Put a muzzle on it

In Shameless plug on April 4, 2011 at 11:52 am

The following was scheduled for publication last Friday.  However, “National Politician’s Day” was last Friday and Phyne Dyning ran a tasteless satire instead.

Unlike the Do Not Call list, this works

If you continue to suffer from jangled nerves because your telephone’s incessant ringing with offers of “lower interest rates” or “brief” political surveys, the Phyne Dyner shamelessly plugs the JF Tec Caller ID and Ring Controller.  This is no mere TeleZapper…it WORKS!

Your telephone is that little doggie door through which telemarketers, bill collectors, political pollsters, and nosey survey-takers gain entry to your home.

Once inside, they breathlessly tell you how important their issue is, how necessary their product is, and inflict emotional battery on you so you will rearrange your life in some way to accommodate them.

In a study by scientists, a ringing telephone (even if the called person knows they can ignore it) elicits spikes in cortisol.

Cortisol is that fight/flight hormone our ancestors needed so they could be prepared to either run from a saber-toothed tiger, or whack it with a club.  There is a bit of a trade off with lost reasoning ability when a tiger is chasing you.  We tend not to make rational choices when we are under the influence of cortisol.

In the safety of our homes, the bleeping telephone sets off a hormonal cascade virtually identical to the response we need if we hear a big cat growling behind us in a dark alley.

We irrationally pick up the telephone (hating ourselves for doing it) and cough up whatever information the pollster wants.  A few of us meekly hand over our financial information to the unknown person on the other side of the doggie door.

Some of us fight.

We shout and curse at the intruder, hoping our flailing arms and posture will send the cat scurrying away into the night.  Then, we sheepishly hang up the phone, feeling more than a little silly for our efforts.

We pay for “caller ID”.  We sign up at in a vain hope the rest of the tribe will protect us from the horde gathered on the other side of the doggie door.

Unfortunately, the call centers have adapted with “null set” numbers that show “Out of Area” or “Toll Free” on our caller ID and use “spoofing” to fool us into thinking the call is legitimate.  The feline mob howling at the doggie door knows from experience that the “Do Not Call” list is a cruel government joke and that the tribe’s “protectors” almost never accost their fellow predators.

As a final insult, the big cats spray their mark on our FAX machines with “Free Vacations in Beautiful Orlando” offers.

Two years ago, our ordinary caller ID often logged 25-30 calls per day from telemarketers, irate bill collectors in South Asia looking for “Amy and Justin”, people wanting more/fewer guns on the street, telephonic pan-handlers, and auto warranty flim-flam men.  Shabbat would be upon us when the telephone would summon us with all of the sympathy and understanding of Haman.  The nice person we gave our telephone number to for business had begun to use it in lieu of therapy.

Technology to the rescue!

Installing “smart” caller ID has reduced telephone intrusions to fewer than two per week.  Those two intrusions are handled quietly and discretely, often without us ever knowing about the call.


We installed the JF Tec “Caller ID with Ring Controller” and made a few modifications to its installation.  Toss in a telephone with call blocking capabilities (Why pay the telephone company for this service?) and peace reigned in the tribal compound.

The result is not dissimilar from the little window in the door of a speakeasy, “If I don’t knows ya…yas don’t gets in.”

Here is how it works.

The ring controller has three areas of memory for calling numbers.

The “A” list has full access.  These are people you know and want to hear from.  You simply program the numbers of your own rock stars and posse into the controller and they will have 24/7-access to your telephone.

The “B” list has time-limited access.  Have you ever given someone with a legitimate need for telephone access to your number, and then regretted it when they turned into a pest?  As “B” list guests, you can limit the times these people have access to you.  Kind of like Sam’s Club has “business hours” for business owners and then “regular” hours for the rest of the riff-raff.  So if “Chatty Cathy” tends to call at 11pm when you are about to turn off the lights for the day, you can regulate Cathy to more reasonable hours.  Or, she gets to talk to the robot voice in your answering machine.

The “R” list is your very own “Do Not Fly List” for callers.  These callers never get through.  As an extra moat around my telephone castle, these callers get routed to a second answering machine set to “answer only”.  Once connected, the machine plays a triplicate tone (available as an MP3 file online) that tells robo-callers the line has been disconnected or is out of service.  Persistent human callers get to hear the blaring “off-hook” tone if they hopefully remain on the line “just in case”.

Repeat offenders get moved from the “R” list to the “block call” mode in the primary telephone.

First-time callers are automatically routed to a muted answering machine.  At my leisure, I can go through the callers and decide which list I want them in.  The ring controller has room for almost 300 numbers.  A “spoofed” number might get through to my answering machine once.  After that, they find themselves consigned to the flames of woe on my “R” list.

Best of all, those “null set” callers never get through.  These are those “Out of Area” or “Anonymous” callers who do not send their number data with their call or only send a “null set” number (000-000-0000).  These callers fall into two categories:

The first category belongs to robot callers simply checking to see if your number gets answered by a live human, an answering machine, or is not in service.  If you pick up one of these calls, there is nobody on the line.  There really is nobody there.  It is a robot-dialer calling prospective numbers for human or human-robot attention later.  Just by picking up these “nobody’s there” calls you are saying, “Hi, I’d LOVE to have someone from the Nigerian Lottery call me during dinner.”

The second category belongs to live callers playing a numbers game hoping you are gullible enough to answer their call “just in case it is something important”.  Oddly enough, people pick these calls up.  A few even cough up their financial privacy…which is why this numbers game remains profitable.

Shady bill collectors also use null set calling.  Just as surprising that people will give up their financial privacy up to an unknown caller promising “lower interest rates”, is that a few people will even pay a persistent (but 100% fraudulent) bill collector up to $100 just to make the calls stop.

Perhaps the biggest benefit is the system’s humaneness.  While the companies behind many outbound call centers are barely above criminal, the people working in their call centers are real people.

I would safely bet that a person would rather be the head cage cleaner at “Woodrow’s Wombat Palace” than work in an outbound call center.  These places are employers of last resort for many people.  The pressure on workers in those electronic sweatshops is enormous.  Why subject them to our wrath when we can just humanely silence them?

The system has its limitations.  One of its weakest links is that you cannot program “wild card” prefixes into the R-list (800, 866, 877, etc.).  Most annoying calls come from numbers having toll free prefixes.  It seems the designer would have made blocking them much simpler.

Another weakness is, the system only works with telephones hooked up in series, not in parallel.  However, I was able to exploit the weakness and turn it into a strength by hooking up a second answering machine in parallel to the ring controller.  It added $40 to the cost of my electronic moat around my castle.  I guess a “belt AND suspenders” person could buy a ring controller for every telephone and doing so may be feasible for small business owners.

I put one on my FAX machine.  Now I am missing out on all those wonderful vacation offers and “free” cases of copier toner.  The price of an extra ring controller for your FAX machine will seem cheap if you ever experience a “FAX-attack” (the sent document is 200+ pages of large-font obscenities or a chain letter).

How much does the JF Tec ring controller cost?

From Amazon at around $80.

A final few words in defense of the ring controller in view of some of the harsh reviews of it on Amazon:

The device takes some intellect to set up.  The instructions are written in “Engrish” syntax and seem as cryptic as a tractate of Talmud.  Be patient and tolerant of the device’s design flaws.  Nothing out there is perfect or idiot-proof.  When all else fails, chuck the instructions into the dustbin and improvise.  As in all things difficult, the payoff will be even sweeter in the end.

Here is a bonus for PD readers…

Feeling smug because you have no landline?  Are you getting telemarketing, survey, or beg-a-thon calls on your cell?

Simply create a “Do Not Answer” group in your address book, assign a silent ring tone to the group, and cut-n-paste your pest callers into the “Do Not Answer” group.  One of the essential numbers to put into your pest group is the 000-000-0000 null set.



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