How to stop robocalls – Jolly Roger Telephone

2021-02-16 Comments off

I wanted to share my experience filtering calls to my 90-year-old mother who has had her phone number for 60 years and appears to be on every scam caller list. Every list. And she felt compelled to answer every call. Every. Call.

First, I switched her phone service from Comcast to Google Voice.  I won’t go into the technical details of the move, but it’s a two step process (Comcast to burner phone, then burner phone to Google Voice). This was my first step to filtering her calls because I believe Comcast customers are being targeted by scammers and I hoped that moving to Google Voice SPAM filtering would offer better control over her calls.

Initially, I moved to Google Voice as part of a cost reduction for my Mom, and it provides ‘spam filtering’ capabilities.  It turned out that the spam filtering wasn’t very good for faked local numbers so after some research, I went with the nuclear option and configured call filtering using Jolly Roger Telephone (link below).

Jolly Roger is *amazing*.  Robots answer the phone and hang up telemarketers and scammers and Mom’s phone never rings.  The record voicemail was 7.5 minutes…

To be honest, Jolly Roger is pretty good, but the Final Solution was to put every ‘good’ caller onto the whitelist and block every other area code in the United States, block all foreign calls and block all toll free calls. The whitelist was more of a challenge. I had a phone history of several months and included her doctors, friends, family, etc.  Jolly Roger includes simple check boxes to block 800 calls, overseas numbers, and similar.  Ultimately, I configured a ‘blacklist’ of prohibited callers using wildcard entries for EVERY AREA CODE in the US except two local area codes.

It seems extreme, but then we just had to deal with faked local numbers, and I had a large list of exchanges that I blocked.

Categories: security Tags:

These are a few of my favorite things

2021-02-15 Comments off

UPDATE – added to the list.

Like everyone else, I’ve been working remotely since March 2020.

Ergonomics is a huge issue for me, and something everyone should consider. In my home office, I have the following setup:

  1. Chair – I have a Staples brand chair, and I upgraded the wheels from a Reading, PA based company
  2. Desks – I have old Steelcase desks that are circa 1960’s (think Mad Men) and I think my father purchased them from RCA at some point. They work well for me, they are deep, lots of storage, and they are very sturdy.
  3. (2) 24″ monitors – for now, 24″ monitors are my sweet spot, your mileage may vary. I recommend getting identical monitors so you don’t hang your mouse as you move from screen to screen which can happen with different resolution monitors and it’s maddening.
  4. Desk mat – think of it as a giant mousepad, but you can put you keyboard and mouse. It covers up any imperfections in the desk surface, and I find it more comfortable in warm weather.
  5. Keyboard – I use a mechanical keyboard. Personal preference, I don’t judge, but I started computing on one of the original IBM PC metal keyboards (which I still have), and I’m a touch typist, and it works for me.
  6. Mouse – Logitech wireless mouse and buy the Unify USB dongle which allows you to switch mice any time you want. I own many wireless mice. MX Revolution, Performance MX, M705 or M720 (battery lasts for *years*).
  7. Headphones – Plantronics. My BIL Mitch gifted me with a headset when he worked for Plantronics “back in the day”, and it continues to be my go-to headset.
  8. Camera – I’m using an old Microsoft HD camera, but any of the Microsoft or Logitech cameras should work. I work with my laptop closed, so I can’t use the built-in camera, and using a USB camera means I can unplug it when it’s not in use. Also, 720p is more than enough resolution for personal and business video conferencing.
  9. Network – this is a huge issue for work-at-home. ISP’s are scare mongering you to upgrade to Gigabit speeds. After analysis, our home subscription is 100 Mbps/6Mbps down/upload speeds. This is more than enough to support two of us working concurrently on video calls while someone is watching Netflix or YouTube TV.
  10. Printer – get a laser printer. Period. They are fast, inexpensive, and toner lasts forever. If you need to print in color, take it to Kinkos, CVS, or similar. After you print your draft in grayscale. I’ve used Brother multi-function laser printers since 2007. Also, get duplex capabilities, it’s easier for scanning, and saves paper when printing. Third party, high-capacity toners is both inexpensive and high quality.
    I have an older model that includes FAX, so the link below is for the equivalent, but without FAX.
  11. USB charging block – for my office I have an Anker six port, 60W USB charger. It’s a monster that can charge six devices at a time and it has a permanent location in my office with every type of charging cable I use already plugged in and fed through a cable organizer to keep things (relatively) neat. I charge lights for my bike, headphones, cell phones, fitness devices, anything and everything that charges with a USB cable.
  12. Password manager – if you don’t already use one, get one. I use LastPass, but 1Password and similar products are quite good. I recommend selecting one that works well with your platform (Windows, Mac), your browsers (Firefox, Microsoft, Chrome, and derivatives), and your phone. Make sure it works well with your phone.
    Import all the passwords from your browsers, then disable password save feature of the browsers.
    Check your accounts for re-used passwords – start with critical accounts like financial services
    Next, review all your accounts and update passwords using the password manager to generate secure, unique passwords.

Reference links

Microsoft LifeCam HD-3000, Retail

CM Storm QuickFire Rapid – Tenkeyless, red switches

Brother MFCL2750DW Monochrome All-in-One Wireless Laser Printer, Duplex Copy & Scan

Home Network description and recommendations

USB Wall Charger, Anker 60W 6 Port USB Charging Station


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Home Network Recommendation

2020-11-25 Comments off

Today I received an email from one of our neighbors, actually their son! He’s a gamer, super technical, and after replying, I thought it would be better to document my recommendations here and update based on feedback from Rob and others.


First, determine whether you need to replace the cable modem.  Once you know it needs to be replaced, I recommend buying separate devices for each layer of your home network – cable modem, security device, then switch/wireless.  This lets you buy the most cost-effective device with exactly the features and performance you want for each layer of the network.


Cable modem

I like the Arris/Motorola cable modems, reference link below for Wirecutter recommendations.  I wouldn’t go crazy.  I have an old ARRIS SURFboard SB6183.  It Just Works.  Also, I have 100Mbps service and it’s not a bottleneck.  It’s DOCSIS 3.0, but if you get a new one, make sure it supports the latest DOCSIS 3.1 standard.  That’s all you need – match the rated performance of your cable modem with your Internet connection speed.  There’s no advantage to getting a 1Gbps cable modem for a 200 Mbps connection.  



I use a Meraki security appliance, but only because I got it free through a certification program.  When I replace it, I’ll probably buy a Ubuquiti USG or similar.  You would be appalled at the stuff it blocks and attempted connections I see on a regular basis.  Reference links below and note that you would buy the USG with a Cloud Key for management (detailed in how-to link below).



Get a good, 1Gbps switch with 8 or more ports to connect your laptop and other devices as needed.  Make sure the switch does *not* have a fan, you want everything to use passive cooling and be silent.  Early switches required fans, they all go bad, and they all make too much noise.



I have a Google WiFi mesh which works well.  I bought three access points, but only need two for our house (two story colonial with a basement).  If you live in an apartment, I would just get a reliable access point and locate it to get the best coverage in the apartment.  Make sure anything you buy supports WPA2/3 and use a complex admin password to secure your AP.


Bonus Tip

If you don’t already have a spare Raspberry Pi, buy two or three and configure one to run PiHole. PiHole can provide DNS services, but more important is it is a very effective ad filter for your home network.  You will notice it on your phone immediately and you also benefit from having a local DNS server that you control.  On my network it’s filtering >30% of the DNS queries from our Roku TV to our phones and laptops. I’m using a Model 3B Raspberry Pi and be sure to buy a reliable power supply like the Anker Elite Dual Port 24W ($11 from Amazon!).


Reference Links


The Best Cable Modem


Ubuquiti USG security gateway –


How To: Deploying a Ubiquiti UniFi Home Network including Multiple WiFi Access Points (Part 1) UPDATED


Pi-hole® – Network-wide Ad Blocking


Dashboard from Paul’s PiHole

Categories: Internet Tags:

YouTube TV and CBS All Access streaming issues using PiHole

2020-11-11 Comments off

UPDATE – there was a widespread two hour (or so) outage for YouTube and YouTube TV when I posted the original article. After further research, there *is* an issue streaming CBS All Access with PiHole active. The work around for this is to whitelist the two FQDN’s below. Once this is in place, content streams normally.

I’m using PiHole to block ads on my home network. I’ll post more about my PiHole setup later, but tonight I realized that “CBS All Access” and YouTube TV apps on our Roku weren’t streaming content with PiHole enabled.

I didn’t have time to narrow down the root cause, but I’ll investigate this over the weekend. I will note the issue probably started last week, but tonight it was a non-starter when we attempted to stream “CBS Sunday Morning”, Jeopardy, and “Chasing Classic Cars” (Motor Trend).


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Microsoft Word is the best WordPress desktop app

2020-11-01 Comments off

Obviously I had too much candy on Halloween and coffee today. I decided to start posting my backlog of technical notes to WordPress. Naturally I pulled out my old WordPress tools and none of them worked. Attempts to configure resulted in the apps throwing hands like my youngest daughter.

Result – I remembered posting in Microsoft Word. Since Office 365 is my primary life app, this was an easy choice. It’s super easy to configure for WordPress, I have full control of my editing, and I don’t have to learn the idiosyncrasies of another editor.

Reference link below, and tested with WordPress 5.5.3.

Help with blogging in Word

Microsoft Teams administration error – solved!

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Our engineers ran into an issue attempting to update Microsoft Teams through the Admin Center. The engineers opened a ticket with Microsoft Support, and they hadn’t run into this before and thought it was a proxy error. Well, we are working from home and none of us were using any standard proxy. We also weren’t using a VPN and testing with ‘all the standard browsers’ (Firefox, Chrome, Edge, and a few others). No joy.

We *were* able to connect if we used Fiddler. Which is strange because Fiddler is a proxy, right?

Anyhow, we resolved the issue. Super easy. We manually changed our local system DNS to Google DNS ( Can’t really explain that one. I’m using PiHole locally, the other engineer was using Comcast. Both our systems are using commercial network gear with no filtering.

Screen shot and error string below for reference.

Hope this helps someone, because when I searched for the string below (in quotes), I got exactly one unique result that wasn’t very helpful.

Error String:
“We can’t get the effective dial plan so the dial plan can’t be tested.”


Screen Shot:

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Cord Cutting or AT&T ruined DirecTV and how we fixed the problem

2019-10-13 Comments off


We have been testing streaming services off and on for the past several years. We were early adopters for various streaming devices (Roku, Chromecast) and many streaming services, including Netflix (DVD, now streaming), Amazon Prime, Netflix, Hulu, Britbox, DirecTV Now, and YouTube TV.

Recently we had our roof replaced. In doing so, our DirecTV dish was removed, and after review, we decided to cancel our DirecTV subscription.


Prior to YouTube TV, other ‘cable replacement’ options that provided local TV as well as the non-network content we wanted were almost unusable from an interface standpoint.

Cable replacement requirements

  1. Roku device support
  2. Local channels, BBC America, and short list of cable stations we like
  3. Usable User Interface – high priority
  4. Cloud DVR capability – minimum of 200 – 300 hours (record Olympics)

Throughout these experiments, DirecTV has been our cable provider of choice. DirecTV offered the content we wanted as well as innovative technology, such as the DirecTiVo. I was able to pick up used DirecTiVo’s for <$50 and upgrade them with large hard drives to get ~300 hours of recording time. This was great because we had three school age daughters and I dedicated one unit to record just about the entire Olympics coverage circa 2004.

5 Very Common Cord Cutting Mistakes & How You Can Avoid Them

  1. Rushing into cord cutting – before we cut the cord, we used the Roku and at least a dozen streaming services for several years. This was not something new for us, so when the time came, it was easy for us to make a joint decision.
  2. Cord cutting does NOT work like cable – we determined we required a streaming service that provided local channels, some cable channels, and had at least a 200-hour DVR capability, ideally cloud based. YouTube TV has an unlimited DVR capability.
  3. Cost – we tracked costs of cable and streaming services
  4. Content – you can’t have everything. For example, we do NOT care about sports, but we DO care about Olympic coverage, BBC America, and some channels like Hallmark that our family likes to binge during winter holidays.
  5. Robust Internet provider – we aren’t huge fans of Comcast/Xfinity cable, but they have provided a robust, broadband Internet service. They are also the ONLY broadband option in our area. DSL is available, but not broadband. We are half way between two CO’s, and FIOS doesn’t have a contract with our township

Cons – we live in an imperfect world…

  • No Hallmark Channel. I don’t care, but my wife and daughters (who don’t even live with us) are relentlessly nagging campaigning to subscribe to the Hallmark Channel for holiday movies.
  • CBS DVR shows are actually “CBS On Demand” and have commercials that you can’t skip. Also, until the software was upgraded, it didn’t handle the transition to/from commercials properly which caused some shows to hang. Credit to YouTube/CBS for fixing this.
  • Bandwidth to the TCL TV – we have experienced some buffering issues and sluggish interface behavior with Roku TV. This isn’t a show stopper, and I have been making it a “priority device” for Google WiFi. Next step is to configure an Ethernet connection.
  • That’s it! We are very happy with the cord cutting.


Subscriptions (monthly)
YouTube TV        $49.99
Hulu w/no ads        $11.99
Netflix            $13.85
Total            $75.83

AT&T DirecTV was $96.91 – $102 for two TV’s, the least expensive package available, and DVR with whole home viewing


  • Network
    • Internet Provider – Comcast Performance Plus Internet – 200/12 Mbps
      • Testing with lower speed Internet tiers showed the 200 Mbps speed offered double the uplink speed (for VoIP performance) and better overall performance. This is probably overkill, but the difference between <100 Mbps and 200 Mbps was about $10/month.
      • There is no data cap for residents of New Jersey. Other states have a monthly, 1TB data cap.
    • Arris SB6183 Cable Modem
    • Google Mesh Wifi – NLS-1304-25
    • Meraki Security Appliance
    • Meraki 8 Port Switch
  • Video
    • TV – TCL 65R615
      • Roku TV 9.2.x
      • Roku Wireless speakers
    • Panasonic VIERA TC-L42E50 (7 years old)
      • Roku Stick+
    • Visio 32″ 1080i TV
      • Roku 2
  • Voice
    • ObiHai 201 device
    • Google Voice Service
    • Panasonic cordless phones


DirecTV and TiVo History

XFINITY Terabyte Internet Data Usage Plan

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AT&T to lose 1.1 million TV subscribers as DirecTV continues nosedive

2019-09-13 Comments off

We subscribed to DirecTV for over 15 years, but cut the cord months after AT&T acquired DirecTV. There were some minor issues with the DirecTV Genie randomly skipping to the end/front of a recording, and it’s annoying when the service goes out when the weather changes, but AT&T was the death of DirecTV.

After the AT&T branding change there was a new $7 “TV Fee”, and EVERY month our bill changed. EVERY month. Five months in a row. Pre-AT&T it was $86 for the previous year, recently it’s varied between $90 to $103. The CBS black out and prospect of ever increasing fees by AT&T made the decision to cut the cord pretty easy. Also, a new roof – we didn’t want to re-mount the dish.

Categories: household Tags:

Mueller Report

2019-04-18 Comments off

Report On The Investigation Into Russian Interference In The 2016 Presidential Election Volume I of II Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller, III

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Walk home

2019-04-17 Comments off

Walk home.  Testing links to Garmin Connect to see if I can automatically post activity.

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