Sunday, August 11, 2013

Anonymous Cowards - Thank You!

It seems that people have become so complacent with regards to their internet usage, that they feel they can somehow hide behind their computer screens or cell phones and believe they remain "anonymous" because they do not leave their name, phone number, email address, or other personally identifiable information. However, in this day and age, even the most basic and simplistic website has  tools to track user activity and where such activity originated from. One does not need a subpoena or warrant signed by a judge...or any police involvement whatsoever. Quite simply, we leave digital footprint everywhere we go online. All of your internet activity can be traced back to your computer or phone...or to your IP address at a minimum.

Why am I wasting my time writing this nonsense? Well, it has come time to terminate my site. There are people that are determined to make my life miserable. Since they have not succeeded with their hurtful emails, Facebook messages, text messages, and blog comments, they have decided to start harassing my family and girlfriend.

A line was crossed a few weeks ago. Not only did I suffer the loss of my father on July 12, but the next morning I awoke to another hurtful and ridiculous message. The following Friday, hours after the funeral, I received a similar message through this website. I know who the people were and did not confront them directly, but merely passed along what they said to my girlfriend (since the messages originated from her friends and her family). I did not instigate these attacks. I have never responded to any of the messages over the years. I simply delete and move on with my life. However, it has become clear they will not cease. While, in these two specific instances, the individuals "felt awful" and were very "sorry" and "apologetic" though their sentiments were sent via proxy (my girlfriend) and were never sent directly to me. At least I have the moral and testicular fortitude to apologize to people I have wronged or hurt directly and not sent some disingenuous apology via proxy.

This site will remain dormant going-forward, which is a shame. It was a wonderful outlet for me to write about various topics of interest and to write about things I am strongly opinionated and passionate about. It helped me through a very difficult time in my life as an avenue of expression. I am by no means an artist or professional writer, but I always felt some sense of accomplishment as the creative process was somehow...cathartic. I could have written under a pseudonym but chose to write under my real name. I would have removed this website completely, however I average about 500 users a day that read some of my legal and technology posts for advice and my opinions on antiquated laws. I will leave it online for an undetermined amount of time. This will likely be the last post.

Thank you to those that went out of their way to interfere in my life and my relationships and hurt those around me by making them unhappy. Thank you to those who thought they they "knew what was best"  not only me, but for my girlfriend as well. Rest assured, our relationship is over...and it is a shame. It ended not for the reasons you think. In fact, if those that were interfering actually knew the truth, they would be saddened to know what actually transpired and how it ended today. They would be shocked and realize I am genuinely a good guy that supported, loved, cared for, and gave happiness to her unconditionally. So I thank you, anonymous cowards...who somehow consider yourselves "friends" of hers.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

CVS is refusing my VALID prescriptions. Is this LEGAL?

CVS Pharmacy Refuses To Fill My Prescriptions
My local CVS Pharmacy refuses to fill my valid/legitimate prescriptions
Last month, I went to my local neighborhood CVS and proceeded to the pharmacy to leave some prescriptions to be filled. There was nothing different on this day. After handing the pharmacy technician my drivers license and confirmed a few identity questions, she located me in the computer and I confirmed by insurance had not changed. I have been using this particular location for a little over two years. I also have used another CVS location, which is in the same state, as it was more convenient when I was at work in Boston. The pharmacists, pharmacy techs, and PIC (pharmacist in-charge) all knew me, or at least my name and medical history. The pharmacy tech said she wanted to verify that she had the medication and quantity in stock and went behind the counter to verify the medication and quantity. She returned after a moment and confirmed they had the medications and quantity available and that she did not need to order any. Every few months or so, they would have low inventory and would have to order the medication for me. She said it would be about fifteen minutes and I decided to wait.

A few moments later, the pharmacist called me up to the register. I commented that he filled that much faster than anticipated. He then said he was unable to fill any of the prescriptions that I had dropped off. I thought it was a joke at first, but he was quite serious. He said that there was an "error" message on their computer system and that the "corporate office" said to "refuse" and "do not fill" prescriptions from my doctor. Now, I would understand their hesitation to fill certain prescriptions if I were perhaps unknown to this pharmacist or CVS... but I have been frequenting that location for over two years and have used many CVS locations in the last ten years (during college and while I was living in different towns throughout my career). I must have had a quizzical look on my face because he apologized profusely. I asked if it was perhaps an insurance issue or if I should call my health insurance or prescription benefits company? He said "No, Chris. There is no issue with your insurance. You're not refilling too soon or anything...and when I entered your prescription information, your health insurance approved the medications so we would get paid." At this point, I was literally scratching my head. Had I done something wrong?

I asked the pharmacist if he thought it was a "fraudulent" or "invalid" prescription or if he felt uncomfortable filling the medications because of something I had done or said? Again he said, "Chris, it's not you. I would fill these for you without any issue. Your prescriptions are valid and are verified. I even telephoned the doctor to confirm once I received this error. Your insurance approved them but the corporate lockout says I cannot fill them. I cannot do an override. I might loose my job..."

CVS Refuses to fill prescriptions
I did not want to push the issue...quite frankly, I was starting to become embarrassed as other CVS patrons could overhear the conversation. I inquired if I could pay "cash" and again he said that my insurance wasn't the problem. He suggested I try another pharmacy, but not another CVS since this is a company-wide decision from the corporate office. He handed the prescriptions back to me and again apologized. Before I left the pharmacy counter he said, "If you have another physician write the prescriptions, I will gladly fill them. The computer will not accept his NPI or DEA number. I specially ordered one of your medications and you are my only patient on it...and it is very costly so I hope you come back so I can fill them!"

That was a kick in the pants. Two of the medications are 'scheduled' or 'controlled' substances. The other two prescriptions were not. I have previously written about the absurdity of medication prices and insurance versus cash prices. A 28 day supply of one of the medications is about $1,800. The other medication costs around $1,200 and is only 9 tablets. The other two aren't as much, though they are quite expensive considering I receive generics.

I felt as if I had been accused of someone making "fake" prescriptions or trying to refill too early. I felt I had done something wrong. I've never done anything of that sort in the past. I never asked for "early refills" and have always been open and honest with my physicians. I have never "doctor shopped" or done anything remotely wrong. I left the pharmacy and telephoned my doctor.  I spoke to his assistant and then his nurse. She said they were aware of the troubles with CVS, since other patients had alerted her to the same problem. She suggested I change pharmacies and to call her back and let her know which pharmacy I change to so she could update my medical file.

Switch Pharmacies from CVS
I have switched pharmacies and decided to support a local pharmacy, not a national chain retail pharmacy. Is it the most convenient option for me? No. Do I feel better supporting a "mom & pop" business? Absolutely. I only question the legality or liability that CVS is incurring by refusing to fill prescriptions by a few selected physicians. Just for clarification, I took the same four prescriptions that I presented at my local CVS to the pharmacy I switched to and there were no issues. I found this pharmacy through a friend that knows the owners. The new pharmacy and pharmacist(s) were a bit skeptical when I brought those same four prescriptions to them, however I said they were free to verify them and I even brought a copy of my prescription history from the last two years. I am sure they could access this information through the Massachusetts Online Prescription Management Program, but I felt it would be to my benefit to include it. The pharmacist did call and verify the prescriptions and processed them through my insurance without any issue. He had to order one of the medications, as he had no other patients currently taking it and it is a fairly new medication. A few days later the order arrived and I was able to pickup the remainder of my prescriptions. I have since transferred all of my prescriptions to them and have found better service. Although I knew the pharmacists and staff at my local CVS and had built a rapport with them, I am happier supporting the local business and know that I am not just a number to them and they truly value my business.

So is what CVS did legal? I do not believe it is. When I telephoned my local pharmacy to speak to the pharmacy manager or PIC, I was told that "we will not fill any prescriptions from that physician because there is a DEA investigation and he is going to jail." I laughed on the phone and inquired if she was joking. Apparently, she was not joking as she hung-up on me. I telephoned my physician again and after speaking to his nurse, I was able to speak to him. I reiterated what the CVS pharmacy manager had told me and before I could even finish her words he interrupted me with a very weary sigh. He said there was no investigation or anything involving law enforcement nor the DEA. He said they were likely referencing a lawsuit and fine from the US Department of Labor from five or six years ago (I was aware of this fine and lawsuit since I assisted him with some accounting matters in his defense from the allegations back in 2008). He apologized for any issue, but he cannot control CVS' corporate policy and suggested I use a different pharmacy. I explained I had switched to another local pharmacy and we spoke briefly about other news and politics before ending the call.

Still, I was curious. I performed some additional due diligence and found that there were no issues with his NPI or DEA numbers/licenses. I contacted the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine and found his license was in good standing. There were no malpractice claims or criminal/civil charges or lawsuits pending or in the past. The final step I completed was calling the local Boston field office of the DEA. Though I was transferred around a few times on the phone, I finally spoke to an agent there that could not officially confirm nor deny any ongoing investigation against my doctor, but unofficially said there was not. He then asked if I was a patient of the doctor and if I wished to file a complaint or if there is anything that he should be aware of. Since there was nothing for me to report, I explained that I was a patient but had nothing to report other than good things about him and his medical practice. The DEA agent said that if there was an investigation, typically their DEA number and license would be suspended pending the outcome of the investigation. Since my doctor's license was still in good-standing and his DEA number active, it doesn't seem to support CVS' claims.

I spoke to the Board of Pharmacy Registration in Massachusetts and they directed me to their website where I could file a complaint. I'm not certain that is the route I intend to go, but I'm not certain if their practice is discriminatory or illegal. Since my prescriptions are valid, were executed properly by my physician, were approved by my health insurance provider, and they met all federal and state guidelines...does the pharmacist have the right to refuse to fill the medication? Rather in my case, does the corporate office of a retail pharmacy chain have the right to refuse a prescription, even though the pharmacist at their store would have filled it if there were not some sort of computer block citing an internal corporate memo to "refuse prescriptions from a specific physician" though the physician is in good standing with all regulating agencies and the customer's insurance approved the medication that he has been taking for years? I'm not sure they can. I was told by CVS customer service that "a pharmacist works under their own private license and reserves the right to refuse to fill for any reason." They seem to contradict themselves here. If the pharmacist in my local store was indeed free and able to work under his own license and has the ability to permit or deny prescriptions, then why is the corporate office mandating that their pharmacists not fill prescriptions from a particular physician? To clarify, I am speaking about refusing all prescriptions from a particular physician...not only controlled or scheduled substances.

My calls to the CVS Caremark corporate offices have not been returned. I have called nearly a dozen times and have left messages with different persons and departments asking for an explanation. I was transferred to disconnected extensions and mailboxes. I was given non-working phone numbers to call. The last person I contacted today was their corporate communications director, Danielle Marcus. I have not received a return call or email. I was provided with the contact information for CVS Caremark's assist communications director, Caitlin O'Donnell. I telephoned and emailed her as well and have not yet received a reply.

I believe there is a greater issue at hand here. It would be very odd if CVS had a vendetta or some sort of negative predisposition against my physician... it is simply illogical. I suspect CVS has similar "do not fill" corporate policies or memos regarding other physicians, but I have not confirmed this yet. I will post supplemental information if and/or when I am contacted by CVS corporate communications department and will post other information as I work through the discovery process. Feedback and comments are appreciated and you may do so below.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Is The Post Office Spying On You?

The USPS takes pictures of every piece of mail processed in the United States — 160 billion last year — and keeps them on hand for up to a month.
In an interview, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe said the photos of the exterior of mail pieces are used primarily for the sorting process, but they are available for law enforcement, if requested.
The images are generally stored for between a week and 30 days and then disposed of, he said. Keeping the images for those periods may be necessary to ensure delivery accuracy, for forwarding mail or making sure that the proper postage was paid, he said.
"Law enforcement has requested a couple of times if there's any way we could figure out where something came from," he said. "And we've done a little bit of that in the ricin attacks."
The automated mail tracking program was created after the deadly anthrax attacks in 2001 so the Postal Service could more easily track hazardous substances and keep people safe, Donahoe said.
"We've got a process in place that pretty much outlines, in any specific facility, the path that mail goes through," he said. "So if anything ever happens, God forbid, we would be able very quickly to track back to see what building it was in, what machines it was on, that type of thing. That's the intent of the whole program."
Processing machines take photographs so software can read the images to create a barcode that is stamped on the mail to show where and when it was processed, and where it will be delivered, Donahoe said.
The Mail Isolation Control and Tracking program was cited by the FBI on June 7 in an affidavit that was part of the investigation into who was behind threatening, ricin-tainted letters sent to Obama and Bloomberg. The program "photographs and captures an image of every piece of mail that is processed," the affidavit by an FBI agent said.
Mail from the same mailbox tends to get clumped together in the same batch, so that can help investigators track where a particular item was mailed from to possibly identify the sender.
"We've used (the Mail Isolation Control and Tracking program) to sort the mail for years," Donahoe said, "and when law enforcement asked us, 'Hey, is there any way you can figure out where this came from?' we were able to use that imaging."

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Bernard Britt of Plymouth Obituary

Bernard Britt
BRITT, Bernard J. Of Plymouth, Beloved husband of Anne (Gaffney). Father of Thomas P. Britt and his wife Margaret of Dover, Christopher J. Britt of Plymouth and Robert T. Britt and his wife Rose of Lunenburg. Grandfather of Ryan, Caitlin, Aidan, Robert and Adam. Relatives and friends are invited to attend a Funeral Mass in St. Patrick's Church, 71 Central St, Stoneham on Friday, July 19 at 10 a.m. At the request of the family there are no calling hours. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Bernard's name to the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation, 72 River Park St, Ste. 202, Needham, MA 02494. Bernard was past treasurer and board member of the Plymouth Philharmonic, retired partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers and served his country in the US Army during the Korean War. Arrangements by the Cota Funeral Home, 335 Park St, NORTH READING, 978-664-4340. 

Friday, July 5, 2013

"The Terminal" - Remake! Starring Edward Snowden!

Edward Snowden vs. Tom Hanks
The Terminal - Life is waiting.
The Terminal was an American film released in 2004. It was directed by Steven Spielberg and starred Tom Hanks and Catherine Zeta-Jones. It is essentially about a man who becomes trapped in a New York City airport terminal when he is denied entry into the US and cannot return home due to political reasons in his home country. The movie's concept was originally conceived from the true story of Mehran Karimi Nasseri, an Iranian refugee that spent seventeen years living in Terminal 1 inside the Charles de Gaulle International Airport in Paris, France.

Since today is my birthday, and I have some free time on my hands this morning, I will begin to construct my Kickstarter project where I either remake the original 2004 movie release or perhaps create a sequel. I will be sure to keep updates posted here and will provide a formal link to the Kickstarter campaign. Perhaps I can offer various incentives to those who back the film like Zach Braff did? I don't have the same Hollywood connections as he does, but I do have a unique working knowledge of the position that Snowden put himself in... How much longer do you think Snowden can continue to live on Starbucks and Au Bon Pain? Airport food is expensive, even factoring the Russian Rubles and his financial ties to the US have been severed, along with his passport and citizenship (most likely)... This may be a more interesting 128 minute film than the original.

More to come!

"Snowed In" at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport

NSA leaker Edward Snowden has reportedly sought asylum in 21 countries, aiming to gain protection against US prosecutors. But eleven nations have already rejected the whistleblower's requests, leaving him trapped in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport. The US has voided Snowden’s passport, making it impossible for him to leave the transit zone in Russia.
John Kiriakou
John Kiriakou - a former CIA agent
According to Wikileaks, Snowden has received outright rejections from five countries: Finland, Brazil, Poland, India, and Germany. Spain, Norway, Italy, Ecuador, and Austria have as well rejected Snowden’s applications, stating that asylum requests cannot be granted unless the applicant is already inside the country. Italy also stated that Snowden’s application was made via fax, which is not allowed. France has also rejected Snowden’s application for asylum, saying that police would have to arrest the whistleblower if he entered the country, due to the US extradition request. Other nations have yet to respond to Snowden’s asylum requests. Those countries include Bolivia, China, Cuba,  Iceland, Ireland, Netherlands, Nicaragua, and Switzerland. Despite Wikileaks' claim that Snowden has, in fact, sought asylum in China, Beijing said on Tuesday that it is not aware of the request. France has also denied receiving a request in the past. 
He is now the subject of an open letter of support just published from behind bars by John Kiriakou, a former CIA agent currently serving time for sharing state secrets.

In a letter dated June 13 and published Tuesday by Firedoglake, the imprisoned CIA vet salutes Snowden for his recent disclosures of classified documents detailing some of the vast surveillance programs operated by the United States’ National Security Agency.
Thank you for your revelations of government wrongdoing over the past week,” Kiriakou writes. “You have done the country a great public service.”
I know that it feels like the weight of the world is on your shoulders right now, but as Americans begin to realize that we are devolving into a police state, with the loss of civil liberties that entails, they will see your actions for what they are: heroic.”
Photograph by Kin Cheung/AP Photo
Photograph by Kin Cheung/AP Photo
A banner supporting Snowden in Hong Kong's business district
Beginning with the June 6 publication of a dragnet court order demanding the phone data of millions of Americans, The Guardian newspaper has released a collection of leaked documents attributed to Snowden for which the US government has charged him with espionage. He is reportedly now hiding in a Moscow airport and has sought asylum from no fewer than 20 countries to avoid prosecution in the US. Should he be sent home and forced to stand trial, however, Snowden will likely find himself in a peculiar position that the former Central Intelligence Agency analyst can most certainly relate to: Kiriakou is currently serving a 36-month sentence at the Loretto, Pennsylvania federal prison for revealing the identity of a covert CIA agent to reporters.
Before Kiriakou pleaded guilty to one count of passing classified information to the media last year, the government charged him under the Espionage Act of 1917. He has equated the prosecution as retaliation for his own past actions, saying the charge wasn’t the result of outing a secret agent but over exposing truths about the George W. Bush administration’s use of waterboarding as an interrogation tool in the post-9/11 war on terror. As in the case of Snowden, Kiriakou’s supporters have hailed him as a whistleblower. As the government sings a very different song, though, the CIA analyst offers advice to Snowden in what is the second of his “Letters from Loretto” published by Firedoglake since Kiriakou’s two-and-a-half-year sentence began earlier this spring.
First, find the best national security attorneys money can buy,” writes Kiriakou. “I was blessed to be represented by legal titans and, although I was forced to take a plea in the end, the shortness of my sentence is a testament to their expertise.”

Second, establish a website that your supporters can follow your case, get your side of the story and, most importantly, make donations to support your defense.” 
Kiriakou goes on to encourage Snowden toward garnering support within members of Congress and other institutions capable of calling attention to his case, such as the American Civil Liberties Union. Before he concludes, however, he bestows on Snowden what he calls “the most important advice I can offer.”
DO NOT, under any circumstances, cooperate with the FBI,” Kiriakou warns. “FBI agents will lie, trick and deceive you. They will twist your words and play on your patriotism to entrap you. They will pretend to be people they are not — supporters, well-wishers and friends — all the while wearing wires to record your out-of-context statements to use against you. The FBI is the enemy; it’s a part of the problem, not the solution.”
I wish you the very best of luck,” Kiriakou writes before signing off. “I hope you can get to Iceland quickly and safely. There you will find a people and a government who care about the freedoms that we hold dear and for which our forefathers and veterans fought and died.”
NSA Headquarters Fort Meade Maryland
Aerial View of NSA Headquarters
When Snowden first revealed himself to be the source of the leaked documents last month, murmurings quickly began circulating of Iceland possibly extending his way an offer of asylum. The list of countries asked to consider his request reportedly now exceeds 20, and the likes of Ecuador, Bolivia, Cuba and Switzerland have all been floated as options. As Firedoglake’s Kevin Gosztola recalls, though, the Federal Bureau of Investigation likely won’t rule out dirty tricks to try and take down Snowden before he escapes, at least if Kiriakou’s experiences are any indication.
According to Kiriakou, the FBI also tried to set him up,” Gosztola writes. He goes on to cite a January 2013 interview in which the CIA whistleblower recounted a previously untold story about the government’s alleged efforts to indict Kiriakou on even more charges.
In the summer of 2010, a foreign intelligence officer offered me cash in exchange for classified information,” Kiriakou said. “I turned down the pitch and I immediately reported it to the FBI. So, the FBI asked me to take the guy out to lunch and to ask him what information he wanted and how much information he was willing to give me for it.”
After the lunch, I wrote a long memo to the FBI — and I did this four or five times. It turns out – and we only learned this three or four weeks ago – there never was a foreign intelligence officer. It was an FBI agent pretending to be an intelligence officer and they were trying to set me up on an Espionage Act charge but I repeatedly reported the contact so I foiled them in their effort to set me up.”
Kiriakou is one of eight Americans charged under that World War One-era legislation by President Barack Obama, who has prosecuted more people under that law that all previous leaders combined. Snowden became the latest US citizen to have their name added to that list and joins the likes of WikiLeaks source Bradley Manning and NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake. In a question-and-answer session hosted by The Guardian last month, Snowden celebrated those men as “examples of how overly-harsh responses to public-interest whistle-blowing only escalate the scale, scope and skill involved in future disclosures.”
Citizens with a conscience are not going to ignore wrong-doing simply because they'll be destroyed for it: the conscience forbids it. Instead, these draconian responses simply build better whistleblowers. If the Obama administration responds with an even harsher hand against me, they can be assured that they'll soon find themselves facing an equally harsh public response,” Snowden said.
In his first statement since entering Moscow more than a week ago, Snowden published a note through WikiLeaks on Monday dismissing the White House’s hunt for leakers, calling their tactics deceptive, unjust and “bad tools of political aggression.”
“In the end the Obama administration is not afraid of whistleblowers like me, Bradley Manning or Thomas Drake. We are stateless, imprisoned or powerless. No, the Obama administration is afraid of you. It is afraid of an informed, angry public demanding the constitutional government it was promised — and it should be,” Snowden wrote. 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

AARP vs Verizon Landline Service in New York

The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) is voicing its concerns over Verizon’s proposal to replace wireline networks in portions of New York and surrounding areas. In the wake of Hurricane Sandy and the damage that it caused to Verizon’s copper landlines, the service provider plans to turn off those networks in the western portion of Fire Island and some New Jersey Barrier communities, and replace it with wireless Voice Link technology.

AARP is arguing that the proposal Verizon filed with the New York Public Service Commission is too broad and could lead to more widespread shutdowns of Verizon’s wireline services. State director for AARP in New York Beth Finkel said in a statement, "Under the cover of Sandy, this push by Verizon could well work towards advancing the company's corporate strategy of steering customers towards more expensive services, but that doesn't match up to protecting the needs and interests of consumers."

AARP’s primary concerns over the switch to Voice Link include compatibility issues with Life Alert and security systems, the possibility of premature and widespread abandonment of wireline services, limitation of Internet service options for Voice Link customers and the end of access to services like collect calling and “0” dial-in access for operators.

In response, Verizon spokesman John Bonomo said, “As usual, the AARP is crying wolf. Instead of the dire possibilities it suggests, Verizon Voice Link is a robust solution that provides more reliable voice service to customers who have experienced lingering or intermittent wireline service issues. Voice Link uses our tried and true wireless network, which stands up well in emergency situations and which millions of people use millions of times each day. Decades-old copper wiring is far more prone to failure during weather emergencies, unlike advanced wireless networks.”

Bonomo said that Verizon will maintain the copper network where it makes customer service and business sense to do so, adding that the vast majority of Verizon copper customers have no issues at all with their service.

In a guest editorial on Stop the Cap, Tom Maguire, Verizon’s senior vice president of network operations support, said Verizon’s research showed that 80 percent of the voice traffic on Fire Island is already wireless. He argued that the estimated $4.8-$6 million cost to rebuild the network there doesn’t make economic sense without no guarantee that customers will subscribe to it. Maguire admitted that Voice Link doesn’t support data but said that Verizon is working to change that. He added that Voice Link was never intended for customers who subscribe to DSL and that Verizon remains committed to repairing copper whenever a DSL customer’s service is interrupted.

However, I question: What about the taxes, universal service fees, and other telecommunications charges that are added to our home, business, and wireless phones each month? Part of those fees help subsidize and support E-911 for emergency personnel and our local/state/federal government... But don't some of those taxes/fees/surcharges go to the telecommunications company, like Verizon, directly to help build and maintain the network infrastructure in incidences such as this? Those fees go directly to support telephone companies' efforts to provide access to the network in all areas of the country, even rural areas as mandated by the FCC. But since major companies like Verizon and AT&T are trying to force consumers in rural areas off the older and more expensive copper networks and on to a digital or wireless solution, wouldn't that free up additional funds to help subsidize or support this endeavor to fix and repair the damage done by the hurricane? Food for thought...
Voice Link is © 2013 Verizon

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Copper Landline Phones vs Digital FIOS / Internet Landline Phones

For several days after Hurricane Sandy, many people struggled to make contact with the outside world. For most people their wireless service failed, rendering their cellphones useless. They also lost power, causing their Internet-based landline to go dead.
But just a few miles away, some individuals, had no problems communicating. They could make and receive calls during the power outage because they still rely on an old form of technology: a corded telephone that runs on copper wires.
The divide beween those people after the storm illustrates one of the major concerns with the reliability of the new telecommunications infrastructure. Phone companies are phasing out their aging copper-line networks and moving customers to either wireless service or landline phones that run over the Internet. But the newer technology relies on something that didn't exist for days across the Northeast: electricity. After the storm, some found that their phones worked only because copper wires carried electricity from the phone companies' offices known as switches or exchanges.
"This storm highlighted that you might want to think twice about removing copper because it provides an alternative source of access," said Christopher White, an attorney with the New Jersey Division of the Rate Counsel, which represents consumers on utility issues.
Phone companies dismiss notions that their old copper networks are more reliable. They say copper lines can be disrupted by falling trees or poles, or get damaged by heavy flooding. Verizon said its newer fiber-optic cables are less vulnerable to water damage.
Phone companies are also trying to get out of their obligation to provide landline phone service in rural areas by saying rural customers can rely on high-speed wireless instead. By freeing themselves from regulations, AT&T and Verizon would no longer need to maintain their aging copper networks. But Hurricane Sandy exposed how vulnerable wireless networks can be in severe weather. After the storm, about a third of all cell phone towers were knocked offline and thousands of wireless customers lost service. 
AT&T has announced to phase out its old, copper-line phone system -- which covers 76 million homes and business in 22 states -- and replace it with a fiber-optic broadband network or high-speed wireless. Verizon has similar plans to abandon its old phone network and move customers to wireless or digital phone service.
"We are not repairing the copper anymore," Fran Shammo, Verizon's executive vice president and chief financial officer, said at an investor conference in August.
On Friday, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski said the power outages gave the commission "new lessons to learn" about making phone service more reliable after hurricanes, though he did not say whether the agency would introduce new regulations.
Verizon customers who rely on web-based landlines to make calls have eight hours of backup battery power before the lines go dead. Most home consumers use cordless phones that run on electricity, so they could not have made calls during a power outage even if the company still used the old copper system. He suggested that customers use portable generators to keep their phone service running if they lose electricity. The other option is to simply aquire one of the "older" phones that we were accustom to in the 1980's and 1990's that were corded and were not wireless, require a electricity at a base station and a battery on the phone. You can go to Target, Walmart, or RadioShack today and purchase one of these corded telephones for around $5... if you want a CALLER ID display on the corded phone, the corded phone typically costs $10. But in an emergency, would you really care? I have always suggested that people have a basic corded or wired telephone in their emergency kits... even if you have a new digital landline like FIOS from Verizon, Xfinity Voice from Comcast, or VOIP from AT&T/Vonage/Omma etc, you can still connect the wired or corded phone to your digital connection in an emergency as those devices have battery-backup support for around 8 hours after the power goes out.
AT&T, which has 2.7 million digital phone customers, says their customers are responsible for ensuring the backup batteries for their digital landlines, which last for four hours, are operating.
Recent customers have said they recently switched from an old corded phone to Verizon's digital phone service. They said the old phone worked the last time there was a power outage, and they wished they had it last week after the storm. There are others, however, that insist they remain on the old copper network connection...and with good reason!
A great example is Marilyn Askin, 79, of Monroe Township, N.J., as said she never switched to Verizon's digital phone service because she wanted to ensure she could make a phone call if there was an emergency and she lost electricity. After Hurricane Sandy knocked out power in her neighborhood for several days, Askin said her corded telephone kept working, allowing her to contact family and friends. 
The corded phone remained operational because Verizon's copper landline service to her house remained powered. Often phone companies have backup power generators connected to the local exchange or switch (which connects your home to the network via copper wire). They also have backup batteries in place, so that if a generator fails, there will be additional backup battery support for an additional, though not infinite  amount of time. But as for a large-scale disaster? Once the batteries run out of power at the phone company's switch/exchange and the backup generator fails as it consumes all the fuel powering it, even your older or "safer" copper landline will eventually stop working and fail.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Police Can Search Your Cell Phone When They Arrest You

Yes my friends, our fourth amendment rights are being continuously trounced upon time and time again, as we blindly stumble along the fine line of personal privacy versus law enforcement. It almost feels Orwellian...and perhaps he may have only been a half-century premature. The California Supreme court says it’s OK for police to search the cell phones of people they arrest. Cops don’t need to get a search warrant first. This and related cases raise serious law enforcement and data privacy issues. I suppose this adds more fodder for the privacy experts out there that urge us to not only password protect our phones, but to encrypt our data as well to add an extra layer of protection! At leasrt if your data is encrypted, it would likely cause the police or other agency increased effort and time to decode and gain access to the data on your device. 

In legal world, time is money. The more time and manpower the police or prosecution allocates to decoding your cellphone or computer, the less manpower and time they have to allocate or use for their other cases. Granted, it is taxpayer dollars at work, which present another quandary, but I believe that over time the police and/or prosecution will be less likely to spend the aforementioned time and resources on every case. For example, if everyone encrypts their phones and computers, it becomes more difficult for them to retrieve the data to even determine if it is relevant for prosecution, indictment, or even if a case exists altogether. Furthermore, I suspect that law enforcement will eventually grow tired of spending countless hours and resources decrypting photos of "Fluffy" and "Fido" (the family pets) from your cellphone or computer while looking for criminal activity. This correlates directly to the bottom line: literally! If law enforcement (local, state, or federal) spend more time and resources trying to decrypt our cellphones and computers in an attempt to find us "guilty" of something, but instead find nothing but cute photos of fluffy, not only will they grow frustrated and tire of it... they will exhaust their budget doing so. That is why I am asking for some sort of oversight or for people to stand up for their rights. If this continues and remains unchecked by some sort of oversight committee, when the Feds exhaust their budget decrypting our electronic devices and exhaust their budget (thank you Sequestration 2013), I suppose they will simply vote a spending increase in DHS spending; ultimately coming out of the tax payer's coffer. Increased taxes for all... Hooray!

It seems likely that if we standup for our rights and remain vigilant, we can send a clear message that these invasions of privacy shall not tolerated. We should not remain apathetic, and bury our head's in the sand, while we remain indifferent to invasions of our privacy and our personal data by law enforcement under the guise of protection from the 'criminal' element. The Fourth Amendment in The United States Bill of Rights provides and outlines protection from unreasonable search and seizures. Now that the California Supreme Court has set precedence and essentially made it legal for police to confiscate, unlock, decrypt, open up, read your texts, see your contacts, view your calls, and look at all your photos and more; all without needing a judge to sign a search warrant. The police officer simply has to have probable cause to arrest you. One you are under arrest, your cell phone is now fair game. I wonder if that also applies to other electronic devices like laptop, iPad, or Tablet PC? It is even likely in an extreme circumstance that a police officer could do all of the aforementioned things, simply because you jaywalked across the street. State codes vary and most are a misdemeanor, but watch out! Once you are arrested, anything on your person or in your vehicle is fair game. Don't believe me? Just ask any number of New York City residents who are harassed by the city's "Stop & Frisk" program. It permits officers to do just as the title suggests. As long as the officer "reasonably suspects" that the individual has committed, is committing, or is likely going to commit a felony or major-misdemeanor crime. I suppose that simply boils down to racial profiling at its best.

Please, do not misunderstand me. I have the utmost respect for law enforcement officers as they put their lives on the line each and every day and often receive little or no respect for it. I acknowledge that they are simply enforcing the laws set forth by the state and federal legislators. While that is not an excuse for overzealously enforcing or selectively enforcing laws, I believe the officers themselves should speak up if they agree with us. 

What if the situation were reversed and they were not law enforcement or sworn peace officers? I have heard those very same officers (and other friends/family of mine) say that "they had nothing to hide on their phones..." But what about that one photo or text message you thought you deleted? What about certain late-night phone calls or phonebook entry in your 'little black book' that isn't anyone's business but yours? I still argue, though, even if you had done nothing wrong and had nothing to hide in your phone in terms of photos, calls, or texts... you still are leaving digital footprints everywhere you go now. 

This map  depicts data collected from an anonymous iPhone 4 in the UK,
Even with location services and the device's GPS turned off, a cellular or wireless device transmits small packets of data with the device's relative (and sometimes exact) location every few seconds. This was practically unheard of before the discovery in early 2011 that Apple's iPhone 4 had a security leak that documented a phone's longitude and latitude with a corresponding timestamp. It saved this data into a fairly unknown or innocuous file on the phone and then uploaded it when synchronized with Apple iTunes on their computer. Once the security issue was made public, it went viral. A third party developer created a program that would extract the data from the file stored on the iPhone and on the computer that it synchronized with and then plot all the points or "digital breadcrumbs" left behind on the owner' iPhone's journey. The larger the expanse and size of the plots corresponds to the increase of frequency and duration at any given location [shown above]. It was extracted from a relatively short amount of time from an anonymous user's iPhone 4. 

The aforementioned security issue was traced back to iPhone 4 models that performed an OS upgrade in June 2010. Apple made corrections on a later OS update and did attempt to clarify that the data was "aggregated" for "performance" and "functionality" issues for future updates... But does anyone really know what Apple did with all that data? It has been my observation that iPhone users are so loyal to their devices, that they would have them surgically implanted if possible. Suffice it to say, one could deduce that since they rarely parted with their beloved iPhone, Apple had an exact location of that person's whereabouts for every waking and sleeping moment of that individual...assuming the phone was powered on. A person's every movement from when they first powered up their new iPhone 4 until the alleged upgrade that "corrected" the reporting issue. So what exactly did Apple do with all that data that was uniquely identifiable and tied back to that person's Apple ID. Google did something equally as questionable in 2009 with the introduction of Latitude in Google Maps...though they were a bit more public about how one was sharing their location data and with who.

This is for you, Milton.
Alas, I have gone astray with privacy issues. Back to the point: now that we leave digital footprints or breadcrumbs, either knowingly or unknowingly, according to the precedence set by the Supreme Court of California, the police could use that information against you to find you guilty of a crime. Is it really that much of a leap of faith or stretch of the imagination? Hypothetically, what if there were robberies in an office building and the police find a way to arrest you (even for a misdemeanor in some states and circumstances) and they seize your phone and export the data. You could have been near the building or in the building where it occurred, but it doesn't look good for you circumstantially; even if you had never stolen a pen or pencil from the office supplies (I am partial toRed Swingline Staplers shown on the left) closet. Your handy electronic gadget has now made you guilty, circumstantially of course. This is only one of hundreds of examples. Where does it end?

Here are some heartwarming facts that I will leave you with...I warned you!

  • In 2011, Police Agencies requested over 1.3 million cell phone records, according to self-reported data to Congress from US Mobile Phone Carriers.
    • Is anyone else concerned with the company "self-reporting" these numbers to Congress? Are we to believe everything we are told without verification? I mean, Enron told Congress that everything was kosher while their accounting books were so hot they would often spontaneously combust.
    • It is unclear what percentage of those records were provided with or without properly executed warrants.
  • According to an AP report, AT&T created a special team of 100 employees whose only purpose is to process law enforcement requests for cellphone records and data. According to the report, AT&T handled over 250,000 requests last year alone.
  • Sprint handled nearly twice that amount by processing approximately 500,000 data and phone record requests from law enforcement.
  • It appears that US Cellular plans to turn the information and records request from law enforcement into a profitable service. They have established a "self-service" system for law enforcement that charges them $25 to locate a US Cellular phone via GPS for $25, a report of all text messages on a phone for $25, and for $50 law enforcement will be given all activity surrounding a given tower.

Yes, I acknowledge that the laws are still gray and ambiguous from county to county and state to state, but isn't there some sort of judicial oversight (Department of Justice... Congress? Supreme Court? State Legislators?) or perhaps a federal commission that administers telecom law (Federal Communications Commission?) that serve to protect the public? I recall the FCC overstepping their authority with regards to Janet Jackson's "Wardrobe Malfunction" and I also recall the FCC pole-vaulting past their authority when censoring and subjecting Howard Stern to ridiculous  and unimaginable fines... but where are they now? I firmly believe protecting the public's privacy is a far more important legal issue and fundamental right and expectation to protect than ensuring Miss Jackson's nipple is covered and Howard's farts are 'bleeped' off the air... When will it end? Perhaps we will only appreciate the privacy we once had, once we realize it has been systematically taken from us...

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Lingering Adolescence

Adolescence, derived from the Latin word adolescere meaning "to grow up", is defined as a transitional stage of physical and psychological development...generally occurring during the period from puberty to 'legal' adulthood. For argument's sake, let's say it generally begins when one first attends high school and likely finishes when one is near completion of undergraduate studies at college (though the departure from the collegiate lifestyle often brings about its own set of changes like adolescence and forces one to adjust or acclimate to the "real world" per se). That is what I intend to explore; instances where adolescence lingers and adulthood has yet to fully coalesce. 

For instance, when a bright and athletic girl graduates from a prestigious East Coast college, moves in with friends to share an apartment after graduation, accepts a position at an established scientific research firm, but yet she somehow struggles with and stumbles through her newfound adulthood. Things seem to be going well for her. After a year or so at the research firm, working in a sales capacity, she decides to pursue a different avenue and joins a different company...incidentally, it is a more lucrative sales position. She dates and has a boyfriend. She spends time with her friends, the same group from high school and college, and spends time with her roommates. She maintains a long-distance relationship with her boyfriend for some time. They eventually dissolve their relationship and after some time passes, she begins a new relationship with another man, who incidentally works at the same company where she is employed at the time. 

He receives a transfer to another city and she contemplates relocating with him. She's now in her mid-twenties, only graduating from college a couple of years ago. It is a fairly big decision to contemplate. Should she leave the only people she has ever known and called friends or family behind? It is not as if she is relocating across the globe... Rather, it would potentially be an hour flight or perhaps a five or six hour drive. Her lease is up at the apartment she and her girlfriends share. Not everyone is certain they will renew their lease as her friends have begun or have been in relationships and are considering living alone or with their boyfriends. The timing seems impeccable... but it was not meant to be. 

Prior to making the move, their relationship dissolves for one reason or another. Instead of moving out of state or renewing the lease with her girlfriends, she finds herself newly single and moves back to her family home where she was raised. Fortunately, she is able to continue her employment without issue as the commute is not that difficult. She does not remain working at that company much longer and seeks out employment at a different company in a similar capacity. It makes sense at the time. Breaking up with someone you worked with can be embarrassing, even if they now work out of another office. After all, she's still technically in her mid-twenties and "job-hopping" is acceptable when one is first starting out...or at least when one is in their early or mid twenties after college, right?

Her new position is very demanding, stressful, and detrimental to her ego and self-esteem. She cries at and after work often, though always in private. However, she is determined to stick it out and make the best of it. She works in sales in a startup company that has the potential to open up a lot of doors and opportunities further down the road... but she has to find a way to keep her sanity while managing to appease one of the most demanding bosses that parallels or mirrors the likes of Miranda Priestly in the novel The Devil Wears Prada. She manages the emotional and psychological abuse from her employer as best as she can. During this tumultuous time she still resides at her family home and commutes daily. Part of the joy in her life is being able to see her mother on a daily basis and spend time with her. She is the youngest of four and shares a special bond with her mother, being the only girl. They share an almost obligate symbiotic relationship...  

Despite the trials and tribulations that her career throws her way, she battles another war at home: the war on cancer. Her mother has been quietly fighting the good fight and while she has relied on her daughter's emotional support during her pervasive medical treatment, the girl relies on similar emotional support, guidance, and friendship from her mother. After extensive medical treatment, her mother eventually finds herself in remission. No more cancer. No more invasive treatments, medications, and hospital visits. However, due to the girl's preoccupation surrounding her best friend's cancer (her mother) and facing the fact that she almost died, her work suffers. The "Miranda Priestly" like boss that the girl is practically enslaved to, eventually tires of the girl's worry and preoccupation with her mother's ailments. Her boyfriend tries to be supportive but is unsure how to help. He comedically nicknames her "Cinderella" after the Disney movie, since she has assumed all household duties in addition to aiding her mother's medically with minimal support or recognition from her family. He feels guilty when taking her our for an evening for dinner or a movie, though he knows she needs time away to clear her head. She has taken significant time to takeover household duties and ends up sleeping very little. She takes time off from work when she can... but unfortunately FMLA (United States Department of Labor Family Medical Leave Act) does not apply to secure or protect her job, since she is not yet vested. 

In essence, if she had either remained employed at her prior company (despite the embarrassing boyfriend breakup situation and possible HR issues, though she was in the "right" in this instance) or been employed by her current company for 12 months or more, she could invoke FMLA protection and take time off to care for her mother without the fear of loosing her job after exhausting her accrued vacation or paid time off. You see the girl is very emotionally sensitive. It is difficult for her to hide the sadness she feels. It is difficult to remain strong when you almost lost your best friend, confidant, and mother so young due to cancer. Yes, there were days when she came in on a Monday morning still hungover from weekend antics... but what twenty-something has not experienced that? Again, she is still in her mid-twenties and yet, has experienced vastly more than many her own age. The good news? Her mother is in remission. The bad news? Her boss terminates her and she looses her job.

It ultimately was a blessing in disguise for her. She no longer lived in constant fear of her mother's health or imminent demise. She also no longer feared the wrath of her boss and no longer had to work 55+ hours a week. She decides to join her boyfriend, who she had been dating for about a year, at his lake house about an hour or so away from the childhood home where she resided. It began as spending the late spring enjoying the lake. Spring turned into summer. It continued as the seasons changed and they stayed to watch the leaves turn to gold and fall to the ground. They stayed for the first snowfall and made occasional trips home to their families for the respective holidays. They returned to watch the first snowfall and stayed to skate on the frozen lake and venture to the mountains to ski. The two of them made the occasionally used lake house into a real home. Her boyfriend worked from home and consulted for a few local businesses in town. She found part-time work in the town working at a restaurant. It was idyllic. She applied for and was later offered a teaching position, which was splendid. Since her background was in education, though she had never pursued it previously as a career, she found a new appreciation and desire to teach. They stayed to watch the tress and flowers bloom while the mountains turned green once again. There was no stress or worry like she and her boyfriend had experienced in the past, though it would inevitably come knocking.

Both she and her boyfriend needed to return to their childhood homes after spending a year or so away. Her mother's cancer had returned. His father had had serious complications from surgery and had developed dementia, Alzheimer's disease, Chrohn's disease, and a myriad of other health issues where he was unable to care for himself and maintain his independence. After a tremendous fight with cancer, her mother passed away 6 months after they both returned home respectively. The girl's world was shattered. Both she and he lived separately. They both resided at their respective childhood residences, left to pick up the pieces and try to move on with their lives; both together and independently. Now in their late twenties and approaching thirty, they both wondered where to begin, how to rebuild, and what to do next.

The once bright and exuberant girl became unmoored after the death of her mother. Adolescence was gone, yet adulthood had yet to fully coalesce. She remained stuck...unable to move. She was paralyzed. There is a grace period for grieving...and it came and went; passing her by and leaving her behind. It became pathological. It is like when adolescents are growing up in their twenties: there's an acceptable time when being a mess is charming, interesting, and fun. Then, inevitably, one hits their late twenties and what was once considered charming is now considered obsolete and juvenile. People lose respect for you. They grow tired of you and your issues or baggage. They tire of your sadness and excuses. They begin to wonder why you are the last to grow-up, take responsibility, and move forward with your life.

These are the same people that she formed as her new family or friends when heading off to college. Those relationships and friends typically carry you into your twenties. And then suddenly, when people start coupling off in a very serious way, or choosing selfish things over the group, and if you aren't there yet and making the same 'selfish' decisions, it is devastatingly traumatic. Why? Quite simply because you are watching the people around you make decisions for themselves and what they need, as opposed to what the group is doing or wants and you watch them move forward with their lives while you remain behind.

One's peers have moved on with their lives and you're stuck in that post-adolescence / pre-adulthood persona... the last of the Mohicans. This was her. Her friends were not dealing with grief, sadness, depression, and death. Instead they were engaged, getting promoted, becoming married, and having their first child. Her girlfriends had not lost that special bond with their mothers, let alone lost their mothers to disease altogether. Her friends had no idea what was on the horizon for them in their own lives, as she explored this unknown territory seemingly alone. Her own biological family and siblings even turned on her, failing to understand the depths of the disease of depression and offering little patience. This was the tipping point for her.

Which brings me to my point. We rarely ever know when we are doing something for the very last time. We just know when it is over... kind of like our adolescence.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Switching Your iPhone To T-Mobile? Think twice.

Photo Courtesy of Associated Press. iPhone™ Apple Inc. T-Mobile™ Deutsche Telekom AG
Thinking of brining your current or old iPhone to T-Mobile? I suggest you think again...

Normally I do not involve myself in such trivial musings, however T-Mobile has become rather aggressive with its slanderous media campaign primarily against AT&T. I'm not even going to go into detail about their bogus so-called "bandwidth" television commercials involving various zombies, icemen, and otherwise 'slow' or 'behind-the-times' characters. I mean seriously, does anyone actually believe that T-Mobile "4G" allegedly has 50% more bandwidth than AT&T? Did T-Mobile forget that they have only recently begun implementing HSPA+ increased backhaul? Perhaps they did.  They rolled HSPA+ increased backhaul much later than AT&T...and only in small and limited areas. T-Mobile has very limited 4G-LTE availability only in a few select markets and is hoping to launch additional markets in late May or June 2013. But I digress... Thanks to a variety of reasons, you probably won't want to bring your iPhone over to T-Mobile's network (even despite the discounted monthly rates).

The biggest issue with porting an AT&T iPhone 5 (and various other phones/makes/models of smartphones including the iPhone 4) to T-Mobile is compatibility with the T-Mobile network. They have been working very quickly to "upgrade" the network across the country to support the frequencies used by the AT&T iPhone. However, until that is completed, the phone you bring over to T-Mobile will be limited to the slower 2G EDGE (or HSPA+ if you are lucky) and won't work with T-Mobile's faster 42Mbps HSPA+ network. For example, if you currently have an AT&T iPhone 5 and cancel your service and have your iPhone 5 unlocked (preferably prior to terminating service with AT&T), your phone would only be compatible with T-Mobile's slower 21Mbps HSPA+ network in about 50 cities across the country and only a handful of cities that support T-Mobile's LTE coverage. If you are not in the handful of cities with T-Mobile LTE nor the aforementioned 50 cities with their slower 21Mbps HSPA+, you will be forced to skip 3G altogether and end up using T-Mobile's 2G EDGE service on the rest of their network footprint. Doesn't sound so good after all, does it?

Want to switch your Sprint of Verizon iPhone 5? You're in the same boat as the other customers that are limited to the 21Mbps HSPA+ network in those 50 cities... and you will also be out of luck in T-Mobile's LTE markets as well, as your Sprint or Verizon iPhone 5 just doesn't support T-Mobile's version of LTE. Have a Sprint of Verizon iPhone 3 or iPhone 4? Those won't work at all. The only solution? Buy an iPhone 5 from T-Mobile directly and you will have access to their 42Mbps HSPA+ network, the 21Mbps HSPA+ network, and the LTE network where available. According to Apple, they will not be upgrading current units to be fully compatible with T-Mobile's network... The upgrade will only apply to new iPhones sold after April 2013 for T-Mobile's network.

The reason for this rant? Truth in advertising... I do not wach much television but I become very upset when I see these advertisements from T-Mobile that are clearly manipulating some outdated study and are duping people out of their hard-earned money. If I honestly thought it was a good buy for consumers and that consumers would be happy after they "jumped ship" from AT&T, I wouldn't say a thing... I only write this because of the year and a half I spent in wireless sales... and no, I am not simply an AT&T loyalist: I just call it like I see it and let the facts speak for themselves. 

iPhone™is a registered trademark of Apple Inc. T-Mobile™ is a registered trademark of Deutsche Telekom AG