Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Below is the message I emailed to my U.S. Senators and Representatives for North Carolina concerning the big health care debate. I am totally against it. There was so much more I wanted to say, but when you write them, you need to keep short and to the point. I may have failed on the "short" part.

To find your state Senators, visit this link

To find your state Representatives, visit this link

Feel free to use it if you agree:

Please, say NO, to this health care reform that is being forced on us. Yes, we have an imperfect system. But putting in the hands of the government will make it worse. I see it like this: if the proposed health care plan ends up being ANYTHING like North Carolina's Alcoholic Beverage Commission, then we can forget about getting the best stuff there is!

My wife is a sufferer of Cystic Fibrosis and a double-lung and kidney transplant recipient. She requires many high-dollar medications, and VERY specialized treatments from some of the best and brightest our country has to offer. She has had to watch many friends in Canada and in the UK die from C.F. because they were on waiting lists just to be assessed for a transplant. Why was that? Because a government run system, in essence, puts a salary cap on doctors. Why would someone want to become a neurosurgeon after 14-16 years of post-graduate study, only to end up being rewarded as much as a general practitioner? It will create a shortage of specialists and will put people like my wife on a waiting list to see them. And the government, which is in a deficit, will determine which drugs they will provide for her. Unacceptable.

There is ONE thing I can stomach; one law I could stand behind: making insurance companies step up to the plate and look after their fellow-man and cover pre-existing conditions. Yes, that MAY raise premiums for everyone, but everyone WILL be covered.

Greed, more than anything has ruined this system. Patients and lawyers suing for millions in "damages" for "malpractice". Something has to be done about that. This cause put into effect higher insurance premiums, higher rates for malpractice insurance for the doctors.

Lastly, a government run health care system is already in place and it does just enough to keep most of its patients alive: Veterans Affairs hospitals. Walking down the halls of one you would think you were in a third-world hospital. My wife, and the many other chronic sufferers in the U.S. would not survive that.

Say NO. We do not need a deficit any bigger. We don't need a VA style medical system for our country. We don't need what is being proposed by the President. Please help stop this madness.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

AT&T Central Office (pt. II)

Before reading this, if you haven't already, I suggest you read AT&T Central Office (pt. I).

Behold, the old AT&T logo. The Doonesbury comic, back in the 80's, once made a joke about this logo being the Death Star; suggesting that AT&T was the evil galactic empire. Funny idea, but NOT the case. I've got a great job.

As mentioned in my previous post about the Central Office, every line, or phone number, comes from a point in the switch. The majority of those points go to your basic phone line in your home. We refer to those as POTS (Plain Old Telephone System (that's what it really stands for)). Fortunately for our high-tech 21st century world, not every switch point is a POTS line.

Some of these are Special Services circuits. Special Services could be anything from an Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) line, Foreign Exchange (FX) line, dedicated 56/64/128 Kb circuit, or a dedicated radio circuit. These circuits go from the switch to a D4 bank where special circuit packs, or channel boards, are seated to carry out these special services and tasks (see photo below). For more details what these types of circuits do, leave your comments and I will respond in kind.

Once the Special Services circuit is wired up to the D4, it is then combined, or multiplexed, into four T1's (we'll discuss T1's in the next post). The T1's are trasported out of the CO to another D4 location somewhere outside the office, near the customer. The T1's are demultiplexed into their individual circuits to the customer's premises. Ta-daaaa! You now have your ISDN line.

And we have aisles and aisles and shelves and shelves of these D4 and SLC thingys!
"What's a SLC?", you say. Keep reading.

Other lines, that are not Special Services go to SLCs, or Subscriber Line Carriers. SLCs are systems that save AT&T money on infrastructure, which in turn saves you money. SLCs also help extend the reach of the Central Office. Distance matters greatly in the telecommunications business. There is electrical voltage and current on your phone line. The farther the copper wire has to go, the more voltage has to be put on the line. This raises the cost of service and could turn phone lines into an electrical or fire hazard.

I don't remember the exact distances but I'll try to make this easy to understand. Customers in "Group A" live within "X" miles of the CO. Their lines go directly from the switch to a cable leaving the CO. Customers in "Group B" live outside the radius of "X" miles and are too far away from the office to get a loud and clear connection on their line. "Group B" get their connections through a SLC.

One SLC system combines 96 customers and transports them over four T1's to another SLC system outside the "X mile" radius. There, the 96 customers are broken down into their individual channels and then to their homes or businesses. A SLC96 system (the oldest system we use) is pictured below. The SLC96 is similar in appearance and function to the D4 system. But if you look closely you can tell they have many differences.

AT&T uses newer types and brands of SLC systems; that put fiber optics to use and better mux/demux technologies. I won't bore you with those details here. We'll do that in another post.

If you have any questions and want to know more, please leave your questions in the comments section and I will get back to you.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Church Signs

Is this church sending the right message?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

AT&T Central Office (pt. I)

I work for AT&T. On Twitter, I often talk about my work and what I am doing. I throw around words like "switch", "T1", "central office" or "CO".

So I have decided to shed some light on what goes on in a CO. What exactly is in there, and what happens when you pick up your phone to call someone. I have difficulty being succinct. Please bear with me, I will try to keep everything simple. When people ask me what I do, I sometimes tell them that my job is like The Matrix: "You can't be told what [it] is, you have to be shown what [it] is."

So here goes:

First there is the conference room:

Okay, I'm kidding. I'm trying to throw in some humor. This is actually the supervisor's office.

Okay, moving on.....

This is the switch. This photo is showing a small portion of the equipment involved in this particular office. It's so big that I could not get it all in one shot. The switch is the heart of the CO. The switch IS the office, so to speak. Thanks to automation, this bad boy does the 24/7 job of over 100 switchboard operators from back in the day. The first automated switch was actually invented by a dentist. He got ticked off over the "criminal" long distance bills and sought to get even with the operators by putting them out of a job. Job well done, I say.

Not counting the area code, the first three digits in a phone number, or "exchange", are specifying a switch. A technician well versed in his region of work can tell what town you live in just by the exchange. However, the advent of the cell phone has made this a little more difficult. With cell phones, the exchanges denote the carrier that you are with. A switch can handle several exchanges, but only one area code. If this office handled two area codes then there would be two switches.

Aside from the Command, Power, and Miscellaneous modules, there are several Switch Modules that have individual channels for each phone line. These channels, or points, must be wired to a cable to get the dial tone to your home or business. This wiring is semi-permanent. Meaning, if you move two streets over and keep the same number, I have to change the wiring to a new cable pair; or if you disconnect your phone, I have to remove the wiring. This wiring is handled on the Main Distribution Frame, or MDF, or just "the frame".

The photo above is the front side to the frame where the technician wires up your phone number to the switch. In the next photo, it looks a little overwhelming, but in our computer systems, every phone number is assigned "coordinates" to direct the technician to the right point. Two wires per line: one blue and one white; Transmit and Receive; Tip and Ring (long story there, but if you wanna know, leave comments).

The next photo is the backside of the frame where the technician wires up the blue/white jumper to the cable pair that will get the dial tone to your home.

Each line has a heat coil that works like a fuse, protecting the switch, or office equipment, from power surges and lightning strikes. The frame allows a technician to test your line when you call to report a trouble with your line. Yes, one can listen in on your phone conversations from here. But because I'm a telephone worker, it's legal for me, and I only do it when it's necessary. Besides, if I divulge anything that I overhear, not only will I quickly lose my job, but I will have committed a federal crime. Not something that I, or my coworkers, take lightly. Your secrets are safe with us. And to assure you further, the line information that I have access to (phone number, switch point, cable pair) DOES NOT include your name or address. This protects you all the more. Again, your secrets are safe with us. So next time you hear a clicking noise on your phone, it may be us working to ensure your satisfaction.

The next two photos, and the last I'm going to do for this post, are of the cables and the cable vault that is in the basement of this building. The smaller gray cables up top are connected to the frame. The large cylinders are the splice casings. And the black cables below the splice casings are going to the basement, two floors down.

Once the cable goes to the cable vault in the basement, it then leaves the building and heads out to your home or business. My line of work stops at the frame. I don't work with cables. I can honestly say "that's not my job."

Notice my hand in the right side of the photo below. I figured I would give you a reference for size. I think these cables are 100 pair cables. There are 200, 24-gauge, individual wires in each casing. It may be 26 gauge. I'm not sure because "that's not my job". I do know that the yellow cables in the top of the photo are fiber optic cables. I'll talk more about those in a later post.
I hope you found this interesting. I have a lot more to show, and I'll show it later. Leave your questions in the comments and I'll try to answer them.

Ho Hum

Haven't posted in a while. My apologies to those who check here once in a while. I'm working on a big post about where I work. It'll be interesting. I promise. Check back soon. I might even get it up tonight!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Giant Mouse

I just got an email from a friend of mine in our operations center in Charlotte, NC. On April 21, 2009 there was a trouble on a T1 type circuit in Cleveland, OH. The following images detail what was seen, and the notes the technician put on his ticket.

The following is quoted from the email my friend received:

"This was at a [central office] in Cleveland (Ohio) - looks like we have [a] new employee. Check out the WFA notes on the order - you southern folks know the difference between an Opossum and a rat (I'm not making any dinner jokes), apparently us northerners don't know the difference and can't even spell Opossum..."

Friday, April 24, 2009

Friday Night

The good thing about working the third shift is when I come Friday morning at 9am, I'm done for the week.  So I get home, mow the yard, take a 3-hour power nap, get on the playstation, and now my day is spent.  Where did the day go?

My wife, Christy, made a very simple, yet VERY delicious dinner with Chicken, onions, leeks, artichokes, and potatoes.  If you've never cooked with leeks, it's something you should start doing. They add so much flavor.

Now the lady has me sitting here watching The Secret Life Of Bees. It's a sad/feel-good movie with its fair share of cheese.  It has succeeded in lowering my IQ a few points. So here I am blogging.

The downside to working third shift is that come Friday/Saturday night, I'm expected to sleep and function on normal hours. Thus, I'm helping my sister-in-law and her family move into their new house tomorrow. Does the fun ever stop?

...a bit mysterious, maybe?

Here in the Bible Belt, that is, the southeastern United States, it is not uncommon to see bible verses quoted on every street corner, business card, advertisement, and so forth. Sometimes it works for you and what you're trying to convey; and sometimes it doesn't quite fit. Take this sign for example: for the past year, I've been trying to understand the message the business owner is trying to convey.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Statesville, NC

The bustling metropolis that is Statesville, as seen from the roof. The George Clooney movie "Leatherheads" was filmed, in part, here in the summer of '07.

The neighborhood crackhouses, next door to the AT&T central office. Yes, on just about any given evening you can watch them conduct their business.

Random Shots

I was walking around Wal-Mart this morning and saw some things that made me shake my head, "What have we come to as a society?"

In case you crave the LARGE coffe. It's actually a flower pot.

These are pinatas. They're in the shape of graduation caps. Really!?

You Don't Mess Around With Jim

This is Jim. Co-worker and telecom mentor. Why is his image here? Just because. Besides, I like Jim, and "You don't mess around with Jim".