Write Lightning is a blog from writer Deb Thompson.
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Fri, Oct 01 2004

Name Dropping

Solano County has a new elections manager. But Deborah Seiler is not really new to elections work. She spent several years working elections in the secretary of state's office. It's what she did between these two positions that makes this such an interesting story.

posted at: 15:44 | category: /Politics | link to this entry

Mil Mi-38 Helicopter

Isn't it cute? Of course, the real one won't be cute at all, but will instead be a hard-working transporter.

posted at: 13:42 | category: /Miscellaneous | link to this entry

Pandora's Phone

I confess to being late in the fray with this, but I'd been hearing rumors of a new service called Star 38, which some say is intended only for bill collectors and police investigators. But when you go to the website, its main page doesn't look as though it's geared toward anyone so professional. (That's only my opinion.) I've also heard that Jason Jepson (who I don't know personally and have nothing personal against), started the business and then quickly decided to sell it because he was harrassed and threatened over the whole business concept. I thought maybe it was people concerned about getting calls from spoofed numbers who were angry at Mr. Jepson, but last month Engadget (and others) said it was the discreet hackers who really got upset. Others have also expressed their discomfort.

Being the type I am, I decided to hunt for a bit more information before making too many comments, so I went to the search engines and began putting in some key words. I pulled up several stories and mentions of the whole caller ID spoofing issue. I kept seeing the founder of Star 38's name on some other sites, including one for Home Loan Center, which is based in Southern California. Is this the same Jason Jepson? It sounds to me as though it is. I'm not saying one company is directly associated with another, but maybe Mr. Jepson thought the whole concept of letting bill collectors spoof a phone number would help companies such as Home Loan Center get a foot in the door when people defaulted on their loan payments.

Other people have apparently been experimenting with this same sort of redirection for quite awhile. I'm not sure if the hackers were upset because Mr. Jepson wanted to make a profit off the information or because he made their practices more publicly known. I understand that he also works in public relations. This has to be either a publicist's worst nightmare or a dream come true.

Aside from the spoofing issue, I've always wondered about the money the phone companies make from Caller ID. Since technology already existed to present Caller ID, or Caller Number Identification, as it's also called, why did we have to pay for it in the first place? The phone company always knew what number a call originated from. Otherwise, they couldn't have billed the calling number. The first racket was the phone company selling us information they'd had all along, and marketing it to us as a shiny, brand new service. That's pretty clever marketing. They also had to provide a blocking service for Caller ID, in order to allow people assistance with privacy. When it comes to technology, what can be done, can usually be undone. Might it also follow that a technology that could show Caller ID, or not, could also mask, change, or even back-direct, the originating number? If folks are hacking to do this sort of thing already, that must be so.

Now that the cat's out of the bag, I wonder how long it will be before the phone companies figure out they missed their chance to get in on the ground floor, and they decide to get in on this whole service. The possibilities for technological hide-and-seek are limitless. If a technology exists at all, someone is already planning to exploit it. Should the holding provider of a technology be the first to profit from that technology, and from any subsequent exploitation of that technology? And might existing phone companies sue someone like Jason Jepson for trying to profit from the use of exploitive technology that was based on the phone companies' own Caller Number Identification technology, even if they didn't think of marketing the exploitation first?

The FCC has been just as lost in space as I am on some of the details of modern phone protocol. They've been taking information and comments to try to figure out how to make the rules work for those who use adaptive phone technology. I don't think they're up-to-speed on this whole matter, and that concerns me, because they're the ones who are supposed to be the regulators. Is the budget crunch so bad that we've got to send in our tax money and then turn around and do all the research free for the FCC, so that they can make rules and regulations that we'll all just get angry about later?

Then there's the whole issue of the FCC not regulating intrastate calls. So I went off to look at our own California Public Utilities Commission site, but couldn't really find very much having to do with Caller ID except general advisories such as this one. In fact, if you go to their Current Issues section, you'll see that their main focus right now is not on phone companies at all, but on electricty.

I guess we could give up all this fun and go back to beating on logs or using 2 tin cans and a string. But the truth is, most of us are willing to put up with a few risks, in order to enjoy technological speed and quality. In the process, we all get to examine the ethics and morals of invention and exploitation.

posted at: 11:54 | category: /Miscellaneous | link to this entry

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Stealin' copy is as bad as horse-thievin'
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such varmints when they least expect it!