Housekeeping notes

We just noticed some improvements that Bloogle has made to the blogging platform, such as blog titles. After some trial and error, we've implemented them. A few other improvements are coming, including WMDI tags in the post template, and some legibility adjustments in the comment window. We hope you like them.

A decade of wedded bliss

Barbaloot and I are about to celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary. Our Former Usual Sitter, older sister of our current Usual Sitter, will be playing more Rocky and Bullwinkle DVDs for the kids while Barbaloot, Fetus and I go out for a quiet dinner.

I am thankful every day for Barbaloot and I tell her so.

LC99 of DHMO is 10^6 ppm

The USAF invests more effort in training its personnel for hazardous materials awareness than for first aid. You'll learn plenty about how much water it takes to drown a person (hence the title of this post, which translates to 'the concentration of water in air that is lethal to inhale for 99 percent of typical people is one million parts per million') but you will not learn how to resuscitate that limp, cold buddy of yours, whom you pulled out of floodwater. Instead of a full-blown American Red Cross First Aid certification for all members, airmen receive "Self-Aid and Buddy Care" slideware, lecture, and demonstration. Not First Aid, but Self-Aid. Harrumpf.

Even in my career field, I'm more likely to catch a bullet or break my leg, or have to patch up somebody else's bullet hole or compound fracture, than to cordon off a spilled tanker truck of organic peroxide, n.o.s. Don't get me started on such military essentials as basic marksmanship either---Swen Swenson has covered that, with my two cents thrown in, of course.

We're not calling the no-call list

Our household pays the extra for caller ID on our primary land-line. We invested in phones with caller ID integrated into them. We screen our calls through caller ID to keep out the nuisance telemarketing calls.

Though Barbaloot has been tempted, we have not placed ourselves on the no-call list, either Colorado or National. We would rather keep control at our end (a service implemented at the "edge" of the network) than hand that control over to Leviathan (a regulatory device implemented in the "center" of the network). We would also rather see the telemarketing business model succeed or fail on its own merits, rather than have leave to complain that they'd be successful businesses if the invisible foot of the government hadn't stepped on them.

Two items frustrate our preferred, edge-implemented solution. One is a simple technical item. We want a telephone that can be programmed not to ring if a caller is unidentified. The overwhelming majority of callers we don't want to talk to mask their caller ID. Our phones IFF these calls as "OUT OF AREA" with a number of "Out of Area." We don't answer them. Barbaloot's folks' calls display as OUT OF AREA but their phone number shows.

Those telemarketers who do not mask their identities are at worst dismissed with a polite answer, "thank you for the courtesy of presenting your caller ID. We don't want your service, please remove us from your lists. Bye." Unless, of course, they are offering a service we want. We admit it, we refinanced our home last fall with a mortgage company who cold-called us (caller ID displayed). They've got a right to do business, and we've got a right to do it with them, or choose not to. And we choose not to work with anybody whose caller ID is absent, for whatever reason. Even if we miss out on a negative interest rate or a free python.

Our nifty new mobile phones can be programmed with a caller-specific ring. I've given calls from Barbaloot's mobile number a unique ring. We presume that a software upgrade would enable this phone to "counter-block": if caller ID is absent, the phone can be set to ring with a unique tone, or not ring at all, maybe shunting to the answering machine. I haven't seen land-line phones that are capable of any features like these. Why not? Where are you consumer electronics guys with mobile phone features? Huh? It's just chipsets! Jeebus!

Barbaloot experimented with a value-added service (meaning we had to pay extra to Qwest for it), which played a warning message to callers whose caller ID is blocked. A determined caller could record a spoken name that would ring through so Barbaloot could take or decline the call. The downside of this service is that some of my calls to her from a roaming mobile phone don't present caller ID either. That service didn't last very long. I don't want to pay extra-extra to get full use of a feature for which I pay extra. Implement this feature at the edge, i.e. in equipment I provide for myself, and pay for only once.

The other item that frustrates our edge-implemented solution is not technical. Too many companies have masked their ID, either by intent, or by using PBX or other switchboard gear that doesn't support caller ID (my knowledge of this aspect of telephony is limited, I could be wrong). The real problem comes from those entities with whom we already do business, whose calls we must take. Barbaloot hesitates over the phone now, instead of blithely ignoring OUT OF AREA calls, because our fetus's physician's office's caller ID doesn't display.

My current gig in Colorado (more on that later) identifies itself as US GOVT, even though I'm calling from a base that probably has its own 5E switch instead of a PBX---hmmm, maybe that's why their caller ID works. My peeps in Cheyenne display as OUT OF AREA and I catch them live only if they try to leave a message.

There are few legitimate reasons for an entity to have their caller ID intentionally blocked. A battered spouse's shelter is the classic example---a client of the shelter may have to call the batterer (but under those situations, isn't all communication supposed to go through an attorney?), and caller ID would enable the batterer to tele-abuse or maybe even locate that client. Apart from this reason, I can't coutenance a business or government blocking their identity, even by default.

So we're altering our telephony tactics chez Fûz. I will randomly answer OUT OF AREA callers, just to fsck with them tell them we don't do business with entitiies whose ID is blocked. Our answering system already does this, but our most annoying telemarketers' bulk dialing equipment can sense an answering machine, hang up on it and dial somewhere else, keeping the pitchman busy. Try it sometime: on the next call, take the phone offhook in a quiet room, but don't speak. You'll hear silence for a while, until a live operator is cut over to make the pitch. We consider that rude, to put it mildly. We might also ramp up the preemptive counter-rudeness of our answering system's outgoing message, so telemarketers will hear it before they hang up.

We have no way to gauge the success of this new tactic. "We haven't blocked our caller ID," whines one telemarketer. I tell him I don't believe him, and he needs to inform his manager; then I hang up. "We didn't know our caller ID isn't visible" coos another. I tell her I don't believe her, I consider it rude that a business seeks my money but doesn't release its telephone number, she needs to tell her manager to get it unblocked, and I'm hanging up now. Cocaine dealers leave better means to contact them for future business than telemarketers do.

The next frontier for this tactic is to apply it to companies we visit in meatspace. That topic is for another post, and perhaps a new Web-based activism campaign---ask your favorite businesses to take the Caller ID Pledge! Dis those who refuse, picket and shame those who break their promise!

If government has any role to play in this mess, I'd rather they not establish a no-call list. Such a list implies that numbers not listed on it are "inviting" telemarketing calls, so I expect the volume of such calls to just get worse. The dirty prints of the invisible foot are all over this crime scene. Besides, the marketers have what I consider a valid First Amendment argument against a no-call list.

Generally, the gummint needs to legislate in a way that allows edge-implemented solutions to emerge, instead of requiring centrally-implemented ones. Start by making sure that carriers deliver the full value of my $4.95 per month for caller ID, meaning that I want phone companies to pass that data, even be required by law to pass that data, if the called party is paying to receive it. For those telemarketers using banks of pitchmen offshore, from switches or premises equipment that doesn't generate a caller ID, you're not exempted. At the point where your banks interface to the United States PSTN, you can be required to identify yourselves.

If a telemarketer places calls from a residential line, or a line that's identified as if it were residential (yes, we get them too) maybe the gummint can get involved here, though that will be trickier from a First Amendment standpoint. Caller ID is worthless if the very people who prompted me to order it can duck it.

This is an outgrowth of a distinction I make in an earlier post on licensed concealed carry, and it centers on the status of a business as a "person before the law." I dispute a business's claim to certain rights that an individual enjoys, even though courts have ruled otherwise. Anonymity is one of those rights that an individual should be able to assert under certain circumstances, the right to exclude someone from real property is another; a business's right to anonymity or exclusion should be more circumscribed. Such circumscription should be acceptable in consideration for the limitation of liability that a corporation enjoys ('business' and 'corporation' are used here interchangeably). Of course it will be difficult to circumscribe a corporation's rights without infringing upon those of the individuals employed by the corporation.

In summary, Out of Area ought in most cases to be outlawed. Forget the no-call list.

Update: I almost forgot, but Qwest reminded me one day after this was originally posted: Qwest is one of the Out of Area offenders. They called to offer a cordless phone, which I could pay for through my phone bill. It will be difficult but not impossible to cease doing business with them. I typed up our talking points on how to chew up the a**es of the telemarketers and placed them by the kitchen phone.


Not quickly enough to claim the rattle

Driving home from work (more on that later) this evening, I saw a snake, torn up on the shoulder of the road, clearly dead, deceased, ex-snake. I mentioned it to Firstchild, and she said, "Let's go see it! If it's a rattlesnake, can we bring back the rattle?" She then itemized the things we'd need, such as a knife (the ever-present Gerber EZ-Out) and a Ziploc bag.
Barbaloot's cooking was not going to be ready for another half hour, so we got jackets (temps are falling on the Front Range, y'all) and headed for the van. Boy noticed the commotion and asked where we were going.
"To see a snake?"
"Can I come too?"
Middlechild didn't want to at first, but changed her mind. We left Barbaloot home alone with simmering tomato sauce and drove to Crowfoot Canyon Road. We searched mightily along that hundred-meter stretch but no snake remains. Something must have come to claim him.
Just purchased . . .
Rocky and Bullwinkle's first season on DVD.

Update: Firstborn adores it.
quotation recycling
I would vote against any legislation somebody felt they had to name 'Patriot.'

---Grover Norquist