splef-ty \'splef-te̅ \ adj: nifty, novel, cool or clever.
Sat, 12 Jun 2004

Litigation-Proof Engineering

I finally got a second phone line installed at my house so that business-related calls won’t ring on my home line. I ordered the line; Verizon promised that they would try to install it by a month (!) after the order date. When the month passed, they charged me big bucks for the activation, modified some settings in the central office and started billing me. The problem; there was still no second pair of wires to the house!

After 20 minutes of the usual shenanigans with Verizon customer service (“Our records show this line was activated last week. How to you know that you do not have service on this number?” “Because there are no wires for it.” “That’s impossible.” “I’m sorry.”) they agreed to send a truck out the same day. The tip and ring guys actually did come out, pull a nice, fresh 2-pair cable and replace my demarcation box with a new one.

The demark box is interesting. When I hooked up the second line, I left everything open so that it would be easier to trace problems when it didn’t work. I went upstairs to my office. No dial tone. I traced to my patch panel in the basement. No dial tone. I clipped my test set on the screws at the demark. No dial tone. Huh?

I plug the test set into the RJ-11 connector. Dial tone. Ahhh. So the RJ-11 is not an outlet of convenience; rather, it ensures that the screw terminals are disconnected from the telephone company’s equipment whenever the door is open. The door itself contains a male RJ-11 that plugs into the box and a foam seal to keep bugs out. The cord wraps around behind the door and to the screw terminals.

Telephone Demarcation Box

Really, it’s quite ingenious (although annoying if one is trying to isolate a problem.) It means that the customer can’t get shocked by ring voltage inside the box owned by the telephone company, and once the wires are inside the house, it’s the customer’s problem.

I was kind of sad removing my old single pair telephone wiring. It’s from the early 20th century and is incredibly durable; it’s been exposed to the elements out side my house for probably 80 years and is still in fine shape. It’s called Telepren and is a heavy-duty twisted pair cable. (It’s made by taking a pair of wires and twisting them!) It was manufactured by Whitney Blake.

Below is the 18-gauge Teleprene, some 24 gauge station cable from 10 or 15 years ago, and some 26 gauge made-in-China station cable I bought at Lowe’s because they don’t sell anything better. A single strand of the old wire contains more copper than all six strands of the new stuff.

I don’t know whether to be sad about the new cable because it’s complete crap, or happy today’s carbon copy subdivisions are being wired with a cable that requires less ecologically destructive copper mining per mile of cable.

Teleprene telephone cable vs today's station cable.


Sat, 21 Feb 2004

Dear Kyocera Customer

I’m sure everyone has seen lists of funny (mis)translations of Japanese into English. (The stuff at Engrish.com is a bit more credible than the “notes from a frequent traveller to Japan” that used to be sent around as net dreck). So upon receiving the following warning from Kyocera about a possibly defective cell phone battery, I figured a non-native speaker of English was to blame.

Dear Kyocera Customer,

It has come to Kyocera Wireless Corp’s attention that an allotment of batteries to be used with the Kyocera 7135 Smartphone might contain a risk hazard. The batteries in question are easily identified by a product code ending in “-05”…

Of the 50,731 units shipped in the United States, Kyocera has received four (4) confirmed reports of rapid disassembly. Of these four (4) reports, one involved personal injury in the form of a second degree burn and two (2) reported incidents resulted in minor property damage…

Continued use of the phone with the “-05” battery could result in injury in the form of burns due to the battery’s rapid disassembly (which may appear as an explosion), or emission of excess heat.

The battery’s “rapid disassembly” may cause burns or appear as an explosion? This kind of language could be helpful to the DoD’s public relations department. Example: “Five BLU-82s were dropped during the operation, where they underwent rapid disassembly.”

OK, I can understand Kyocera’s desire to avoid use of the word “explosion” (or even worse, the dread phrase “catch on fire” that became permanently associated with Apple’s Powerbook 5300 after spectacular failures of its early-generation lithium-ion battery.) My real complaint is the choice of the word “disassembly” as a synonym for “failure”. Assembly and disassembly are acts performed be people (or these days, by machines) on inanimate objects. My ‘84 Volvo is not undergoing slow disassembly in the back yard. It is rusting, it is decaying, it is maybe even falling apart, but it is not disassembling.

It turns out this is a translation not from Japanese but from Legalese; the letter is authored by a Mr. Charles Walters, Legal Counsel for Kyocera Wireless Corp. Two grammar-point penalty for you, Mr. Walters.