that debit card PIN data had also been stolen, but are "safe and secure" due to the encryption. On January 10, 2014, Target disclosed that the names, mailing addresses, phone numbers or email addresses of up to 70 million additional people had also been stolen, bringing the possible number of customers affected up to 110 million.
  2. On January 14, 2014, upscale retailer Neiman Marcus revealed that it was informed by its credit card processor in mid-December of potentially unauthorized payment card activity that occurred following customer purchases. More than 1.1 million customers were affected.The company said debit and credit cards were compromised, but not PINs, because the company does not use pinpads. Apparently malware was installed on the point-of-sale system in July and grabbed card data until the end of October.
  3. Yesterday, Yahoo announced "a coordinated effort to gain unauthorized access to Yahoo Mail accounts." The company said, "Upon discovery, we took immediate action to protect our users, prompting them to reset passwords on impacted accounts. Based on our current findings, the list of usernames and passwords that were used to execute the attack was likely collected from a third-party database compromise. We have no evidence that they were obtained directly from Yahoo’s systems. Our ongoing investigation shows that malicious computer software used the list of usernames and passwords to access Yahoo Mail accounts. The information sought in the attack seems to be names and email addresses from the affected accounts’ most recent sent emails."
A security suggestion from Yahoo: In addition to adopting better password practices by changing your password regularly and using different variations of symbols and characters, users should never use the same password on multiple sites or services.  Using the same password on multiple sites or services makes users particularly vulnerable to these types of attacks.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Motorola moves again, this time to China.
Google lost $10 bil on Moto in 2-1/2 years. But they're happy.

Chicago's Galvin Manufacturing introduced one of the first commercially successful car radios, the Motorola, in 1930. "Victrola" and "Radiola" were popular brands at the time and Galvin followed their examples, combining "Motor" and "ola" to produce a new brand for Galvin's products. Galvin eventually changed its company name to Motorola.

Over the years, Motorola expanded into other electronics products including television, VCRs, semiconductors, military and aerospace gear, cable TV boxes, cordless phones, early car phones, police radios and, in 1984, cellular phones. 

In 1967, Motorola debuted the Quasar brand of transistorized color televisions promoted as having "the works in a drawer" for easy servicing. In 1974 Quasar was sold to Matsushita, parent of Panasonic. The brand name became a second-tier brand to Panasonic, used on a variety of products including televisions and cordless phones. The Motorola name also appeared on cordless phones over the years. If I remember correctly, one early model was quite innovative. The phone's base included a rechargeable battery so the phone could be used during a power failure.

Motorola became a dominant brand in the cellphone business, The company made "brick phones," (shown at left) "bag phones," and then the ubiquitous "flip phones."

It gradually lost favor as Asian manufacturers and Apple increased their market shares. Cellphone sales at Motorola slid a stunning 39% in the first quarter of 2008, pushing the company's global market share to a historic low of 9.5% and widening its net loss.

Motorola lost half of its market share from the end of 2006 when its popular Razr phone led the company to a 22.4% global market share. Much of that loss occurred in the US, where Moto was the leading player but the company has lost business because it failed to roll out new models with advanced features at competitive prices. As a result, when people with Moto phones wanted to upgrade their phones, they often switched to different brands.

"Motorola's been a puddle drying up in the sun," said analyst Neil Mawston of the research firm Strategy Analytics. Still, Motorola Chief Executive Greg Brown hinted on a conference call with analysts that the division had hit bottom, saying its performance in the second quarter of 2008 would be "flat to slightly up" in a growing market.

Brown also said the company was proceeding with spinoff plans for the division, a decision pushed by activist shareholder Carl Icahn. Brown admitted it would be costly to separate cellphones from the rest of the company. Icahn argued that carving out the mobile-devices division would make it easier for the business to find new management to help with a turnaround. The division had been reeling from management turnover, thousands of layoffs and product missteps. It posted a $418 million operating loss for the first quarter of 2008, compared to an operating loss of $233 million a year earlier.

Moto eventually brought out smart phones using Google's open-source Android mobile operating system, notably the Droid line, introduced in 2009. 

In  2011, Motorola split into two separate companies, each with "Motorola" as part of its name. Motorola Solutions concentrated on police equipment and commercial products. Motorola Mobility became the cellphone and cable TV equipment producer.

  • OUCH! On August 15, 2011, Google announced that it would purchase Motorola Mobility for about $12.5 billion. On January 29th, 2014, Google announced that Motorola Mobility would be sold to Lenovo for under $3 billion, showing a rapid and huge drop in value from the purchase price.
We’ve just signed an agreement to sell Motorola to Lenovo for $2.91 billion. As this is an important move for Android users everywhere, I wanted to explain why in detail. We acquired Motorola in 2012 to help supercharge the Android ecosystem by creating a stronger patent portfolio for Google and great smartphones for users. Over the past 19 months, Dennis Woodside and the Motorola team have done a tremendous job reinventing the company. They’ve focused on building a smaller number of great (and great value) smartphones that consumers love. Both the Moto G and the Moto X are doing really well, and I’m very excited about the smartphone lineup for 2014. And on the intellectual property side, Motorola’s patents have helped create a level playing field, which is good news for all Android’s users and partners.

But the smartphone market is super competitive, and to thrive it helps to be all-in when it comes to making mobile devices. It’s why we believe that Motorola will be better served by Lenovo -- which has a rapidly growing smartphone business and is the largest (and fastest-growing) PC manufacturer in the world. This move will enable Google to devote our energy to driving innovation across the Android ecosystem, for the benefit of smartphone users everywhere. As a side note, this does not signal a larger shift for our other hardware efforts. The dynamics and maturity of the wearable and home markets, for example, are very different from that of the mobile industry. We’re excited by the opportunities to build amazing new products for users within these emerging ecosystems.

Lenovo has the expertise and track record to scale Motorola into a major player within the Android ecosystem. They have a lot of experience in hardware, and they have global reach. In addition, Lenovo intends to keep Motorola’s distinct brand identity -- just as they did when they acquired ThinkPad from IBM in 2005. Google will retain the vast majority of Motorola’s patents, which we will continue to use to defend the entire Android ecosystem.

The deal has yet to be approved in the U.S. or China, and this usually takes time. So until then, it’s business as usual. I’m phenomenally impressed with everything the Motorola team has achieved and confident that with Lenovo as a partner, Motorola will build more and more great products for people everywhere.

From the New York Times:

Selling a major portion of the business would be a concession of defeat for Google and particularly for Mr. Page. Motorola has continued to bleed money, aggravating shareholders and stock analysts, and its new flagship phone, the Moto X, did not sell as well as expected.

However, this is the second divestiture Google has made from the assets it acquired after buying Motorola Mobility, which was its largest ever acquisition. In 2012, just months after that deal, Google sold Motorola Home, which included its set-top boxes and cable modems, to Arris for $2.35 billion.
Google will also retain most of the patents it acquired as part of its original deal for Motorola, while granting Lenovo a license to use certain ones for its new handsets. 

For its part, Lenovo appears to be building a comprehensive business in simple computers. Once known primarily as a maker of personal computers, last week Lenovo paid $2.3 billion for a big part the computer server business of IBM. Already the world’s largest maker of PCs, the IBM purchase got Lenovo about 7.5 percent of the world market for low-margin servers based on off the shelf semiconductors.

Lenovo’s shopping spree may be driven by the necessity of moving into other markets. Last year, the world PC market contracted by 10 percent, according to IDC, to 314.5 million units.The reason is that people now buy smartphones and tablets instead of PCs. While IBM executives said they could not make a sufficient profit in commodity servers, Lenovo may hope to build an economy of scale buy buying chips for both PCs and servers in even greater bulk. 

The same case could be made for phones, where Apple and Samsung have taken share from almost all other suppliers. According to NDP Group, in the U.S. market, the largest for high-end smartphones, Apple and Samsung have 68 percent of the market. The rest is divided up among a number of players, including Motorola Mobility, HTC, and Blackberry. While phones use different kinds of chips than PCs or servers, many parts and much of the contract manufacturing is done by the same companies. With more products, Lenovo can squeeze its suppliers harder.

“We will immediately have the opportunity to become a strong global player in the fast-growing mobile space,” Yang Yuanqing, Lenovo’s chief executive, said in a statement. “We are confident that we can bring together the best of both companies to deliver products customers will love and a strong, growing business.”

Away from the United States, Lenovo may be concerned about the rise of the smartphone market in its home country. China’s smartphone market includes, aside from the U.S. players, such local manufacturers as Huawei, ZTE, and Xiaomi. Products from all of these manufacturers are increasingly well-regarded, and have made inroads in several markets outside the U.S. 

“It makes strategic sense for both Google and Lenovo,” said Andrew Costello, a principal at IBB Consulting. “It will give Lenovo a strong brand in the mobile space outside of China that they don’t have today, and it gives them deep operator relationships with AT&T and Verizon. And for Google, they’re able to focus on the services side, which is what they’re best at, and retain the patent holdings.”

Google will receive $660 million in cash, $750 million worth of Lenovo shares and a three year promissory note worth $1.5 billion.

From GigaOm:

When Google bought Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion in 2011, many people said it was all about the patents — and they were right. Now, on news that Google sold the device maker for just $2.9 billion, it’s worth examining if the deal made sense, and what role the patents played.

The short answer is that the deal, including the patent part of it, worked out just fine. A look at the math, and the competitive landscape, shows that the purchase and sale of Motorola made strategic sense for Google, even at that $12.5 billion price tag.

The final outcome of the Motorola deal validates Google’s strategy at a time when most patents are business weapons unrelated to actual innovation. It also provides yet another reminder of how badly America needs patent reform.

Recall that one month before the acquisition, Google’s rivals — including Apple, Microsoft and BlackBerry — had snapped up a coveted patent portfolio at auction, giving them a new stick to pummel Google in a global and ever-sprawling legal battle over smartphones.

The deal, then, gave Google a chance to counter-attack or at least hold its ground thanks to Motorola’s intellectual property, which reportedly amounted to 17,000 issued patents and 7,500 applications. Google has never been a big booster of a patent system that awards patents for inventions like a “method of swinging on a swing” but, given the context, this was a case of if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

Sure, Google bought the company for $12.5 billion and sold it for around $3 billion, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it was a bad deal from a patent perspective. While the spread suggests Google lost its shirt, the amount it will actually spend on Motorola at the end of the day is around $4 billion — and it’s keeping the patents.

The $4 billion figure, as analyst Benedict Evans, the New York Times and Bloomberg noted, results from the fact that Motorola had around $3 billion in cash on hand, and from the $6 billion Google recouped from selling off units of the device maker.

Page’s words are a reminder that while some of the Motorola patents didn’t pan out in court, there are still thousands more of them that Google can unleash at any time, including newly issued ones (recall that Motorola had 7,500 applications at the time of the deal). And, at $4 billion, the price doesn’t appear to be crazy, especially when considering that’s less than the amount that Google rivals paid at auction for the patent portfolio of Nortel (which took place shortly before Google acquired Motorola).

More importantly, the Motorola patents don’t stand alone; they are part of Google’s swelling intellectual property portfolio, which now includes access to Samsung’s patents as well as the rapidly increasing number of patents Google is obtaining internally.

All of this means that Google is in position to wage the smartphone patent wars for years to come. Even if the Motorola patents don’t give it a knock-out victory, the patents will allow Google to inflict incredibly expensive litigation on rivals since, under America’s bloated patent system, it can take years to invalidate even the flimsiest patent.

Fortunately, this may not be Google’s goal. According to a person familiar with the company, Google’s patent partnership with Samsung is part of a larger plan to defuse the patent wars over smartphones, and promote industry-wide cross-licensing deals instead. If this is the case, the $4 billion that Google paid for Motorola’s patent will help give it the necessary strength to promote peace.

At the end of the day, the Motorola patent purchase was a sane response to a patent system that is so irrational that all three branches of the US government are now trying to reform it.

From Bloomberg BusinessWeek (Brad Stone):

It looks like a rare misadventure of Google’s Larry Page era is about to come to an end. Google  says it is selling its Motorola handset business to the Chinese computer maker Lenovo  for around $2.91 billion.
In May 2012, Page, then the newly installed chief executive of Google, acquired the storied handset maker Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion. The company appointed longtime executive Dennis Woodside to the helm of the new subsidiary and talked about using the new hardware arm to push the boundaries of its Android mobile operating system.

But there were two other factors behind the merger that are key to understanding why it unraveled. Google, like so many other companies, had Apple envy—and wanted to exert the same control over design and manufacturing as its Silicon Valley rival has over the iPhone. Google also wanted to get its hands on Motorola’s deep patent portfolio and to neutralize the threats Motorola was making against Google and other members of the Android world.
Google succeeded in avoiding an all-out Android legal apocalypse. But as a way to mimic Apple, acquiring Motorola was a failure. Phones such as the Moto X have not performed spectacularly; at the same time, Google’s ownership of Motorola irritated other handset makers, such as Samsung Electronics.

Chetan Sharma, a mobile analyst, said that Google wanted to relieve so-called channel conflict between Motorola and other big Android manufacturers, such as Samsung. “It didn’t make sense when they acquired them from a product point of view, and it was creating a lot of tensions in the ecosystem.”

Sharma added: “I think they very quickly realized they cannot compete on a global scale with Apple under the Google or Motorola brand.”

Meanwhile, Lenovo is rapidly expanding in the U.S., and in Motorola the Beijing-based company gets a valuable brand in the smartphone world

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Motorola TV photo from http://www.motioncontrolsrobotics.com. Thanks.