A recent article in Fierce Telecom titled "Special access, end of PSTN no secret to wireline marketplace" , written by Bruce Mehlman was a response to an article written by Bruce Kushnick, who is no friend of the incumbent telephone companies, for sure.
But who is Bruce Mehlman and the organization he co-founded, the "Internet Innovation Alliance"? Good question.
The tone of the article would imply that they're an advocacy group for broadband by any means necessary – they want speed and don't care under what terms and conditions it's available, as long as it's "cheap". Seems fair and innocent enough, from the "cheap, fast, good, pick two" – they chose cheap and fast. I disagree with this strategy, but more power to them.
But wait – what they're advocating is exactly what AT&T is trying to carry out with SB636 in Michigan. I can't help but think that's a bit odd, so I dig a bit to see what the story is with this "Internet Innovation Alliance" that I've never heard of before. What I found was interesting.
With some digging, I found their list of members.
I'll reproduce it here:
|1 Economy Incorported||Donor||Supported by AT&T and Verizon|
|American Council of the Blind||Donor||AT&T and Verizon are major sponsors of their event.|
|The American Conservative Union||Ideological||Not specifically related to AT&T. Generally supports elimination of government regulations.|
|Applied Optoelectronics||Supplier||Supplier for AT&T and Verizon's FTTP products|
|Alcatel-Lucent||Supplier/Common Origins||One of AT&T's largest suppliers. Lucent was a spinoff of Bell Labs, which was at one time AT&T.|
|Americans for Tax Reform||Ideological||Not specifically related to AT&T. Generally supports elimination of government regulations.|
|AT&T||Self||The phone company. The people the organization speaks highly of in the op-ed.|
|B-Tech||Supplier||AT&T Supplier – AT&T's logo is right on their front page.|
|Berry Test Sets||Supplier||AT&T Supplier – Ironically provides premier test equipment for that "obsolete network" that they're trying to get rid of. Their techs carry this tool a lot.|
|Communications Technology Solutions / CBM of America||Supplier||AT&T Vendor|
|CompTIA||Indeterminate||Not specifically related to AT&T, but AT&T is a large sponsor of theirs.|
|Connected Nation||AT&T related AstroTurf group||Astroturf group heavily funded by AT&T. Even performs research for AT&T.|
|Corning||Supplier||Major AT&T Supplier of Fiber Optic Cable|
|United States Cattleman's Association||Indeterminate, likely donor||The site doesn't mention sponsors at all, but the cattlemen's association goes out of its way to file FCC comments all the time in support of various AT&T initiatives.|
|FiberControl||Indeterminate||Probably an AT&T supplier. Very niche equipment supplier.|
|GoFoton||Supplier||CTO worked at AT&T for 30 years, likely an AT&T supplier as well.|
|National Grange of the Patrons of Husbandry||Indeterminate, likely donor||Outspoken advocate of AT&T's policies. Major donors not mentioned on their homepage.|
customers, or supporters to any other parties under any circumstances. – Advocate of AT&T policies in the past.
|Hispanic Telecommunications and Technology Partnership||Indeterminate, likely a front group||Promotes many AT&T initiatives, ties to the NTCA and USTA. All positions seem to be related to AT&T initiatives.|
|Hispanic Leadership Fund||Indeterminate, likely ideological||Unknown, no public webpage, no known policy statements.|
|Independent Technologies Inc||Supplier||Supplier, ironically, of equipment for AT&T's "Obsolete" POTS/TDM network.|
|Independent Women's Forum||Donor/Ideological||AT&T is a donor to the IWF. Generally supports elimination of government regulations.|
|Japanese American Citizens League||Donor||"Website made possible by the generous sponsorship of AT&T" (search in page for that string)|
|LCLAA||Trade Union||Trade Union group (Trade unions that deal with AT&T tend to support AT&T policy in exchange for promises to include their laborers in new initiatives)|
|AT&T is part of their "Corporate Alliance"|
|Intertribal Agriculture Council||Likely Donor||Recently, the Intertribal Agricultural Council has been involved in many non-agricultural things, such as the AT&T and T-Mobile merger, and the Sirius XM merger. Why? Who knows.|
|MetroTel Corp||Supplier||AT&T Supplier|
|Minerva Networks||Potential Supplier||Minerva sells IPTV middleware that controls IPTV set top boxes. AT&T uses Microsoft MediaRoom, but given that Microsoft has no interest in continuing that line, I suspect AT&T is working with Minerva at this point to replace MediaRoom.|
|National Assocation for Female Executives||Likely Donor||Both NAFE and AT&T pat each other on the back a lot.|
|National Association of Neighborhoods||Likely Donor||NAH has spoken heavily in favor of previous AT&T initiatives.|
|National Coalition on Black Civic Participation||AT&T and CWA staff on board of directors|
|National Health IT Collaborative for the underserved||Likely Donor||They do not appear to have made any public statements in favor of AT&T initiatives, and appear to be otherwise legitimate.|
|National Black Chamber of Commerce||Donor||The AT&T Foundation has donated thousands to this group, if not more.|
|National Puerto Rico Coalition||Donor||AT&T is a primary sponsor.|
|National Spinal Cord Injury Association||Likely Donor||They do not appear to have made any public statements in favor of AT&T initiatives, and appear to be otherwise legitimate.|
|OASIS Institute||Donor||AT&T donated half a million dollars to this group.|
|National Utility Contractors Association||Supplier||Consortium of AT&T suppliers|
|Prysmian Cables and System||Supplier||Manufacturer of fiber optic cable|
|Small Business Entrepreneurship Council||Ideological||Possibly supported by AT&T, definitely ideologically opposed to government regulation.|
|Suimitomo Lightwave||Supplier||Fiber optic manufacturer|
|Sheyenne Dakota, Inc||Likely Supplier||They manufacturer wiring harnesses.|
|SeniorNet||Donor||AT&T and Verizon are sponsors.|
|SNC Manufacturing||Supplier||AT&T supplier of high voltage isolation equipment|
|Suttle||Supplier||Supplier of various telecommunications cabling and connectors. (Many punchdown blocks are made by Suttle)|
|Telesync||Supplier||Ironically, most of their products are for those old, evil POTS services they're trying to get rid of.|
|TechAmerica||Consortium||AT&T is a member|
|USIIA||Consortium||AT&T is involved with this group. Verizon has an employee on the board of directors. They have a history of speaking in favor of all AT&T initiatives, all the way back to the bell south merger.|
|Women Impacting Public Policy||AT&T employees part of advisory board / Ideological||Corporate Advisory Board has AT&T (and Comcast, who does not oppose these laws) members. Several. Generally supports elimination of government regulations.|
|Asian Women in Business||Donor||AT&T heavily sponsored this group|
Now, to be clear, I don't think that taking a single dollar of AT&T's money taints you. But when you're part of a public policy group that is unrelated to your mission (What does this have to do with Indian agriculture, or cattlemen?), and you take money from AT&T, your opinion may be not as independent as you make it sound.
The thing with nonprofits is, they don't have an inherent means of self support. They rely on donors. If you get a big donor that seems awesome at first, it opens a lot of doors for you. When they ask for your support, and it doesn't seem completely unreasonable (just sign your name to this, it's going to pass anyway and we could really use your help, as we've helped you in the past) – few organizations can afford to say no, especially if it doesn't harm their constituency directly or go against their stated goals. It puts them in the unenviable position of either giving a large donor a hand over something inconsequential to their members/beneficiaries/whatever, or taking an unnecessary stand to say "This is tangential to our mission" and risk a pay cut.
To see comments or contribute a comment to this post, please visit its original location here ----> Timmins.net. Your livejournal username will work there.
In early October, I hurt my back, presumably while lifting my son out of his car seat (to be honest, I was lifting a lot of stuff around then, and anything could have done it). I scheduled an urgent care appointment with my doctor after it didn't clear up for a few days, and was affecting my ability to work, and function. Becky's been bothering me for months, maybe years about my snoring problems, and that I wake up gasping for air most nights. I've always got something more important to do than go to see the doctor, but when I get hurt bad enough to make doing all those things unfeasible, suddenly, I must re-prioritize. So I was given a handful of muscle relaxers and some halfway decent painkillers, and was going to be sent on my way. The PA-C who was looking at me asked if I had any other troubles. I finally decided to say it. – "My wife tells me I stop breathing in my sleep. A lot." She said that she's not supposed to treat non-urgent issues during an urgent care visit, but this was an easy enough referral, so why not?
The next day, I get a call from Troy Sleep Center, letting me know they got the referral and asking me to come in for an appointment. I think the appointment was sometime in November. I stopped in before work and took care of that appointment. The questionnaires I answered had all sorts of benign sounding, but almost certainly a sign of something truly menacing questions (do you wake up with a headache? Have you ever fallen asleep while driving? etc). I've always had sleep problems, ever since I was a newborn, so I could answer a lot of them with "yes". The doctor comes in, asks a few questions, and schedules me for a sleep study on December 5th.
If you've never been to a sleep study, I'll tell you – it's kind of cool but odd at the same time. I came to an office building at night (parking was really nice, obviously), and was led through interior hallways within the office. They opened a door to an office, and inside was suddenly a completely different world. It looked like a person's bedroom. There was a bed, a nightstand, high pile carpet, draperies, even a TV set. And a night vision camera. And a few subtle wires draped over the headstand. The guy told me to get into my pajamas (honestly, my wife had to buy me something because I don't ordinarily do pajamas, but you don't want to go naked through an office building, so…). They came and had me follow them to a room where they set me up with all sorts of wires. After that, they hooked me to that umbilical of cords draped over the bed, tossed a pulse oximeter on my finger, and told me to have a nice rest.
I don't know if you've ever tried resting at 9pm with glue in your hair, wires attached to random extremities, wearing what feels like two seat belts across your chest… I'm not going to sugar coat this – it's not fun, or easy. I think it's ultimately worth it, but I'm not going to sugar coat it and tell you it was awesome. And for my trouble, the guy just pulls the leads out and sends me home at 5am, telling me they'll be in touch. No feedback, no nothing.
So I have to wait about a week for my followup appointment. The doctor comes in the room, asks me if I know what obstructive sleep apnea is. Of course I do. So she tells me that's what I have (duh), and that I stopped breathing between 40 and 90 times an hour. Not during the test, but PER HOUR. 40 was the overall score, 90 was when I was sleeping on my back (I love sleeping on my back, but I've been prohibited by Becky from sleeping on my back for forever, because I stop breathing in that position more than others).
She gives me a diagnosis of "Severe Obstructive Sleep Apnea" and sends me off for a second sleep study to calibrate the CPAP device. I get my study scheduled for 12/29 (yay, holidays!). I go through the study. it was kind of uncomfortable, but doable. I get woken up and sent on my way. January 3rd, I come to the office, and my doctor walks into the room. He looks at the sheet, and says something along the lines of "Do you know what central apnea is?" … "Yes. It's where your mind doesn't send signals that you should breathe at all".. "Yes, that's what it is". He hands me a sleep study showing that all my obstructive apnea events basically became central apnea events instead. My body was like 'OH HELL NO' and regularly would not fight the pressure of the machine to exhale.
Damn, and here I thought I did good. I mean sure, it was better than nothing at all, which is scary to think about, but it was clearly not tolerated. My diagnosis was changed to "Severe Complex Sleep Apnea", and sleep study #3 was scheduled for last week. That time, I used a BiPap, and the following Monday, I got a call from my home health care company telling me they were going through insurance company pre-authorization for my BiPap unit (the doctor hadn't called me yet). Today, I was given the results (apparently bilevel pressure of 12 and 9 was perfect, with an AHI score of 0), and picked up my unit (which is considerably more expensive than a standard CPAP device).
So you may be wondering: "Hey, what is a BiPap? I've heard of CPAPs, those just blow air into your nose all the time to keep your airway open, but I've not heard of a BiPap before."
A BiPap works by detecting your breathing cycles. Where a CPAP mask basically leaks any air you're not currently breathing in, and normal people can just breathe against the pressure, I can't. The BiPap detects that I'm no longer breathing in, and switches the pressure to a lower value – enough to keep the airway slightly open, but not so much that I can't breathe out. It then waits for negative pressure in the mask, and switches the pressure up at that point. If I fail to breathe in a certain amount of time, it kicks on the pressure anyway, assuming my airway is blocked, or I'm undergoing a central apnea.
I'm really excited tonight. It may be the first time I've slept well since I was 15, when I first started complaining to doctors about being tired all the time, and the doctors checked every possible thing, but never referred me to a sleep doctor.
To see comments or contribute a comment to this post, please visit its original location here ----> Timmins.net. Your livejournal username will work there.
It's no secret that our son has sleep problems. I had (hah! okay, so HAVE) severe sleep issues, and he does too.
We followed all the rules. Feed him early, give him a pre-bed snack. Bathing (not generally a relaxing experience for anyone around here). Warm "milk" (for us, it'd be rice or almond milk, as he's got casein and soy allergies). Making the whole house quiet before bed. Reading stories. Withholding nap time. Waking him early. Tiring him out.
Generally, he'll go to bed around 1-2am without assistance. Unless we have a long, dark car ride (for me these days with severe complex sleep apnea, these are really dangerous to do, so that's not happening – my sleep doctor's directives currently state that I should not be driving late at night) he'll usually be up and active the whole time. I often joke that the US could be independent of fossil fuels if we find a way to tap into his energy.
So after discussions with his doctor, we use an as-needed dose of Melatonin at night (we call them 'Magic Gummies', as they are in gummy form, like his vitamins), for about a year and a half now. I also use it periodically – while I have little trouble falling asleep at the wheel, I have problems falling asleep at night – in part because I use so much caffeine to stay awake and effective during the day. Yeah, in my case it's a self destructive loop, and I'm seeking medical intervention for my complex sleep apnea (3rd sleep study tomorrow, maybe it'll be the one where we find the right machine and settings for me!). But when I was a child, I had more or less identical sleep issues, so it's not JUST the caffeine.
Anyway, so it works great, and his teacher, aide and therapists can tell when he's been using it, and when we've had to get him to sleep naturally. But that doesn't stop people from judging us for using it. People give us looks of disapproval, or ask stuff like 'do you really have to drug your kid?' or *insert anecdote about someone else here*, then some judgmental comment about drugging him. Not just acquaintances, and friends, but family. It sucks, and it's stupid, and hurtful.
We've always treated it as a privilege, not some sort of punitive consequence. In fact, if he's been 'bad', we make him do something good to redeem himself in order to get one – like pick up a toy, or get mommy a glass of water, etc. They don't have a negative stigma attached here. We've never overtly told him what they're for, but that they're a special treat for 'good boys' on 'special nights'. We've gone out of our way to avoid saying what they're for, lest he protest taking them because he wants to stay up and play.
Lately he's been kind of warily asking for them proactively. I told Becky I suspect he knows what they are for and recognizes his need for one. She was skeptical, but tonight I asked him offhand – 'do you know what the magic gummies are for?'.
He says 'they help go night night'.
Damn right they do, kid.
My kid knows he needs help to fall asleep, and actively seeks it. I couldn't think of a more powerfully obvious statement of self advocacy than that.
So how do I feel about drugging my kid? I feel great, because I know I'm helping him satisfy a basic human need that he is now directly articulating his need for. I feel like our choice to give him this powerful tool to help him sleep has helped him behaviorally, educationally, and has soothed him when he was tired, sore and weary. And that our feelings that he would approve of the use of them if he understood what they were for have been validated.
I'd be off to take a magic gummy myself, but due to my upcoming sleep study (I'll have a whole post on this mess soon, once it's completely dealt with, because boy, it's been a long, strange ride) I'm not supposed to be doing that, so I'll go lie down and hope sleep comes quickly. Goodnight, all!
To see comments or contribute a comment to this post, please visit its original location here ----> Timmins.net. Your livejournal username will work there.
(TL;DR summary: AT&T is buying entire legislatures to rewrite the laws to allow them to become a fully unregulated company with no wholesale obligations, creating a de-facto monopoly. They can (and likely will) use it to squash or hurt wireless competitors as well, as they're permitted to favor their own subsidiaries with the network built and created over a hundred plus year monopoly, and Comcast is fully on-board because they'd like to split the market created when all their competitors are dead)
UPDATE: The bill passed with some modifications. Click here for more information.
There is a new bill going through the michigan legislature right now. Referred to as Senate Bill 636, it claims to provide for the discontinuance of landline phone service.
Let me explain what this actually does, and why you care, even if you only use wireless phones and cable.
First, the bill shores up a lot of language in the intercarrier compensation reform that went through last year. No big deal.
The big deal is that there are:
First – there are thousands of people that will continue to need, and desire landline service. And businesses aren't going to switch away from landline phone service to cell phones. And AT&T has no desire to cede this business to a competitor, so what's the deal?
Part of this dates back to the last "reform" of the Michigan Telecommunications Act. HB 4314 of 2011 removed many regulatory oversights that protected customers and competitors.
Most of interest today are clauses of HB4314 that:
(Have you noticed lately that AT&T through their UVerse brand, and Comcast through their Xfinity brand are offering home security and automation? That was sudden, right? Well – there's a reason. AT&T UVerse and Comcast are not required to provide landline service suitable for use by outside alarm company vendors for their services. And quality requirements are eliminated as well, so if your current alarm system doesn't work right, tough. So now AT&T and Comcast can deliberately impair alarm systems, then sell you their own when they don't work instead of fixing the degradation.)
But more concerning is AT&T's trend of wanting to leave the "landline" business. First it's important to understand that what legislators and lawyers consider a landline, and what you consider a landline are TWO COMPLETELY DIFFERENT THINGS.
A layperson looks at a phone coming out of their wall with a wire attached to it, and says "landline!"
Telephone service that is:
Do you have uverse? Then you don't have "landline" service – even if you have phone service from them.
You'll note that AT&T speaks a lot about how their "landline" service is losing customers hand over fist, and is highly unprofitable. Guess who they are losing much of their lines to? AT&T.
See where I earlier mentioned 2011's HB4314 "Permits AT&T and other companies to sell, lease, or otherwise transfer assets and sell service to an affiliate below cost"? They are allowed to sell their phone service to themselves at below cost. When you switch from AT&T landline to UVerse, you are "disconnecting your landline". For regulatory purposes, AT&T can claim they lost your services to a competitor. A competitor that the more they sell services to, the more unprofitable their "landline" division becomes. Of course, AT&T doesn't really lose money on the deal, they're just taking the profits from your uverse and allocating them all to their "affiliate" rather than the company actually providing the service. They can show that divison as being artificially profitable, and the landline division as a huge drain on their bottom line.
Now they can say their landline division is losing tons of customers, and costing them a fortune. But hey, our uverse division is doing better than ever!
Well, the prices they set to sell wholesale services to competitors are based on the costs of providing service. As are the regulated products they tariff and provide to end users. So now, they can go to public commissions and the FCC and show how despite technical advances and the network being a mostly sunk cost, that expenses of providing service are going up, and they must raise rates to competitors and end users to cover for the massive atrophy the network is experiencing (even as it grows exponentially to handle the load from the supposedly nonexistent customers that ride it).
First, it's important to go back to the initial Telecommunications act of 1996 and the Triennial Review and Remand Order of 2002.
TA 1996 created the concept of competitive local exchange carriers, and abolished the legal monopoly that the incumbent carriers enjoyed from the 1870s to 1996. The phone companies were required to share their lines (and service) with competitors under the idea that since numerous tax breaks, subsidies, grants and other instruments were used to fund the network at the public's expense, and because the network grew based on the legal monopoly status that was provided to the carriers, the thought is that while the lines legally belonged to the private carrier, they were fully funded by the ratepayers, and the ratepayers had an interest in the facilities, as they had no other options but to pay the monopoly provider for service. Because the incumbent was provided an unequal footing for over a hundred years, the cost of building a competing network overtop of the current one would be financially unfeasible for any market entrant, because the ILEC could simply leverage the fact their network is mostly bought and paid for, and price the competitive entrant out of the market.
So the ILECs, under many (but not all) circumstances, were required to share their networks with competitive entrants based on TELRIC (Total Element Long Run Incremental Cost) pricing. This (to be brief) says that the cost of the network element, from installation to maintenance over the cost of its lifetime, divided by the number of months in its lifetime, PLUS A REASONABLE PROFIT FOR THE ILEC, shall be the monthly cost of that part of the network.
This creates an entrenched position for the ILEC. The competitors are sharing the costs of providing the line, with installation costs and repair risks amortized over time. You'd think this would be good for both sides, right? Problem was, AT&T and others turned out to be incredibly financially inefficient at offering services. Competitive carriers came in, paid for the costs of dialtone, the local wire going to the house, and a DSLAM (the phone company side of a DSL connection) and blew them out of the water! Some carriers were able to cut the cost of a residential line in half, while still providing broadband services over that line. AT&T was obviously quite displeased.
By 2002, AT&T and Verizon were able to argue that the new entrants were no longer in need of certain services, and should have to construct them themselves to continue offering them. (let's ignore here that the entrants were subsidizing the cost of the ILECs existing equipment, so why should they have to go out and buy new equipment that is unnecessary?).
The Triennial Review and Remand Order (TRRO) eliminated the following services:
Is it starting to make sense now?
You'd send a letter to all your traditional customers, informing them they have 90 days to convert services to AT&T UVerse or face disconnection, as AT&T is discontinuing landline services. But don't worry, there's some special 3 year promotional deals where you can keep paying what you're paying now, but get more! Worry not!
You'd send a letter to your CLEC competitors, saying 'nice knowing you! Thanks for your subsidy for so many years. See ya!'. Send letters to all their customers offering special deals to convert them.
In 90 days, you shut off all services that are considered "landline phone service", converting a few holdouts to VoIP or cellular based landline services or whatever you have to do in order to make it happen.
You sell your remaining assets to your uverse affiliate for a dollar, or whatever the legal minimum is. You know how you're complaining about how expensive copper is to maintain? Guess nobody noticed that when you enter a new neighborhood with uverse, you often install a new F2 cable into the area that goes directly to the uverse "VRAD", bypassing existing copper cabling and investing new money in, you guessed it! Copper!
Then you evict the CLECs, and the fiber networks they built through your building (that you forced them to build) as the central office access is only for access to unbundled network elements, and since they're not a phone company anymore, they don't have any unbundled network elements, so get out. Upside is, there's now no credible way to compete with you other than buy a nearby building, build fiber to that, and run cables to all your customers from there.
When there's public outcry, or if it makes things easier for you from a regulatory standpoint, pick a few of your favorite CLECs that don't hurt you too much, and offer them special private contracts under secret terms that let them resell uverse wholesale. Don't worry – as you control the pricing for the product, you can make sure they never devalue the product too much, and don't provide any services that require you to really step up your game, as they'll only be able to provide what you can provide. You can sell this to the legislators as a way that you're "preserving competition".
And now that the local government is irrelevant, you don't have to expend any more money supporting every candidate (strangely, all of the AT&T bills passed in the last 10 years have done so nearly unanimously, across party lines. If you know the Michigan legislature, this is no small feat! It doesn't hurt that AT&T contributes equally and heavily to both sides of the aisle, and because of term limits, every person there has their eye on the next elected office they can hold. Get voted out? No problem, there's plenty of lobbying positions and think tanks who could use someone with your wisdom and experience! You'll land on your feet!). Think of the cost savings!
(You're thinking – but there's still a phone switch in Michigan, right? So the call doesn't cross state lines! – hah! AT&T placed their uverse switching systems in Pennsylvania, where they're not a local provider. So all calls, even down the street, are interstate in nature and regulated by the FCC and federal law. And Pennsylvania has no reason to regulate them, as it's just a pile of servers and switches that connect to other states.)
Well, it's simple. AT&T just effectively eliminated all competition except the cable company. They also are eliminating wholesale services used by Sprint and T-Mobile to connect their cell towers to the network. See CLECAM13-099 as an example of the changes they're making to eliminate DS1/DS3/OC-3/OC-12/OC-48/OC-192 service around the same time by removing the ability to sign contracts that go past this target date. Who uses these? CLECs do, to some extent, but wireless/cellular companies use them more heavily. If you think that this change is for Sprint and T-Mobile's own good, I have some DS3s I'd like to sell you. Don't worry – you'll still be able to get them – at a private market based contract rate that AT&T can more or less negotiate unilaterally, as there's no effective competition to many areas where towers are at.
When AT&T only has to compete with Comcast, and it's unaffordable for Sprint and T-Mobile to put oodles of bandwidth to their towers (don't worry, AT&T and Verizon each own massive fiber networks (that they'll probably pay $1 to themselves for), and can work out capacity trades to make sure that each has cheap access to their networks outside their ILEC footprints!) – how do you think that will work out for you as the consumer?
There's a reason why Comcast has been speaking to the Senate and House in favor of this "modernization" – AT&T is eliminating Comcast's competitors too!
So I wanted to write a piece for Autistics Speaking Day. I wrote this blog post that was well over 2100 words, and spoke to the idea of making sure that if a child is different, don't be their first bully. It went far deeper into things than I really feel comfortable talking about in public (not so much about my parents, who despite their faults are/were generally okay, but more about the absolutely hellish experience I had in elementary school – kindergarden through 6th grade. It spoke about involuntary restraint, seclusion, bullying (just about as much by the adults and the system as the kids), acting out violently, and wandering.)
I decided instead to publish this. I drew a helpful map of my old elementary school for non-typical children like I was, so they can easily navigate their days like I was able to. It's not really comprehensive, but it's a start.
(Needless to say, I know exactly what to be hyper vigilant for as my child goes through school. And I know that my child's school nowadays has acceptable procedures for handling many of the issues I dealt with as a kid.)
For the past nearly 10 years, I've been patiently waiting for a single event to happen. In November 2003, a ton of my personal belongings walked out the door of my apartment. I was told to forget about them forever. That the government would find a way to keep them, destroy them, or auction them.
I made it my personal goal to get that equipment back. I didn't have a lot of resources to fight that battle, and I still don't. Lawyers cost tons of money, far more than the equipment could ever be worth. But what walked out that day wasn't just a pile of equipment. It was 100% of my personal data I had ever collected, EVER, in the time I had computers. In that collection is floppy disks, hard drives, zip disks, DAT tapes, basically everything I had ever done from the time I first laid hands on a keyboard (or video camera, as they took all my VHS-C and SVHS tapes with raw footage on them too). I never really shot analog, so every photo I had ever taken, from my Polaroid PDC 640 onward, gone. I think I even have webcam shots, and pictures from our school's Sony Mavica in this pile of computers. Tons of scanned photos that were taken by others, from my first flatbed scanner.
Logs from some of the first BBSes I ever connected to. Some of the first programs I ever wrote.
And what they told me on that November day, is that all of this was gone forever. Even the stuff I wrote the week before. Back then we didn't have a cloud like you kids have nowadays. We had a garden hose and a sprinkler, and we got our rainbows that way, and we liked it… But seriously. If you woke up and someone said "all your stuff is stolen. We know where it is, but you'll never see it again. You need to let go and start over…."
Sure, you're thinking – why didn't you back it up? I did. On all the media that went out the door with it. DVD-RW, gone. DAT backups? gone. If it plugged into the wall, or stored a magnetic charge, it was fair game. They took my dreamcast games, for crying out loud.
So for years, I've been bugging the FBI any way I know how to find out where my belongings are, so I can go back and get them. For years, I'd get bounced around. I'd get referred to people who couldn't help. Irritated, I filed a FOIA/PA request, hoping to find any information about the whereabouts of my belongings (among other things). I was dismayed to find no information about the whereabouts of my belongings in the files.
But obviously it triggered something. I filed the request in July of 2012, and the response was (after a month of research time), well… literally stating that my FBI file was larger than the Bible. I got several CDROMs, which had interesting information (including the fact that they unsuccessfully continued to attempt to indict me for other crimes (I also did not commit) until 2009 with a standing grand jury. Yes, they had continued to fight to prosecute me for over 6 years afterward.). But nothing at all about the seizure except some notes they took during the raid.
I got my last CD from them in late December of 2012. In February 2013, I get a very upset call from Becky. "An FBI agent just left me a voicemail, he's looking for *YOU AND ME!* He didn't say why.". Obviously I immediately backed up a copy of everything I had offsite, then grabbed my phone and called the agent back, expecting the worst. … "I have some items we're looking to return to you. I need you to fill out some forms."
I don't have to tell you at this point my jaw just about hit the floor.
He went on to tell me about all these computers they found in a warehouse. Ones that belonged to me, from a case in 2003. I told him where to send the paperwork.
I get the letters a bit later, and my heart sank. They were authorization to return my computers, CONDITIONAL ON MY CONSENT TO WIPE THE DRIVES.
Because what I really want is the kind of computer I could afford in 2003, with no data on it. Yeahhhhhh.
It had a 30 day deadline. I redlined the sections providing consent to wipe the drives, initialed them and signed them, and sent them to the agent.
He calls and explains policy, and procedure. Tells me how lucky I am since "they don't have to return anything, according to my plea bargain"
I start to grin. Here's the turning point in that conversation.
Me: "Actually, according to my plea bargain, there's only one computer you don't have to return. The rest, I'm constitutionally entitled to due process to receive."
Agent: "Plea bargains always contain a forfeiture clause. It states we can dispose of the seized items however we like. We just like to give the opportunity to return them."
Me: "Mine, you'll find, is worded differently. The change is subtle, but important. Can you pull mine up, and read the first sentence of the forfeiture clause to me?"
Agent: "'The defendant forfeits and otherwise waives any ownership right in all items involved in the acts alleged in the Bill of Information or Bill of Indictment.' Now see, I told you…"
Me: "Read Adam's Forfeiture clause. His is the boilerplate one. He had much bigger fish to fry than I did."
Agent: "*murmering to himself as he read it, tried to compare it*. 'I don't see the difference here.'."
Me: "I'll fax over a copy for your review, so you can see the difference. This was specifically negotiated, and I should be able to enforce it in court."
Agent: "I'm just trying to do my job, and close this case out."
Me: "I understand that, but I had a deal with the US government, and they can't try to get out of their obligations under the agreement just because they're inconvenient 10 years later. This is a written and enforceable contract, and this was an inseparable part of the deal. I can't go and un-serve probation, and the government can't change their mind after the fact"
Agent: "If you can fax me the highlighted sections, I'll run this by my boss."
Me: "No problem, I'm hitting send on the fax right now. Talk to you soon!"
My lawyer thought I was crazy for worrying about this, but I demanded a 2 word change in the plea bargain. The prosecutor was anxious to close the deal, and figured it was a very minor change, he assured me it 'only changed the wording, as I'd get back anything not used in the crime anyway'. I knew otherwise.
Suddenly, the change is clear, isn't it? The court only had the right to dispose of one computer – the laptop used to connect to the Lowe's network to check my email.
Small problem for them - They never bothered doing forensics on any of my data.
The FBI agent calls back a few days later, says this is all well and good, but there's over 40 hard drives and do I really expect them to do forensics on the drives to determine what was used in the crime and what wasn't? ABSOLUTELY. I offered to tell them the serial number of the laptop used to connect to the wifi, to let them wipe that, but they stated they couldn't just take my word for it.
Then, I said, they'd better dust off their copies of encase, and get to work. Because "it'd look stupid if you had to tell a judge you didn't want to honor my civil rights because it's really hard, and time consuming, but not important enough to do over the past 10 years we've had the data"
I didn't hear from them for a few months. I figured they were mulling their options.
…3 months later…
A very upset call from Fedex to my cell phone. Apparently I missed a dropoff. And the items were very, very large. And they were not pleased about that.
"Where are the items shipping from?"
"US Department of Justice, Western District of North Carolina…. Sounds like these are important, huh?"
"That's an understatement. My wife was at an appointment, she'll be home all day tomorrow. Can you reattempt delivery then?"
"Sure. Thanks for choosing FedEx!"
I got a call from Becky the next day. Apparently, the packages were too large for the FedEx delivery driver to carry himself. Becky had to help unload and carry them. Inside, were hundreds of pounds of equipment, paperwork, videotapes, CDs, … everything. Untouched.
Over the last month, I've been firing up machines one by one, and finding to my amazement that after a decade in storage, 100% of the data was intact and recoverable. I haven't gotten to the floppy disks yet, but my Kryoflux controller should make short work of that. Then my professional grade editing SVHS deck should make viewing the videotapes a snap.
I leave you with a celebratory posting of the oldest photo I can find of myself – this is from October of 2000, on my last day at Isiah.com before they went out of business. I looked like a dweeb back then.
A few months ago I activated a Compass 597 on Ting Wireless with the eventual intent of bashing together a small PIC based solution that used the USB features (though finding a similar chipset that I could miniaturize capable of running code generated by the Arduino software and libraries would have been my preference, I'm not aware of any AVRs that have proper USB support for the necessary USB profiles to get the device to work).
As summer approached, with projects ramping up at work, and Billy demanding more attention and interacting with me more when I'm home (not that I'm complaining, he's really fun to be around and I'm glad he's learning to communicate his desire for companionship and attention to me, even if the means used are sometimes inappropriate), the reality that this would be a project I wouldn't be getting to in a reasonable time period, began to set in. And around this time, I found the Eyez-on EZ120.
I've been researching products for some time, considering organizing to get my community in touch with Project Lifesaver and periodically checking to see if LoJack SafetyNet entered my area (they haven't) (amusingly, people have told me I should put LoJack on my kid, jokingly, and are often surprised to find that LoJack actually does in fact have a product that does exactly this).
Anyway, for our needs, Billy typically will not wander away from our property. He makes very few attempts to leave our house (usually the ones he tries for are when he sees the neighbor kid playing outside, or wants mulberries from the tree outside). We have multiple layers of security, extra locks, a baby gate, an alarm system, and a few other things to discourage his attempts. (Amusingly, he is so obsessed with having things be normal that if someone carelessly leaves the baby gate open, he will close it before he realizes "oh man, I could have gotten into the kitchen and raided the snack cupboard!"). Our problem is that if he will typically wander when we are already out somewhere to get away from stimulation or noise, or to go to somewhere that looks interesting to him (at Red Robin today, he ran off and went to the arcade area, and in the past he has run into crowds and run outside in a group of people at Eastern Market). The bear mentioned in the post above serves us well, but I worry that one day he may slip out while we're on a trip, or wander from school (which has happened once before!). For those situations the bear RF based beacon will not be practical, but a GPS beacon would.
Enter the EZ120. It's a small unit, fits in your palm, mostly concealable in the closed fist of the average adult male. It looks fairly weatherproof (but not submersible). The unit is sealed, all switches are depressed and membrane based, and the USB/Charging jack has a rubber plug that goes over it when you're not charging. It's small and light, and uses GPS with a GSM radio chipset to transmit location every 5 minutes, and provides the parent with a mobile webpage they can hit with their cellphone or tablet (it works great on my Samsung Galaxy S4, and my iPad 2). The portal lets you alter some settings as well, such as a speed at which the GPS will instantly alert you (so you can for example be notified if your child enters a car), an option to disable the power button (without that, the only way to get this GPS to shut it off is to submerge it or smash it, there's not an obvious battery cover that I could find), and (most importantly) the reporting interval used so you can set it to report very fast if the child is lost, as you can cover a lot of ground in the default 5 minute interval.
We mounted Billy's GPS beacon on his shoe, as it is the one thing he is consistently wearing when we're out and about, and if we tried to use straps to mount it on his body, it would meet a swift and painful death at his earliest opportunity. The shoe for him tends to be unobtrusive, doesn't affect his ability to walk, and is a visible indicator to grownups that "hey, maybe there's something up with this kid and I should cut him some slack, or stop him if I find him alone". The bear has been an interesting conversation starter, I'm sure a box that periodically blinks is equally interesting).
Thus far, in my experience, the unit has had good coverage in the city and metro areas of Detroit (despite its SIM being from Canadian carrier Telus, the service is advertised to work for no extra charge anywhere in North America, roaming charges apply if used overseas). The predicted accuracy of the GPS (displayed on the portal) is typically 200 feet indoors, and 40 foot or less outdoors. So this isn't a device that is going to help your child if they are lost in a museum (but it will help you find what wing, and confirm they're in the building, which I suppose is a darn good start!) but if they wander outdoors, this will literally save a life.
My biggest worries when I bought it were battery life and coverage, as well as durability, size and overall reliability of the GPS signal.
Battery Life: I'm used to fantastically unrealistic claims about battery life, having used smartphones for 8 or 9 years. So when they said 48 hours, I had a flashback to my Nexus S 4G, and its fabled 7 day battery life (realistically, that ended up being 6-8 hours of battery life, even on a brand new battery. I doubt I could have gotten 7 days on that thing even with the phone in Airplane mode, but I digress). But I was pleasantly surprised to find the device stand up to its claims. While I haven't let it run down fully, I have graphed its discharge rate under typical use (for periods of up to 18 hours so far) and found that it would likely exceed 48 hours by a slight margin, though I expect the dropoff at the last 10 or so percent is pretty severe, like most Li-Ion batteries.
Coverage: The unit, like I expected, is GSM based. (CDMA chipsets for independent developers are hard to come by, and carrier cooperation is even worse) I was concerned it may be on the T-Mobile network, as they historically have been wooing machine to machine developers the longest and hardest. They also don't have the best roaming agreements and tend to charge overage for roaming. Being that the SIM is from Telus, they are likely to have highly superior coverage, as every US carrier that has a GSM network MUST partner with Telus to cover large swaths of the Canadian market, and thus they are likely to reciprocate with every GSM carrier in the US who approaches them. I won't have to worry about the internecine warfare that carriers in the US seem to engage in. Technically, this bad boy is roaming 24/7 as I'm not even in the country where the originating carrier is. I have a feeling that this unit leverages that agreement in a certain way that is low cost or free (such as doing GPRS data, or SMS, or something else that is free/almost free in their contracts).
Durability: While the unit doesn't seem to meet Milspec 810E or IP-67, it seems relatively hardened. As mentioned before, there are membrane buttons or rubber plugs over openings, and the unit feels very solid, made of thick plastic and designed for the kind of abuse a child may throw at it. Billy has kicked tables with it multiple times without any visible impact or damage to the unit.
Size: It's actually smaller than the RF based bear locator. But only by a little bit. The case provided is suitable for our needs now, but there are no direct attachment points on the unit itself. It's designed for wearing on a belt, I used a ziptie to hold it to his fake shoelaces (they're velcro shoes), you could lace it into proper tie shoes without issue. If you want to body mount it, you'll have to find a nylon strap or something yourself, and if your child doesn't want it on, there's nothing in the packaged case to meaningfully impede them from removing it. Fashioning your own attachment method outside of that should be relatively easy given size and weight, a craft oriented person could find a number of ways (including sewing a special pocket into existing clothing) to put it on their child.
Reliability: The unit has never powered off since it arrived. I charge it nightly, and check it periodically on my phone to ensure it is always working correctly. My son has kicked things wearing it, jumps a lot (it's one of his stims) and crawls sometimes, banging his shoe mounted units on the floor. I haven't seen it fail to report in, the provided website seems to maintain good uptime, and I haven't seen periods where the device was in good signal but the website didn't show an update, or showed a delay.
One thing does annoy me – there is a panic button on the device, which my son will occasionally hit as it is visually interesting to him. This triggers a parental alert to our cell phones, and sends us a link with his coordinates. It has no reinforcing feedback on the unit, thankfully, so it doesn't reinforce that behavior by making a cool sound, or anything, and we ignore it when it happens so he doesn't realize it is annoying us and keep doing it. I wish I could disable that feature but it's not a big deal for us.
But i'm glad we bought the GPS, and the $20 a month seems quite fair for what we're provided.
Related news – we got talking to our local police when they responded to a call at our neighbor's house regarding an SUV that swerved off the busy road behind our house, and basically destroyed her garage and car (thankfully missing ours by roughly 15-20 feet, good for both us and the driver as our garage is made of brick, and the neighbor's is wood). Becky asked them what would be a good time to stop by and introduce Billy to law enforcement officers and vice versa, and they got talking and it turns out the officer's kid is also a wanderer, and knew exactly what we were talking about. They apparently will keep records and photograph Billy, and update our file in the 911 dispatch system to inform officers that there is a special needs child in the home. I'm very pleased with that, so Becky will be stopping by in the next week or so to take care of that.
So we got a call from Henry Ford's Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities. They got the paperwork! (Well, that was actually a separate call earlier this week, letting me know they got it and didn't forget about us…) And they were happy to let me know that they were wanting to set Billy up for the next available appointment date.
I of course asked when that was.
"October 16th! We have an opening at 9am and noon!"
"… what? That's your earliest date?"
"Yes. We can add him to the cancellation list too, something might come up earlier, it happens from time to time"
"ok. Well, he'll be in school for a few months by then, so let's schedule it after class so it's less disruptive to his schedule. noon sounds great."
Could be worse, a parent on MyAutismTeam commented on my post there saying U of M is scheduling appointments 2 YEARS OUT. TWO WHOLE YEARS. Good lord.
Anyway, we also ordered this today. Celluar based GPS tracker should be good for when we're camping this summer. Last summer we had a minor incident where he wandered 3 rows of tents down to play with someone else's dog. Back then he was essentially nonverbal so it was extra scary. Now, he'll have GPS tracking, be trained how to swim (which he gets better at every day, 18 weeks of formal 1:1 training and swimming 3 times a week will do that, I guess!), and be equipped with a PECS to help him communicate where words fail him.
We still plan on using the teddy bear beacon/tracker for times when we expect him to try to wander off (like at Eastern Market, or at the fireworks, both of which he loves, but also loves to try to seek his own path, which obviously is unacceptable!), but the GPS will give us peace of mind if he disappears at times we don't expect him to. The GPS duty cycle and battery is supposedly good for 3 days. If we're good about keeping it plugged in at night, this should be perfect for essentially 24/7 monitoring. Not sure where we'll attach it yet, I may have to make it a waterproof shoe case. I wish I could just strap it to his ankle like a criminal's tether, but i can see him trying to focus every bit of energy on getting that off him posthaste, damaging it if necessary. (if he's one thing, it's clever and determined!).
Today, I saw Billy swim roughly 10 feet while treading water and keeping his head dry. I'm super excited about that.
Last week he was playing around near the edge of the pool at the YMCA and fell in. He swam back to safety and pulled himself out of the water. I'm also super excited about that.
Survived it. It wasn't earth shattering. I made a reasonable size deal of pushing for a outreach to the local first responders to have a meet and greet where the students can practice their social scripts, and the law enforcement/EMS/Fire can learn how to deal with various special needs first hand. They were all very interested in this idea. Let's see if that dog hunts.
Got the autism paperwork submitted to Henry Ford, let's see what happens there.
Got a batch of intact computers back from the FBI. Excitedly awaiting the rest.
Just wanted to call attention to this page as well: stophurtingkids.com
My school used physical restraint in situations where there was no risk of harm, and often secluded me well into middle elementary. I spent entire afternoons in hallways or locked/unlocked rooms off the library in school, without adult supervision, because the adults lacked proper training on how to deal with children who had disabilities that caused them to be disruptive, or to 'not fit in in the classroom environment'. As my mom said "if we hadn't fought for your rights and for inclusion, you'd have spent most of your educational career hiding curled up under the principal's desk, locked in a hallway somewhere, or god knows what".
It's always in the back of my mind when dealing with schools. I mean, having giant custodians manhandle you and do prone takedowns to keep you in your hallway seat has an effect on a 1st-2nd grader. I have recollections of them experimenting with mechanical restraints too, but I'm pretty sure that didn't last long.
Anyway, these practices need to end in the United States. Children are being seriously injured or killed from improper restraints, or improper supervision. And it has no educational or therapeutic benefit.
Becky got a set of family car window stickers that are zombies from Billy for mother's day. We were all joking about eating each other, and decided Billy would make a crummy zombie because of the amount of food chaining it would take before he ate brains.
And yep, that's our house for you.
Happy mother's day to every mom out there!