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A simple request

This is an update.  The original is the first comment:

Dear Senator/Congressman,

I am writing to you to ask you to do something about phone calls and phone number spoofing.  I believe that this is a real problem that needs to be addressed. I would submit that any number of your constituents would agree. The technology and techniques for addressing this matter exist already.

Recently, I got a couple of phone calls from irate people to complain about calls they received from my phone number.  The thing is, I never placed the calls. It seems that somebody spoofed the calling number, substituting mine for theirs. (I also never called these people back. I believe that would just make things worse.)

When a 911 call center receives a call, they need to get all accurate information about the caller, even if the caller is spoofing the number. When I receive a phone call, I should (at least) know that the number represented on my display is legitimate. I can then decide whether to answer a call from a spoofed number.

I would like to ask you to assist in doing the following:

  1. Ban spoofing.  There is no legitimate reason for an honest person to hide their phone number.
  2. Require originating phone systems to supply origin information.
  3. Permit phone users to see the source information (regardless of origination)

It is technologically possible to do this. Please let me explain.

The old phone system that I grew up with was a switched circuit.  If I made a call across the city or across the country, there was a single circuit – a single pair of wires – making the connection.  The origin and the destination were never in doubt.  This was how phone companies knew how to bill the phone calls.

Today’s systems are no longer circuit-switched.  They are packet-switched.  This is the technology that the internet has enabled. What this means is that the circuit that connects a call at the beginning can switch in the middle of the call and neither party will know this has happened.  When one set of circuits gets overloaded, it can switch to a different route without interrupting calls.  This is a great technology.

Because of this technology, a business might have a phone system and 10, 20, 100 phone numbers, but only one or two physical lines coming into the building.  For this reason, the phone system will report its phone number to the phone company as the call goes out. My primary employer has a system such as this.  It reports two different numbers representing the two plants it services.  This is important, as 911 calls need to be routed correctly.  This is another great technology.

My complaint is this:  Nefarious actors with a bit of software are making phone calls from one city, but reporting false phone numbers, perhaps in another city.  For an example, consider SWATing calls.  It’s not just pranks or telemarketers; it’s causing real, measurable harm.

This can be corrected. EVERY phone call made up of packets (the little pieces of voice that comprise a phone call) contains header information.  This header contains the source of the call and the destination of the call.  Examination of the header should be sufficient to determine if the call is legitimate.

  • If the header indicates that the call is a Verizon landline, the phone number should reflect this.
  • If the header indicates an AT&T Wireless call, the number should correspond to this.
  • And so-on.

Personally, I’m not interested in answering the phone from somebody hiding their real phone number and identity.  It is technologically possible to do this.  What the telephone industry needs is a minimum of guidance to do this.  Something along the lines of “Customers must be able to determine the origination of incoming calls, whether by software or hardware attachment.”

A 911 operator in Pittsburgh should be able to identify a call such as this:  A call from a number that indicates a business.  The phone call is coming from a Greensburg with a phone system that handles calls for 3 locations, one of which is in their 911 call area.  The should KNOW that the number is reported in their area and legitimately comes from another location.

Further, another 911 operator should get a call from a guy holding his family hostage and should see that the number IS spoofed from another city, and the SWAT team should know going in that this is likely a spoofed call.  That kind of tragedy should never happen.

You have my thanks for your attention to this matter.

Finally, thank you for working for us.  Whether I voted for you or not, there are things you do that I approve of, and things I don’t approve of.  Thank you for doing what you think is in our best interests.  After all, that is why you are in your position.  I thank you for that.

Jim Lang
Erie, PA



Running Milestone

I got an email from my friend Mark this morning.  Just wow.

Forty years ago today (March 22, 1978), while a college senior at Alderson-Broaddus College, S. Mark Courtney took “one small step…”  In actuality, that morning he laced up a pair of Chuck Taylor All-Star basketball shoes and ran a mile and a half from his apartment in Morgantown, WV.  His intention was to regain some fitness with a goal of someday running the Boston Marathon.

In those 40 years, Courtney has logged 103,000 miles (over 4 times around the globe) and burned over 10 million calories on the road.  On December 20, 1979, he started a daily running streak of at least one mile a day.  That streak is still alive at almost 14,000 days in a row ranking him 26th on the US American Streakers Association record list.

Not only did Courtney achieve his goal of running the Boston Marathon before the age of 40, he has completed the famed event 38 times in a row, placing him 14th on the active Boston Marathon streaking list.  Fewer than 25 runners have ever run more Bostons, and his average of 2:44:03 for his best 25 Boston Marathons is an unofficial Boston record.  He won the 50-59 age group in 2006 out of almost 3000 division finishers.

His lifetime racing statistics include almost 2000 races, including over 160 marathons and almost 1000 5k’s.  He has recorded over 225 career victories, including 5 marathons.

Courtney owns and operates “Runner’s High” the oldest chip timing company in Pennsylvania.  The  company provides timing services to almost 300 races a year throughout the region.

When the sun comes up tomorrow, it may be sunny, or it may be snowy,  but one thing is for sure.  Mark Courtney will be running.

Amusement Parks

Last weekend the Family & I went to Lego Land in Florida.  It was a long drive, and it wore me out.  But it was completely worth the time & effort to get it done.  I can’t say enough nice things about the people we interacted with or the wonderful beach near St. Petersburg.

It was not as good as it could have been, however.

Lego Land:  Jen had “buy one, get one” coupons for the kids.  Buy an adult admission and a kid gets in for free.  But it didn’t quite work that way.  The tickets Jen bought were the wrong kind to get the kids in.  We had to buy 2 more tickets to get the kids in.  At $90 each.  Strike one.

Lunch was an interesting affair.  I expected to pay too much for lunch.  I did not expect to pay $56 for 4 sandwiches, a salad, 4 bottles of water, and a soda.  The sandwiches alone were 4 times the cost of better sandwiches I can buy at work from the wheel of ptomaine.  The bottles of water were shorty half-pints.  I expect the park to make some money, but not 4X the prices.  Strike two.

The lines were longer than I expected, but that didn’t bother me too much.  What did bother me was that you can buy VIP passes.  For as low as $250/person, you can have priority access to rides.  Line-jumping, for a price.  (High-end line-jumping is $700/person).  Really?  Kiss my butt.  Strike three.

Never again.  And next time we plan a visit to the park, I’m going to find out what the real costs are.  I don’t mind the park making a buck off my visit.  Milking ever last bit is a but much.

Speaking of such visits, I remember a visit to Carowinds on the NC/SC border when I was a kid.  We drove past it on the way down & the way back.  I’ll look into pricing the next time we want a trip.  Right now I can buy tickets for $40/person.  Parking is $15.  The things I remember best:

  • Roller coaster was a blast.
  • Monorail can be used to get around the park.  Makes it possible to get places withouth walking all the way across the park.

And for the best amusement park experience?  Waldameer.  Hands-down.  The following features make it a winner:

  • Free parking.  (Though I don’t mind $10 for a car if the experience is good.)
  • Free entry to the park.  You pay if you want to ride.
  • Great ride prices. $40/person is the highest price, including Water World.  Discounted as low as $20/person.
  • Free picnic areas, or relatively cheap pavilions w/ catering.  (Okay – if you rent the pavilion, you have to use Waldameer if you have it catered.  It IS their park.)
  • Water World – one of the best in the country.  THE best in my opinion.

I’m all for making a buck.  But the experience should be worth the cost.  My worst day at Waldameer (rained out last year) was still better than Lego Land.

How a company performs.

How a company performs is directly dependent on its employees. No matter how good a product, how strong a market, or how great the economy, poor performance by the people that do the work will bring the company down.

On the other hand, a group of happy, productive employees can help a company weather the worst of storms provided it is possible to survive until things improve.

Ownership can have an impact.  A public corporation has stockholders, a board of directors, and management.  Because they are separate, there is a disconnect that can hamper response to adversity.  The owners do not know and work with the employees.  I do not claim that this is either good or bad.  It is merely observed.

Private companies, on the other hand, tend to have a smaller group of owners (or a single owner) who is more likely to be involved in the daily operation of the company.  There is a good possibility that the owners talk to and work with the employees on a regular basis.

Which is better?  It’s hard to say.  The stock market comprises thousands of publicly traded companies, and we use the market to evaluate the economy.  Private companies are not represented there.

A good representation of the economy is GDP, but we don’t talk about it as much.  We just get quarterly reports on GDP growth.

Boy, this sure wandered off track.

I won’t worry about the economy based on the stock market.  It’s not a good indicator.  I want to know about GDP.  Is it going up or down?  My guess is a rise.  It should continue to rise as long as companies (and employees) meet or exceed expectations.

Getting things done.

When I have a lot of things to do (but not a lot of pressure), I tend to wander around. This happens most when there are a lot of distractions and noise.  If it’s quiet, I can usually focus on one thing & get it done.  But Squirrel!  I have two dozen projects in progress. They’ll get done. Eventually. This make Jen nuts, and I’m sorry about that. I’m working on it.

When there is a deadline and I have one or two things to get done, I can focus and get the things done, on time & under budget. It’s a pain in the butt, and makes me short-tempered, but it gets done.

My real problem comes when there are many high-priority tasks that all have to be done right now.  In situations like that, I benefit from somebody telling me “this is first”. That’s the kind of situation you don’t want to see.  I’m short-tempered, distractable, and worried.  I’m not a type-a.

I’m really good at doing the things I do.  I’m not good at making it look pretty.

Skiing with the Kinder

Saturday afternoon I took the kinder over to Harborcreek Community Park for some wildcat-type skiing.  Really, it was just regular skiing, as I’m not coach, and there was not a gaggle of younglings on skis having a blast.  But it was good all the same.  As soon as we got there, Emma’s foot hurt, Grace’s thumb was numb, and Joe was ready & raring to go.  (!!!).  It was probably the fact that Dad was doing it and not the coaches.

Given that it was the community park and not a regular CC ski area, we had to blaze our own trail, which Emma took to right away.  Her siblings alternated between following her (easier) and doing their own trails (more independent).  I brought up the rear so I could yell at them to get up (you know how to get up!).

Grace spent some time complaining about her skis going under the snow while the rest of us seemed to be going on top.  I observed that she was picking up her foot (like walking) instead of just gliding it forward (like CC skiing).  I demonstrated & she imitated and she noticed an immediate improvement.  Coaching.

Joe and I found a nice little hill to go down.  Neither of us are terribly good on skis, so it was a thrill to go down and not fall.  Good things.

Emma stayed a good ways ahead of us, so no story on her.  Well, except that she stayed ahead.

We got 0.51 miles in before they took the skis off & came home.

Sunday, after the race, I had planned to go out again with anyone that wanted to get a couple of miles in.  I stopped at work to take care of a problem for 30 minutes.  When I came out it was pouring rain.  Darn it.

There will be more opportunities.

About blogging

Several years ago I decided I wanted to be a blogger.  Like many things I take up, I got bored with it quickly and simply stopped doing it.  I won’t apologize for that – my personality and tendencies are what define me.

Lately I’ve been posting longer items on Facebook – the kind of thing that you have to click on to read the rest of.  I don’t know that it will be a long-term thing, but it does help me think things through and get in a good mindset for the day.  So I’ll continue.

This will be a little more work – I’ll wind up posting links to the posts on FB & Twitter, which means going through Social Pilot.  I can live with that.  I use SP for the timing and club work in any event.