Friday, January 30, 2015


He wears the uniform
But is he an employee?


WHILE MCDONALD FRANCHISES are the subject of the article at , the REAL issue is


Does the franchise holder who hired the person employ the person (fairly obviously, "yes") or does the franchise holder who hired the person AND the corporation that franchised its name ALSO employ the person.

In other words, was my son who once worked at a chain hamburger joint employed ONLY by the owner of the particular store OR was my son employed by the owner of the particular store AND the corporation that sold its name to the owner of the particular store.

How much responsibility does a trucking company have if a contract driver, using his own tractor to pull a trailer owned by still another company have if the driver falls asleep at the wheel and crashes into someone? In this case, is the trucking company no more than a broker, and even if it is, what is its liability?

If the Orkin man fails to debug the property or the Culligan man's water is less than crystal clear, who's to blame? Orkin or the franchisee; Culligan or the franchisee?

That's a question, in various forms, being asked across the 50 states.

IN CALIFORNIA, for example, the the state's supreme court last year ultimately ruled in favor of Domino's Pizza, saying it was not a joint employer along with its franchise operators.

On the other hand, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)

  • In a yet-to-be-decided case, the NLRB questions whether a waste management company is an employer along with its subcontractors
  • In December, the NLRB decided to authorize complaints against both franchise operators and the McDonald's parent company, alleging retaliation against employees who participated in protests demanding $15-per-hour wages.

According to the article, Even though the McDonald's case was a preliminary decision, it was considered a big win for labor-rights advocates.

Bottom line: Right now it seems to depend upon jurisdiction.
But whose jurisdiction?

The California case was intrastate; the NLRB tries to set rules for interstate activities.

Which raises another question: If an action is against an inTERstate organization, e.g., McDonalds, can an action ALSO be brought in the state where the condition occurred? Double jeopardy?

The article ends by noting The broader question of what, exactly, is an "employer" could even affect the relationships between, for example, retailers and suppliers, as well as employers and staffing agencies. Settling this question could be a years-long process, and decisions could differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

To the non-legal mind, this seems destined for the Supremes.

In the meantime, it behooves risk management practitioners to raise the issue with corporate legal counsel or, in the absence of such counsel, with management responsible for franchise and vendor relations.

I once took a couple of Business Law courses and one thing I vividly recall is the instructor, a lawyer, impressing us with the idea that "courts don't like unwritten agreements" or, by extension, arguments over things not included in a contract.

But your employer's legal counsel knows that. Doesn't it?

Wednesday, January 28, 2015


Risk management
Is a risky business



In a Wall Street Journal article heded New York-Area Officials Take Hit on Closing Roads, Trains the folks charged with the public's welfare are castigated by the media for figuratively yelling "the sky is falling" in predicting a super storm that would close roads and interrupt power.

While it DID dump snow measured in feet - not inches - elsewhere, the folks in Manhattan were spared everything but a slight inconvenience.

Not satisfied with escaping the storm that, again, dumped feet of snow on other communities in the northeast, Manhattanites whine that the risk management warnings and the related inconveniences were unnecessary.

AP photo via screen capture

The reaction is no surprise to most risk management professionals, and certainly not to emergency management types who work for communities along the Hurricane Coasts (Gulf and southeastern Atlantic coast states).

You can lead a horse to water . . .

I suppose it is human nature to "push back" against any recommendation that would cause us to DO something or to expend capital to take measures to mitigate a threat.

More than once in my risk management career I created Part 2 of a Risk Management Plan (Part 1 being defining with management exactly what is to be included) only to have management decide not to continue to Part 3, the mitigation/training/maintenance phase.

Recommendations based on Part 2 research are presented to management, usually with several options ranging from threat avoidance to efficient recovery suggestions.

Management wanted to know the threats and it wanted to know how to avoid or mitigate the threats, but it wasn't willing to DO anything based on the ostrich mentality: "It can't happen to me."

This mentality is as prevalent in government and non-profit organizations as it is in commercial and industrial organizations.

South Florida, where I hang my hat, is prone to hurricanes. Even though we have been spared any hurricanes for a number of years, installing hurricane shutters (or "bullet proof" glass) is a major selling point for both long-time residents and newcomers as well. (Fortunately, insurance companies - in an effort to protect their shareholders' earnings - insist that all structures meet relevant [to the construction date] building codes. Until Andrew many building codes were ignored; the Cat 5 storm changed that.)

South Floridians still tend to stock up on non-perishables during hurricane "season" but as time passes without any major storms, the population is becoming more complacent and lackadaisical about hurricane prep.

Am I surprised at the Manhattanites' whining? No.

Would I be surprised if the next time a storm is predicted many locals will ignore the warning? No.

Will I be surprised if a super storm DOES hit and the locals are forced to survive on peanut butter - sans jelly and bread - and then complain about the city's services? No and no again.

I don't know about the northeast, but I know that from Virginia - I once lived in Herndon and Norfolk VA - south, state and municipal governments make a serious effort to provide "How to survive a weather disaster" information.

But, to repeat myself, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink."

Sunday, January 25, 2015


Tell fire department
What’s inside building


THE OTHER DAY a fire destroyed a warehouse that contained propane tanks.

The firefighters "discovered" the propane containers when they heard the "hiss" of escaping gas.

Actually, escaping gas is a good thing; it usually means the cylinder won't explode spraying shrapnel all over the place and releasing a fiery cloud of gas.


The fire department - in fact ALL first responders - firefighter, police, EMTs - need to know

  1. What hazardous materials are inside a structure
  2. Where those hazardous materials are stored
  3. How to deal with the hazardous materials

All hazardous materials come with - or should come with - a material safety data sheet (MSDS), a safety data sheet (SDS), or a product safety data sheet (PSDS).

PVC Hazardous Data Sheet
Click on image to enlarge

Most companies that store large quantities of dangerous materials - such as the chemical plants near Charleston WV and the air bag company near Lakeland FL (Type A explosives) have at least annual exercises with the local fire brigade.

This assures that in the event of an accident, the responders know how to attack the issue - water vs. foam vs. letting something burn out - and what special Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) is needed.

The exercises also test the organization's ability to account for all its personnel who might have been in the accident area.

    This accountability procedure or process should be part of every exercise that requires evacuations and can be accomplished in a number of different ways, depending on the organization and the accident.

Organizations do NOT need to have large quantities of hazardous materials on hand - a couple of tanks of propane, some materials that emit a noxious and dangerous gas when damaged (by fire or mishandling). Consider

  • Batteries
  • Cleaning solutions and rags
  • Fertilizer
  • Gasoline containers
  • Paint and related chemicals
  • Propane and methane
  • Tires

Most of the above can be found in homes as well as business sites.

I don't know of ANY jurisdiction that charges for a fire marshal's inspection, nor do I know of any jurisdiction that charges to participate in an organization's annual exercise.

It is a win-win for all concerned, but unless its an enforced law that organizations invite emergency responders to visit and make safety inspections and recommendations, organizations should take it upon themselves to invite emergency responders - fire, police, and paramedics - to acquaint themselves with the properties and any hazardous materials.

Having an annual evacuation exercise in conjunction with local emergency personnel should be part of every risk management plan; besides, it's just good business.

And while you are inviting emergency responders to visit, consider inviting a risk expert from your insurance carrier; you might find ways to lower insurance costs by lowering risks.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

MLK Jr Day in Miami

Anarchy reigns
As cops cower


Miami cops' bosses tell officers to let anarchists rule the roads and threaten motorists; "If you try to stop someone and they run, let them go."

Great news for criminals; bad news for crime victims.

On January 19, in celebration of the Dr. Martin Luther King Junior national holiday, hundreds of blacks terrorized motorists on the streets of Miami and surrounding communities while the police, under orders from On High, impotently watched.

In a well-publicized Bikes Up, Guns Down social media promoted event black bikers from south Florida and elsewhere rode trail bikes and three and four-wheeled ATVs on major roadways, including one of the local interstates.

Bikers risk lives, threaten others on major highway. (Screen capture)

And the people sworn to protect ALL citizens did nothing.

Never mind that the bikers were riding against traffic, never mind that they blew through intersections against the lights, never mind that they were "popping wheelies" and risking control of their vehicles.

It was a new high in lows for Miami.

I understand why cops are told not to pursue a fugitive; a chase could end up injuring or killing an innocent bystander.

But I cannot comprehend why the cops failed to corral these miscreants before more than two people (both bikers) were slightly injured.

Are the chiefs of police in south Florida stupid? Do they lack imagination? Are they cowards? Or, are they "all of the above?"

The bikers claimed they were celebrating ML King day - would the civil rights activist condone such behavior? - and demonstrating against gun violence, or at least black-on-black shootings, a situation all too common in Miami; it's like Atlanta or Washington D.C. South.

OK, police chases have been ruled out. Given the congestion on Miami's streets and the maneuverability of the bikes vs. police cars, there was no way the cops could have chased down the bikers.

Miami HAS motorcycle cops, but the way a California gang treated a California Highway Patrol motorcycle cop, Miami's finest probably were, understandably, not willing to risk their lives.

BUT the cops could have and should have put a stop to the anarchists' takeover of the street with no risk to innocent bystanders and little risk to those charged with protecting law abiding citizens.

Every kid who ever watched an old Western movie - the kind where the cowboy kisses the horse instead of the girl - knows how to "box" in the bad guys; chase them into a box canyon.

Admittedly, there are no "box canyons" in south Florida; at least none with a major road leading into it.

Still, the cops - with their SWAT armored vehicles, helicopters, and fleet of marked and unmarked vehicles - could have created a box canyon had anyone near the top of the command chain considered the possibility.

If the wheels on the ground were insufficient, call in the local fire brigades with their long ladder trucks.

Line intersecting roads with police vehicles to prevent the bikers from turning right or left off the main roadway. Let the roadway be clear in front, at least until the majority of the bikers have committed themselves.

Then place the armored vehicles and fire trucks across the main road.

A box canyon has been created and the bikers are trapped inside.

At one point some of the bikers stopped to refill gas tanks. The cops ignored them. (Did they pay for the fuel?)

Bikers - but no cops - at Miami gas station (screen capture)

Miami cops are not the only one derelict. Hollywood cops apparently huddled inside their headquarters on Hollywood Boulevard as the bikers roared past. As a Hollywood resident I now have "concerns" about citizen safety.

My #1 son's a cop so I don't believe a cop should risk his or her life unnecessarily, but if the people who control whet the cops may and may not do had exercised their brains this rampage could have been brought to a halt hours before the bikers decided to call it a night.

Meanwhile, any respect any miscreant bent on a life of crime may have had for cops in south Florida has melted away like snow on the beach in summer.

That lack of respect jeopardizes every cop including my son.

THAT makes me mad.


According to local news reports, three people were arrested and two injured in Monday nights' commotion.

Miami's embarrassment made international headlines.

Links to local news reports and the U.K.'s Daily Mail follow.

ATV riders, dirt bikers flood Miami streets for MLK Day

3 arrests, 1 crash as ATVs take over Miami roads

ATV Riders, Motorcyclists Disrupt Traffic in Miami-Dade

Biker gang takes over the streets of Miami: Hundreds of teens on motorbikes and ATVs pull wheelies and taunt police as they race through Florida highways

(The Brits report is "a bit" exaggerated.)

Monday, January 19, 2015


Security system malfunction?
Allow everyone to enter freely





    We need all residents to call ahead to the security guard to inform them of your guest(s) otherwise they will be given automatic access into the community. A new computer was placed on order but will not be installed until Monday or Tuesday of the coming week.

    My apologies for this inconvenience.


Underscore emphasis above mine.

As a risk management practitioner and resident of the gated community it took me about 5 minutes to compose first myself and then an email to the management suggesting it rethink its process.

STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURE (SOP) is for resident to provide the rent-a-cops who guard the farcical gate with a list of expected visitors, otherwise the gate keeper must get the resident's OK to allow entry. "Farcical" since

  • The wooden gates won't even slow a determined motorist
  • The "guard" has no way of stopping someone who doesn't want to check in
  • Miscreants climb over the low wall surrounding the community
  • Admittedly, most visitors DO stop at the check-in point. They give their name and some type "official" identification (driver's license, passport, state ID card - some people come as passengers in taxis or shuttles from the nearby air and sea ports) and the gate keeper either

  • Finds their name on the resident's approved list or
  • Calls the resident to ask permission to allow the guest entry
  • Some regulars, generally relatives or friends who visit regularly, are on a - what was supposed to be permanent but wasn't - list stored on the gate keeper's computer.

    It was this list of "regulars" that disappeared when the computer failed.

    Back-up? Of course not. Alternate computer? Well, there IS another machine in the gatehouse, but it's used by the Home Owners' Association (HOA) manager and apparently does not have the relevant program.

    It is bad enough that every parcel delivery truck, every mail truck, every school bus is allowed in without interference. Why not.

    Who, after all, would steal a parcel delivery truck or USPS truck and certainly no one would highjack a school bus. Never. Believe that and I have a bridge to sell you.

    Given the above, is it any wonder that the HOA manager elected to allow everyone entry.

    The HOA frequently sends out suggestions to residents that if they are expecting someone - a tradesman for example - to contact the gate keeper and let them know. This expedites guest entry by eliminating the need for the gate keeper to call the resident for permission (meanwhile holding up everyone in line).

    Yes, I practice what I preach and give the gate keeper a printed list AND a map so the visitor can find the manse.

    The HOA manager DID rethink her decision to allow everyone free entry.

    I wonder if the computer people were able to recover and transfer the old permanent guest list to the new computer. Maybe I'd better make up a new list for the gate keeper's new computer, "just in case."

    If you think the above is ludicrous, consider:

      A kibbutz in Israel once decided to put a similar barrier in place.

      It installed the barrier and a guard shack.

      It hired a guy to guard the entrance. (Maybe he was a member of the kibbutz, but I'd bet not.)


      Arm the guard

      Provide the guard with a telephone or two-way radio so he could alert the kibbutz is there was trouble (or even to check in on a regular basis).

    Friday, January 16, 2015

    Notables notably absent

    Has U.S. cowed
    To Islamist threat



    What is Obama?


    Was it Biden?


    Was it Kerry?

      Again, no.

    The ranking American who managed to make it to the march is the U.S. Ambassaador to France, Jane Hartley, and she didn't even make it to the front row. Trying to find America's representative to France in the crowd of dignitaries from 40 countries AND Abu Mazen from the so called Palestinian Authority is akin to searching for both Waldo and Carmen Sandiego.

    YOU AN SPECULATE why Obama felt thousands of Frenchmen could be wrong to take umbrage to Islamists murdering French citizens.

    Perhaps he failed to realize that not all of the dead were Jews.

    Perhaps he was miffed because a similar gathering of "world leaders" did not happen after either the first or the second Muslim attack on the World Trade buildings, although that was not on his watch.

    Perhaps he was assuring that respect for the United States continues to fall to new lows.

    Or perhaps the poll numbers had yet to arrive.

    Maybe if the French had decided to hold their parade in Hawaii he would have been front and center.

    Whatever caused him to make such a disastrous decision is known only to him and, perhaps, Michelle.

    Tuesday, January 13, 2015


    Personal information
    Available for the taking


    TWO ARTICLES HIGHLIGHTED by Advisen FPN, an insurance-focused daily publication, caught my attention this morning.

    Item One, an article from The Columbus Dispatch titled Printers, copiers are data gold mines for identity thieves warns that casting off old printers, copiers, and fax machines also can mean casting off hard drives containing sensitive information.

    Item Two, a UK Daily Mail interview with researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) heded Beware the coffee shop hacker: New breed of cyber criminal spies on your laptop by listening to signals even when it's OFFLINE informs computer users that malcontents can capture information as it is keyed even when the computer is off line.

    Pull the drive

    The Columbus Dispatch article starts off

    All the things you copy at home and the office — tax returns, medical records, financial information and more — could end up in someone else’s hands.

    That’s because copiers and fax machines, like computers, contain hard drives capable of storing a large volume of digital information.

    According to Matt Fleischmann, owner of Diversified Threat Management of Seal Beach, CA, copiers, faxes and printers “an absolute gold mine for identify thieves.” He said thieves sometimes rummage through garbage for discarded equipment.

    In Ohio, the Dispatch reports, hard drives in all computers, copiers and printers are removed under a state policy in effect since 2008. The policy says if state electronic equipment “contains confidential or high-risk information, the (Ohio Department of Administrative Services ) shall either sanitize the equipment or encrypt the information.”

    Wiping a hard drive

    Turns out there are several methods to delete any data to the point where it cannot be recovered. Period. The method selected depends on the media. Which to use is fairly well set forth in a PC World article titled How to securely erase your hard drive.

    The How-To Geek site also offers comments on how to prevent unwanted data sharing on different type media.

    Spying sans WiFi

    The UK Daily Mail/Georgia Tech article details a number of ways a miscreant can steal data as it is entered into a computer.

    The article begins

    When your computer performs a spell check, opens a program or even just types a letter, it emits a tiny, imperceptible signal.

    At least, it was thought to be imperceptible - but researchers say a new breed of hackers could 'listen' to these signals and find out what your computer is doing.

    According to the researchers at Georgia Tech, there are several methods data security can be compromised, all of which depend on "side-channel signals."

    Side-channel emissions can be measured several feet away from an operating computer using a variety of spying methods.

    Electromagnetic emissions can be received using antennas hidden in a briefcase, for instance.

    Acoustic emissions - sounds produced by electronic components such as capacitors - can be picked up by microphones hidden beneath tables.

    Information on power fluctuations, which can help hackers determine what the computer is doing, can be measured by fake battery chargers plugged into power outlets adjacent to a laptop's power converter.

    The article continues that the researchers are trying to determine where the leaks originate.

    'We are trying to understand why these side channels exist and what can be done to fix these leaks,' said Dr Zajic.

    'We are measuring computers and smart phones to identify the parts of the devices that leak the most. That information can guide efforts to redesign them, and on an architectural level, perhaps change the instructions in the software to change the device behavior.'

    Meantime there seems little anyone can do to prevent compromise via side-channel signals short of keeping the computer (and smart phones) turned OFF. In China, it's necessary to remove the battery from a phone to keep any phone-based data private. (See Computer Security when Traveling to China.)

    Thursday, January 8, 2015

    If truth be known

    Muslims condemn slaughter
    Fear retribution by "infidels"


    ACCORDING TO NEWS REPORTS, Muslims in France, Afghanistan, and Pakistan are condemning the Muslim attack on the French humor magazine Charlie Hebdo that resulted in the deaths of 12 people.

    Given the expressions of joy shown by many Muslims after 9-11-2001 when more than 3,000 civilians died as Muslims flew planes into the Twin Towers in New York City and the Pentagon in Virginia - and tried, but were prevented by the plane's passengers, to fly into the White House, we must wonder Why the Muslim leadership in France, Pakistan, and Afghanistan are condemning Muslim terrorism now..

    THE ANSWER MAY LIE in the number of European Christians who took to the streets to protest the massacre in Paris.

    Adding to the display of indignation, the Times of Israel has an article headlined Muslim places of worship targeted in France that Muslim places of worship in two French towns were fired upon overnight, leaving no casualties, prosecutors said on Thursday.

    Three dummy grenades were thrown at a mosque shortly after midnight in the city of Le Mans, west of Paris. A bullet hole was also found in a window of the mosque.

    In the Port-la-Nouvelle district near Narbonne in southern France, several shots were fired in the direction of a Muslim prayer hall shortly after evening prayers. The hall was empty, the local prosecutor said.

    An explosion at a kebab shop near a mosque in the eastern French town of Villefranche-sur-Saone on Thursday morning also left no casualties. Local prosecutors have described it as a “criminal act.”

    Interestingly enough, the Times also reports that “Pakistan condemns the brutal terrorist attack in Paris that resulted in the loss of many lives and has left several others injured,” Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.

    “Pakistan deplores terrorism in all its forms and manifestations. We extend our condolences to the government and people of France on the loss of life.”

    Islamabad’s condemnation comes at a time when blasphemy laws are being increasingly invoked against Pakistan’s beleaguered minorities, with rights groups claiming they are abused to settle personal scores.

    The Times adds that In neighboring Afghanistan, where rallies were held against the same magazine in 2012, President Ashraf Ghani branded the attack as “heinous.”

    “Killing of defenseless people and civilians is a heinous act of terror, there is no justification for this heinous act,” he said in a statement.

    The Afghan Taliban meanwhile published an article on their website describing the killings as “an alarm bell for those who have in the past insulted Islam and the prophet,” but stopping short of openly supporting the attack.

    Fox News is taken to task by Media Matters for America under the headline What Fox Won't Show You: Muslim Leaders Are Condemning The Paris Terror Attack which claims that Fox ignored American Muslim organizations condemnation of the Paris attack.

    The criticism may be valid; I challenge anyone to name a date, time, and place that these condemnations were made via mass media (tv, newspapers).

    MEANWHILE, IN ENGLAND, the Iman Anjem Choudary seems to condone the Paris attack and attacks on any one - Muslim or not - who might disagree with his take on Islam.

    An article in the Wall Street Journal, Muslim Leaders Condemn Attack, Warn on Anti-Islamic Sentiment in Europe, quotes Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu saying he warned that anti-Islamic sentiment in Europe was fueling terrorism.

    “We need to battle both Islamophobia and terrorism. We underlined the dangers of increased racism, discrimination and Islamophobia in Europe time and time and again. These are directly linked to terrorism. They affect each other,” he said.

    The WSJ notes that Spectacular terrorist attacks by Sunni radical groups have hit Islamic capitals with increasing frequency in recent months. Early Wednesday, a suicide bomber driving a minibus killed at least 33 people in the heart of Yemen’s capital San’a as cadets gathered to enroll at a police academy which may suggest why some Muslims in leadership positions are condemning the Paris massacre.

    Between the Islamic terrorists and the "infidels" who are tiring of having their nations turned into bloody abattoirs*, moderate Muslims are finding themselves between the anvil and the hammer (rock and a hard spot).


      Abattoir = slaughterhouse

    Wednesday, January 7, 2015

    VoIP show stoppers

    Cutting copper wires


    I GOT TIRED OF PAYING the local telco its ever-increasing rate for local calling while at the same time being enticed by VoIP providers' inexpensive options.

    VoIP=Voice over Internet Protocol, a/k/a voice carried over the internet rather than copper wires..

    So I investigated a number of VoIP providers and settled on one.

    And then the fun began.


    netTALK became my first choice because it offers a WiFi version, the netTALK DUO Wi-Fi. magicTalk once offered a WiFi option, but the option disappeared before the page refreshed. More on that later.

    I tried to buy the netTALK DUO WiFi via the company's web site, but was never able to complete the process. Seems my Discover credit card doesn't work with netTALK's credit card service. Am I unique? (Of course, but …)

    I tried contacting netTALK customer support (; no response.

    Eventually I made the trek south into Miami Gardens where netTALK's facilities are located.

    Turns out netTALK knows about the problem; some of its customers are unable to renew their service because their Discover cards are unacceptable to the vendor. QUESTION: So why stay with a vendor that fails to provide service for all of netTALK's customers?

    In any event, I managed to be admitted into the secure facility. Ring the bell and wait for someone to come from the back … there is no receptionist. I told the lady who, after challenging me only once (What do you want?) that I needed to see someone in support.

    About 15 minutes later a guy comes out and I explain the credit card problem. I learned that the problem was not unique to me; even having a netTALK person try to put the Discover card through proved fruitless.

    So, I tried a different card and it went through and I headed back to Hollywood to wait a few days for my netTALK DUO WiFi to arrive.

    MEANWHILE, I need to have my DSL separated from the telephone wires so I contacted the local telco. I explained what I needed and was told that my DSL had to be replaced by U-verse, a "different" type DSL. All it would cost me is $200 for service and a new modem/router. The voice for AT&T promised that I would receive credit cards valued at $200 within "six or seven" weeks. The AT&T BILL for the service and hardware arrived within a week - even before U-verse was working as promised. (AT&T did send out a tech to define the problem and another tech to fix the problem. Seems although U-verse is a new product for my area, the wires are old and were causing flakey service.)

    CAVEAT: Check with the VoIP provider to find out if the local telco (e.g., AT&T, Verzion) DSL is compatible with the VoIP unit you are considering. There are reports that some VoIP products are not supported by some telcos; this may be limited to certain geographic areas.

    Having finally split off DSL from the phone lines I was ready to install the netTALK product. Things were going OK until I came to a number porting fee.

    I am FedEx and Ivory Soap sure that I read there was no number porting charge when I researched the netTALK DUO WiFi.

    Now I am asked to pay an additional $30 - a one time fee to be sure and one that will not break the bank, but I don't like surprises.

    I tried to contact netTALK via email. No response.

    I tried to contact netTALK via Chat - there are 35 people ahead of me; 10 minutes later, there are 30 people ahead of me; 30 minutes later there STILL are 30 people ahead of me.

    I try email again, this time to two e-addresses - and the one I used above. This got an auto-response with a promise to follow-up.

    The follow-up didn't so I packed up the hardware and headed south - again.

    The fellow I spoke with when I bought the product greeted me politely and I explained Problem 1 and Problem 2. Problem 1 was the porting fee; given that I had to travel to netTALK twice it would seem good business to waive the fee and keep a customer. This was not offered. Problem 2 was the real show stopper - absolute lack of support.

    TO BE FAIR I was told that netTALK was hiring additional support personnel; it apparently was unprepared for an avalanche of business generated by an end-of-year promotion. As far as I could tell, most of the people at the netTALK facility in Miami Gardens are R&D folks; netTALK certainly does not spend money on appearances (which is not a problem for me).

    My netTALK DUO WiFi hardware was accepted without complaint and the nearly $80 I paid for the hardware and a year's subscription is to be credited to the plastic I used for the purchase two weeks previous.

    Basic Talk

    Basic Talk advertises on tv; you can't avoid Vonage's ads for their low-end product. At $10/month (plus taxes etc.) you get VoIP POTS - plain ol' telephone service, including free domestic (Canada, US) long distance service.

    I call overseas. Unlike netTALK and magicJack (what is it with the first part of the name in lower case letters?), Basic Talk does not offer international long distance (ILD) service nor does it have a way of auto-routing calls to an ILD service such as Telna . Number porting is free, but the lack of ILD is a show stopper. As expected, Basic Talk has mixed reviews


    magicJack does offer international long distance (unlike Basic Talk) and at excellent rates. It has been around longer than any of the other "low cost" services (e..g., netTALK and Basic Talk).

    When I first looked at magicJack is had an annual - annual! - number porting fee of $20. (The alternative is to get a new number from magicJack; that is not an option here.)

    MagicJack's home page lists two products: magicJack Plus and magicJack GO.

    Someone created a How To video to make magicJack work with corded phones which means that my requirement for netTALK's DUO WiFi could have been eliminated.

    As with Basic Talk, magicJack has its detractors on two different web sites.

    Bottom line

    The main problem with each of the three low-end VoIP providers seems to be SUPPORT or, more accurately, the lack of support. To its credit, netTALK has no "knocks" against its for financial shenanigans, but then it is the "new kid on the block."

    When reading reviews, keep in mind that people are more inclined to complain than to compliment. Had netTALK waived the number porting fee and had I received satisfactory customer & technical support via email and chat - I loathe the phone - this would have been only about netTALK and how happy I am with the product; its competition would have gone unmentioned.

    I still think netTALK has, for me, the best VoIP product, but until things in Miami Gardens FL improve, I'll keep copper.

    Tuesday, January 6, 2015

    Nothing can possibly go wrong

    When technology fails
    Training must prevail



    This is a fully automated flight. The only flight crew on board are the Flight Attendants. Computers will fly the plane, so relax and enjoy the first fully computer-controlled flight.

    Rest assured that nothing can go wrong, go wrong, go wrong, go …

    When we surrender to technology

    Following the disappearance of AirAsia Flight 8501 some people are comparing the loss to the crash of Air France Flight 447 and speculating that a technology failure coupled with pilot error might be the cause for both crashes.

    "Pilot error" actually translates for those speculating, to lack of pilot training. In the case of the Air France Airbus A330, it is known that the flight deck crew failed to work together, that they made bad decisions that, in the end, put the plane into the Atlantic.

    Air France Flight 447 went down after entering a storm that, according to information provided by the recovered "black box," caused the air speed pitot to freeze up, cancelling auto-pilot and apparently causing instrument failure.

    AirAsia Flight 8501, an Airbus A320, also flew into a storm before disappearing into the sea.

    While the Air France disaster is directly attributable to lack of air crew training and dependence on technology, the same can be said for the air crew of the Asiana Flight 214 that crashed its Boeing 777-200 short of the runway at San Francisco International. According to reports, the auto-pilot went off and the flight crew was insufficiently trained to make adjustments to airspeed and altitude to avoid the crash.

    Common problem When flying in environments where there is no reference to the ground - above clouds, in storms, at night - humans often are disoriented and lose their sense of attitude (up, down; left, right). Pilots train to depend on instruments to maintain the aircraft's attitude. If the instruments fail . . .

    On the other hand

    When flight crews ARE thoroughly trained, when something goes wrong, the plane still is brought down safely.

    Not so long ago the pilot of US Air Flight 1549, one Chesley B. Sullenberger III, managed a safe landing in the Hudson River after his plane lost power due to birds being sucked into the Airbus A320-214's two engines.

    Sullenberger flew gliders, and later trained others, during his freshman year at the Air Force Academy. While in the Air Force, he was a member of an aircraft accident investigation board

    Back in 1983, Air Canada Flight 143, a Boeing 767-233 ran out of fuel before reaching its Edmonton destination.

    The pilot, Captain Robert Pearson, was an experienced glider pilot, so he was familiar with flying techniques almost never used by commercial pilots.

    According to the Wikipedia entry, The 767 was one of the first airliners to include an Electronic Flight Instrument System (EFIS), which operated on the electricity generated by the aircraft's jet engines. With both engines stopped, the system went dead, leaving only a few basic battery-powered emergency flight instruments. While these provided sufficient information with which to land the aircraft, a vertical speed indicator—that would indicate the rate at which the aircraft was descending and therefore how long it could glide unpowered—was not among them.

    First Officer Maurice Quintal began to calculate whether they could reach Winnipeg. He used the altitude from one of the mechanical backup instruments, while the distance traveled was supplied by the air traffic controllers in Winnipeg, measuring the distance the aircraft's echo moved on their radar screens.

    The bottom line for the Air Canada flight was a powerless landing on a drag strip at a former Canadian Air Force Base in Gimli.

    As an aside, Sullenberger's Airbus 320 and Pearson's Boeing 767 have glide paths of "about" 15:1 ( the aircraft drops one foot for ever 15 feet forward). That varies by weight of the vehicle, but typically large jets fly at 30,000 feet or higher; at a 15:1 ratio - you do the math.


    While the above applies to air travel, training to handle events when technology fails is a requirement for almost all endeavors. From simple things: the electricity is off or the phone won't work, to critical things like brakes failing on a vehicle or a mechanical failure on a production line, people need to know what to do and feel confident in doing what is necessary. That comes only from training, training, and more training.


    Friday, January 2, 2015


    Airlines complain they
    Can't sell one seat twice



    In this case, the "coin" is the airlines and a ticket consolidator are suing a Aktarer Zaman, founder of the airfare advice site for illegally promoting use of the technique to get discounts.

    What's wrong with trying to get a discount on an over-priced airline ticket?

    What's wrong, the plaintiff's claim, is that the airlines want to sell a vacated seat that already was sold once.

    The Problem

    The airlines sell tickets from Point A to a popular Point B at a premium.

    The same airlines sell tickets from the same Point A to a less popular Point C destination for a lower price.

    Travelers who know their flight's route buy a Point A to Point C ticket and get off when the plane makes a stop at Point B.

    An example found at the ZDNet site, a customer buying a ticket from New York to Los Angeles, where competition is high, could get a lower rate than a flight to Chicago, but could simply get off the plane during a stop in Chicago and avoid a higher fare.

    The airlines and ticket seller contend that "hidden city" ticketing "is strictly prohibited by most commercial airlines because of logistical and public safety concerns" and violates the terms of service of carriers.

    The most complete story of this David vs. Goliaths contretemps is presented in a Business Week article hededcq Is It OK to Cheat Airlines if It Saves You Money?

    Unlike the AFP article picked up by most sites, the Business Week site offers the flip side to the "coin."

    According to the Business Week article, If [airlines] didn’t try to price flights to certain hubs so high, perhaps you wouldn’t have as many people trying to buy hidden city fares,” says Henry Harteveldt, a travel analyst with Atmosphere Research Group. Yet given strong customer demand, airlines would be foolish to “leave money on the table” if they can command top prices on some flights, he notes. “To a certain degree then, they encourage this type of behavior,” says Harteveldt, who doesn’t consider the practice ethical. “There’s no easy solution to this.”

    IN A RELATED STORY CNN headlines that 22-year-old raises $33,000 in fight with United Airlines. While the CNN item is itself of interest, the readers' comments following the CNN copy are more interesting. Most, albeit now all, of the comments slammed the airline. The best comment, in my mind, was Does this lawsuit mean a restaurant can sue me if I don't eat all the food I order?. That comment may not be agreeable to everyone, but it is amusing.