'Neighbor spoofing,' better phone audio, and touchscreen gloves
Bob's Tech Talk
February 1, 2019
Q. My incoming callerID information seems less accurate lately. It works fine for numbers I already recognize, but most everything else is inaccurate.
A. As someone who still receives far too many unwanted telephone calls, I feel your pain. A popular new technique by scammers and robo-callers called “neighbor spoofing” could be to blame. When someone uses a neighbor spoof attack, they display a fictional number that indicates the call is from your area code and local exchange. The technique assumes the victim is more likely to answer a familiar number.
Although sending fake callerID information with fraudulent intent is a crime, the ease of hacking the phone system and the ability for troublemakers to avoid prosecution suggests this problem is not going to be fixed soon.
Unfortunately there is very little any individual can do to respond. The only practical tool I have in my arsenal is to send any call I do not recognize directly to voicemail. Depending on the specific phone, there may be a preference or setting to “Forward All Callers Not Already in my Contacts list” to voicemail.
Q. My hearing is not as good as it once was, and other than making calls louder, are there other approaches I can try to make telephone calls more comfortable?
A. Good volume is important, but there is more to audio clarity than loudness.
We are so accustomed to the sound of a voice on a telephone, we sometimes forget that residential phones traditionally strip away most of the components of natural sound. The result is sometimes referred to as voiceband, a narrow range of frequencies that we recognize as someone’s “telephone voice.” Voiceband has worked very well for over a hundred years, but today we can do much better.
Nearly every modern alternative to a telephone will sound better, often much better, thanks to wideband audio. Wideband audio carries a much broader range of frequencies, capturing the full depth and nuance of the human voice.
Essentially if both participants have any kind of smartphone, tablet, or computer, it will be possible to connect them using a service that supports high-quality audio.
Wideband audio is most commonly paired with video chat apps like Skype and FaceTime. It is also part of many chat applications like Facebook Messenger and Google Hangouts.
The quality improvement over voiceband is dramatic. Each caller will hear audio that sounds as if the person were in the same room.
On most devices and in most apps, it is easy to send someone a text message to see if they are available, and with a couple of taps engage the person via an audio/video or audio-only call, making the entire exchange seem much less cumbersome compared to an impromptu game of voicemail tag. Wideband audio is one of those foundational technologies that has been slowly gaining momentum for more than a decade, and it becomes indispensable once you try it a few times.
Q. Now that winter is upon us once again, I wonder, is there a way to use a touchscreen device outdoors and keep my gloves on?
A. Every new gadget brings with it new benefits but we often lose something along the way. Mechanical buttons were never easy to use with winter gloves, but rarely did we have to punch more than a few buttons to make a call.
Touchscreens are nowhere near as friendly. But there are a couple things to try besides removing a glove.
One is to use voice commands. Most phones will listen automatically for a command when the phone is raised, making the task to initiate calls completely touch-free.
A second approach is touchscreen gloves. The better ones do work reasonably well, but there is a compromise between sensitivity and comfort. Try a Google search to find the best pair for your hands.
As to which method is best, removing a glove momentarily, using voice commands, or adopting a pair of touchscreen gloves – that decision is in the hands of the wearer.
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Master of Light
Do not be put off by its overlong opening – more than five minutes – this complete documentary film about Vermeer is a must-see for anyone with an interest in the visual arts.
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Tony and Taylor discuss the visual language of moving pictures, using scenes from a vast array of films as the basis for exploring new ways to see. This YouTube channel will forever change how you perceive movies.
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A tech enthusiast his entire life, Bob can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.