Dear recruiters

Dear job recruiters,

I will never, ever, ever work for AT&T. Not if it’s the last job on Earth, not if I get exclusive use of the corporate jet, not if they paid me a million bucks, not ever.

You may pass your “exciting job opportunity” to someone with lower standards than mine. Thank you, have a nice day.

Cheap Thoughts: phone numbers

Alex didn't need no numbers

This week’s reminder that 10-digit dialing is coming to the Triangle made me wonder why we even use phone numbers anymore. With all the smartphones, voice dialing, and Voice-Over-IP (VoIP) systems in place, having to remember a 10-digit number to call someone seems … quaint.

The VoIP system I have at home can easily handle phone numbers made of digits, of course, but it can also handle calling using a SIP address that looks more like an email address ( In fact, my phone calls can be routed entirely over the Internet, never touching a traditional phone switch (or as they’re known by phone geeks, the “public switched telephone network”).

Imagine having to remember the “dotted quad” IP addresses of all the Internet sites you want to surf. It would be pretty futile, wouldn’t it? Smart people like Jon Postel and Paul Mockapetris dreamed up the Domain Name System (DNS) years ago so humans could remember words ( instead of numbers ( Why haven’t we applied the same thinking to phones by now?

Back in the day, one “dialed” phones by picking up and telling the human operator at your local phone company office who you wanted to talk to (“Ruth, get me Pennsylvania 65000“). There’s no reason now why one couldn’t simply do the same now, only talking to a computer operator. In fact, AT&T actually has some of the best voice-recognition technology of anyone.

It is 2012, almost a hundred and forty years since Alexander Graham Bell patented the first telephone. In this day and age we should be creating fewer phone numbers, not more!

Fallen wires

The tornado that ripped through Raleigh a few weeks ago left much debris and heartbreak for its citizens. It also left a few downed telephone lines, one of which has been lying in the road near my home since the storm struck. I pondered how anyone could find it acceptable for their phone service to be out for over two weeks.

Then I hit upon the answer: no one has landlines anymore.

That copper lying in the street is likely “dead” copper, having long ago beed disconnected in favor of cellphone service or a VoIP connection. AT&T hasn’t been in a hurry to rehang that line because it’s not making any money from it. I wondered how much copper still hanging on those poles is still being used, and if local telephone companies are on a slow march to irrelevance.

Or maybe it’s a quick march.

Internet pioneer Paul Baran dies

Internet pioneer Paul Baran died over the weekend at the age of 84. Baran’s packet switching technique provided the foundation of today’s Internet.

I find it amusing that AT&T told him it would never work.

In the early 1960s, while working at the RAND Corporation in Santa Monica, Calif., Mr. Baran outlined the fundamentals for packaging data into discrete bundles, which he called “message blocks.” The bundles are then sent on various paths around a network and reassembled at their destination. Such a plan is known as “packet switching.”

“Paul wasn’t afraid to go in directions counter to what everyone else thought was the right or only thing to do,” said Vinton Cerf, a vice president at Google who was a colleague and longtime friend of Mr. Baran’s. “AT&T repeatedly said his idea wouldn’t work, and wouldn’t participate in the Arpanet project,” he said.

via Paul Baran, 84, Dies – Helped Pave Way for Internet –

The bunker in the neighborhood

Dranesville AT&T bunker

My friend Craig forwarded me a link to a wonderful collection of information on AT&T’s old “long lines” infrastructure. It made me realize I’ve never told this story.

I’d seen this particular website before. I think a Slashdot story on AT&T putting up the old microwave towers for sale prompted me to do some Google searches, after which I spent a lot of time looking through this stuff.

I’ve found this map particularly interesting. I used to live in Northern Virginia near to the non-incorporated area known as Dranesville. You can see many of these routes converging at Dranesville. At the time I was intimately familiar with the phone phreaking technologies, possibly the only thing that Apple-cofounder Steve Wozniak and I have in common. Figuring out how the phone system worked was a fun challenge.
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Sen. Hoyle tries to block municipal internet

Sen. David Hoyle (D-Gaston)

Remember the battles against the big telecoms in the state to keep the cities’ right to own and operate their own Internet service? It’s time for round three, courtesy of Sen. David Hoyle (D-Gaston). He’s pushing a bill, S.1209 (the so-called “No Nonvoted Debt for Competing System” Act), that will hamstring North Carolina municipal Internet projects into using only general obligation bonds. Not only will this hurt municipal Internet projects, it will prevent initiatives such as Google’s 1 Gb fiber Internet. Bye bye, Google Fiber!

Previous attempts by Time Warner Cable, AT&T, CenturyLink (Embarq), and others tried to make the case that municipal Internet should not use taxpayer money. Now they’re saying these systems should use only taxpayer money, not the revenue bonds that they currently use. I think it shows their real motive is to block competition, sewing up Internet for themselves. With governments sidelined, they will be free to impose caps on Internet service, killing competition from video services such as NetFlix. The public loses.
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876-561-5492 and 876-559-3893

I got two mystery calls to my mobile phone today, one from 876-561-5492 and another from 876-559-3893. I didn’t answer either one, but I suppose that’s not the point of the calls. The point is for me to see that I missed the calls and attempt to call them back!

You see, the 876 area code isn’t an American area code, but a Jamaican one. Calls to Jamaica, even with my dirt-cheap VoIP calling plan, are $0.26 per minute! So some unsuspecting person sees that they missed a call from an 876 number, calls it back, and gets strung along during the call, thinking that they’re paying domestic rates while all along they’re paying through the teeth for the call.

AT&T has a nice page that discusses 876 area code calls. Read it and take its advice: don’t call back numbers you don’t know.

Google acquires Gizmo5


Word came out today that Google acquired the VoIP company Gizmo5. Gizmo5 offers VoIP calling similar to Skype only Gizmo5 uses open standards.

Gizmo5’s service was tightly integrated with GrandCentral, the web-based phone organizer, so that Gizmo5 was the only way to turn an incoming call to a GrandCentral number into an incoming VoIP call to Asterisk or another SIP device. Once Google bought GrandCentral and rebranded it Google Voice it was really no surprise that Google might soon snatch up Gizmo5.

This is the second big payout for Gizmo5 CEO Michael Robertson. Robertson made a fortune early on when he parlayed his MP3.COM domain name into a business he later sold to Vivendi Universal for $372 million. Congrats, Michael!

Update 13 Nov 2009: Oh, and one other important point. Continue reading

Free the tubes

Andy Kessler wrote an insightful piece on the stifling state of communications in America, called Why AT&T Killed Google Voice.

Apple has an exclusive deal with AT&T in the U.S., stirring up rumors that AT&T was the one behind Apple rejecting Google Voice. How could AT&T not object? AT&T clings to the old business of charging for voice calls in minutes. It takes not much more than 10 kilobits per second of data to handle voice. In a world of megabit per-second connections, that’s nothing—hence Google’s proposal to offer voice calls for no cost and heap on features galore.

What this episode really uncovers is that AT&T is dying. AT&T is dragging down the rest of us by overcharging us for voice calls and stifling innovation in a mobile data market critical to the U.S. economy.

Kessler mentions that people will one day buy their TV by the show and not the network, which is the same thing I’ve been saying. Packets are packets, and we don’t need monopoly-owned pipes anymore, whether they be real like AT&T or virtual like Apple’s iTunes. It’s time to crank the data networks wide open!


For the longest time, AT&T/Cingular was the only GSM cellphone carrier available in North Carolina. The only other major GSM carrier in the U.S. is T-Mobile, but the only way you could use T-Mobile here was to order a phone (and phone number) in a neighboring state and use it in roaming mode here. I hoped for T-Mobile as their rates were significantly cheaper than Cingular’s.

A billboard told me T-Mobile now offers service here in North Carolina, which is great. I believe they bought SunCom when AT&T bought all of Cingular.

While I’m happy with my super-cheap pay-per-use mobile plan, I’m glad there is now some GSM competition here in North Carolina.