Tech Q and A: I Am Serious. And Don't Call Me Shirley

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Published September 29, 2008

| FoxNews.com

Every other week or so, FOXNews.com tries to solve your most vexing technology-related problems. Send your questions to TechQuestions@foxnews.com and we'll reply to selected ones in our next installment.

I Am Serious. And Don't Call Me Shirley

Q: I live in Saint Paul, Minn. Tonight I received a phone call from the Obama campaign asking how I would be voting. I have an unlisted/unpublished phone number and am on the "Do Not Call" list.

How did the Obama campaign get my phone number? I make it a point NOT to enter my phone number on any Web site registrations, and I always ask anyone I do business with online to respect my privacy.

What else can I do to prevent random phone calls during dinner?

• Click here for FOXNews.com's Personal Technology Center.

A: These are politicians, right? The same bunch who passed the legislation which set up the Federal Do Not Call Registry?

What are the odds that these guys would pass a law making it illegal for them to call you, hmm?

If you said, "slim-to-none," you're right. Political calls are excluded from the Federal DNC Registry. That means politicians can call you whenever and however they feel like it, even cell-phone numbers, whether or not your number is registered.

How did they get your phone number? They use automated equipment, which dials your area code, your three-digit local exchange prefix and each and every one of the 10,000 possible individual numbers within the local exchange, from 0000 to 9999, including yours.

How did they get your name? From any one of several reverse-lookup phone-number databases available.

Technically, here's how it works.

The automated equipment dials the number and then monitors voltage on the line. Voltage drops with respect to the ring voltage (which is about 50 volts) when the line is picked up. Then the equipment has to decide if it has a live human on the line, a fax/data modem, an answering machine or a disconnect.

If it's a human, the equipment transfers the call to the telemarketer and displays the name on his screen. The telemarketer hears a tone in his headset, looks at the name and says, "Hello, is the Smith residence?" or "Good evening, may I speak with Mr. Jones, please?"

Note that he never actually heard you answer — the equipment was still deciding if it had a carbon-based life form on the line. If he sounds a little addled when he first speaks, that's why.

If it's a modem of some sort, the equipment detects the high-pitch whistle tone — called the "carrier" tone — and keeps track of that fact in its memory.

It does the same thing if it "hears" the hiss of an answering machine tape, and, of course, if it hears the distinctive "doo-bee-DEEP" tone indicating a number no longer in service.

That tone, by the way, is called the SIT or "Special Information Tone" There are eight variations in all.

If the automated equipment hears the SIT disconnect on three successive calls, the number is removed from the master list. And that's its Achilles' Heel.

You can purchase a little piece of hardware called the "TeleZapper" (http://www.telezapper.com) for $39.95, which sends the SIT on every call you pick up, in order to fool/discourage telemarketers.

If you're more the do-it-yourself type, you can download a copy of the SIT from http://www.scn.org/~bk269/zapper.html#zapper and put it at the beginning of your answering machine message.

Then you can use the answering machine to screen calls. Telemarketing equipment "hears" the SIT when your message starts and moves on to the next number on the list; you pick up the calls from live humans.

Alternatively, if you don't want to explain the funny tones to legitimate callers, you can go to http://www.StopPoliticalCalls.org and register your telephone number with them. It's free.

Metadata: Not One of the Transformers

Q: How do I get the information (length, title, artist) from the tracks on a CD to transfer (copy) over when I try to transfer the songs to my Sansa E250 MP3 player?

A: The information you are talking about is called "metadata."

"Think of metadata as a little database associated with each song," writes Rick Broida of the Lifehacker Web site. "Within that database are 'tags' that identify the song name, artist, album, music genre, release year and more. Obviously those tags tell more about the file than a filename ever could; you could have an MP3 called JQ7b$.mp3, but as long as it has accurate tags, your iPod will identify it as 'Feel Like Myself' by Brendan Benson off the Alternative to Love album.

"Songs obtained from peer-to-peer software and other questionable sources are notorious for having messed-up metadata. Even CD rips can produce incomplete tags if the software wasn't configured to fetch album data from the Internet. In short, there's every chance that at least some of the songs in your library have missing or inaccurate metadata."

Rick then gives an excellent tutorial on correcting the metadata in your mp3 collection. You can find it here.

Your mp3 player doesn't have a program for transferring files from a CD directly to the player. It assumes an intermediate step, where you transfer the music from CD to the disk drive in your computer (a process called "ripping") — and from there copy it to the player (a process known as "synchronization" or "syncing").

Your manual suggests using Windows Media Player (WMP) for this intermediate step.

WMP is set up to search the Internet for album data as it rips each CD.

In fact, there's a little note in the help file that says, in effect, if you're offline when you rip the CD, you can go back and download the information you need by clicking on the "Library" tab, right-clicking the "Paste Art Here" icon next to the album, and selecting "Find Album Info" from the context menu.

Next time you synchronize your device, the information should transfer. Emphasis on the "should."

If it doesn't, then perhaps this cryptic little note in your User's Guide (page 19) makes sense: "For correct Album Work functionality, the art and associated music file may need to be located in the same folder."

Not Even Norton Can Protect You, Part Two

Q: I was surfing the 'net and I got a message from the CA Anti-Virus security software, which is installed on my computer. The message said that there had been two Trojan viruses found on my PC, but that one of them was "deleted" and the other one was "infected." I ran a scan right after receiving the message and the scan result shows "No Quarantined," "No Infected."

My question: Does "infected" means my computer was infected at the time, but then cleaned by CA Anti-Virus right away — or is there another meaning?

A: Sounds like you did everything right. You recognized a message from your installed protection program — CA in this case — and you took the added precaution of running a complete scan just to make sure. Good job!

You ask a great question. What does it mean to be infected?

To my way of thinking, a computer is "infected" if the virus or malware has installed itself on the computer.

For example, let's say that you have received an e-mail containing some sort of malware — in this case, a note saying that you have received an "e-greeting" and inviting you to click on a link to see it.

But what you click isn't a link to a Web page — it's an executable file (it has ".exe" at the end of the file name).

Your antivirus program would find that attachment and tell you that the file was "infected" and either remove it or quarantine it — but until you actually click on the attachment, your computer is not infected.

It's kind of like touching a doorknob and having the flu virus on your hands. You don't actually get sick until you rub your eyes or put your fingers in your mouth. Hopefully, you wash your hands before that happens.

More Feedback on Digital Television

Brett N. was kind enough to send in some feedback on my statement that I watched "Sunday Night Football" on the Internet. He writes:

Re-broadcast of NFL football is illegal without the express written consent of the NFL.

I appreciate the concern for my legal well-being, Brett, but the NFL is actually conducting an experiment this season.

In an article from the Los Angeles Times, July 26, 2008, we read "The National Football League, signaling a major shift in strategy, will stream live broadcasts of Sunday-night football games beginning in September, making the contests widely available on the Internet for the first time."

I'm noticing that many television networks are beginning to experiment with making certain episodes available over the Internet.

USA Networks, for example, lets you watch complete episodes of "Monk," "The Starter Wife," "Psych" and "Burn Notice." I have watched "Chuck" and "Heroes" episodes on the NBC Web site, as well as "Flashpoint" and "The Mentalist" episodes on the CBS Web site.

This is all very encouraging to me. What happens, however, when companies that provide both Internet connectivity and television programming perceive certain Web sites as a threat?

For example, let's say you're running a company called — oh, I don't know, "Comcast" — and you perceive that a site that allows downloading of video content — let's call it "BitTorrent" — is a threat.

So you decide to limit traffic from that site. Is this "reasonable network management" or is it something more sinister?

That, in a nutshell, is the problem that the government is currently grappling with. It's called "network neutrality." You can read the basics in the Wikipedia article here.

Guy R. Briggs is a member of the Nerds On Site international IT service team and is based in Los Angeles.

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