Nationwide internet outage affects CenturyLink, Verizon [telecom]

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) - Internet outages plagued several states
Thursday including New Mexico.

Verizon and CenturyLink both reported service issues across the
country, affecting several major cities.

Bill Horne
(Remove QRM from my email address to write to me directly)

Re: Nationwide internet outage affects CenturyLink, Verizon [telecom]

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This NBC story includes an outage map, and noted in Boston, when a
man's cell phone couldn't call 911, he used a still- working (copper
and battery) street-side red alert box system (from 1852) that used
Morse Code (!) to contact the Boston Fire Department:

***** Moderator's Note *****

Oh, good grief. I wish that NBC would take the time to verify the
facts in its stories: Gamewell boxes don't send Morse Code unless
there's a Fire Department Telegraph Operator standing there using a
Morse Code key.

The internal mechanism that is engaged by pulling down the alarm hook
sends a series of equal-length pulses that correspond to the number on
the box. These boxes do NOT automagically send Morse Code.

The difference is important: claiming that a McCulloch Loop uses Morse
Code implies that it has mechanical intelligence, i.e., the ability to
send different message depending on internal settings and/or external
events. Neither is correct: the mechanism can only signal to the
dispatchers that /something/ has happened, not what it is or whether
the ambulance, police, or fire departments should be sent.

Bill Horne

Re: Nationwide internet outage affects CenturyLink, Verizon [telecom]

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Non sequitur.  Clockwork devices to send fixed messages in code
(whether Morse or otherwise) have existed for many decades.  (Indeed,
broadcast translators historically used such devices to transmit a
station ID by FSKing the carrier with the translator's call sign *in
Morse code*.  Nowadays it's all electronic, of course.)  The encoding
used to transmit the message says nothing about whether the
transmitter was capable of transmitting other messages.

For what it's worth, several of my colleagues received a "Tone of
Doom" emergency message *twice* at work today to inform them of this
outage.  I did not, but on my home phone, I received two emergency
messages from my city's robocall system.  (My home phone is a Comcast
VoIP line now, but I ported the number from a Verizon landline when
they decided to stop maintaining the copper infrastructure here.
Pretty sure I never asked for the city emergency blasts, but at least
one of today's messages was potentially useful, since we don't have a
historic fire signal box system like Boston's.)


Garrett A. Wollman    | "Act to avoid constraining the future; if you can,| act to remove constraint from the future.  This is
Opinions not shared by| a thing you can do, are able to do, to do together."
my employers.         | - Graydon Saunders, _A Succession of Bad Days_ (2015)

***** Moderator's Note *****

Let's call it something else, then: hauteur, oversimplification, or
just plain sloppiness. I worked in TV during the 1970's, and the
attitudes of the blow-dried-airheads (that the managers dismissively
referred to as "Talent") included all of those failings.

Bill Horne

Re: Nationwide internet outage affects CenturyLink, Verizon [telecom]
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That is correct. In New York City the system has been partially
upgraded to voice call boxes in the old Gamewell mounts, but the old
boxes still in use in some boroughs send 4 digit numbers as equally
spaced pulses, not as Morse code. The boxes are wind-up and work not
too differently from wind-up music boxes.  Originally the pulses rang
a bell and the dispatchers had to count pulses, these days a computer
counts the pulses and enters the number into the dispatch system.

Some boxes have/had telegraph keys inside so I assume at one time they
did manually use Morse Code to call for additional assistance or
otherwise report status to borough headquarters.

(this info may be a bit out of date, it has been 5 years since I
worked on their system)

old NYC police "call boxes:, was: Nationwide internet outage ... [telecom]
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Not Morse Code, per say, but a series of "ten codes".  For
example (made up here as I don't have the list at hand)
an officer would tap in four times for a fire truck
response, seven for an ambulance, etc.

Knowledge may be power, but communications is the key
[to foil spammers, my address has been double rot-13 encoded]

Re: old NYC police "call boxes:, was: Nationwide internet outage ... [telecom]

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Ah, that makes sense as to where the ten codes came from. The codes
started as actual numbers keyed in from the alarm boxes. I never made the

***** Moderator's Note *****

The only "Ten" codes I know of were invented by the Chicago Police
just after two-way radios were installed in patrol cars: they are
spoken combinations of the word "ten" followed by a code
digit. ("Ten-Four, for example, means "OK").  

The transmitters used at that time depended on vacuum tubes, and
vacuum tubes need much higher voltages to run than transistors. For
that reason, the transmitters included a dynamotor to generate the
voltage(s) required and dynamotor-driven transmitters were in use as
late as 1972, when I took a job fixing two-way radios for the
Massachusetts Department of Public Works.

Dynamotors, being motor-driven devices, need time to reach their
proper operating speed: a little bit over a quarter of a second, but
still enough of a delay to chop off the initial word or syllable

The "Ten" codes all start with the word "ten," which can be lost
without losing the actual code number, so inexperienced operators
might rush a "10-4" and the dispatcher would still hear "4."

Everything old is new, sooner or later: modern "trunked" systems have
measurable delays after the "push to talk" button is depressed, but
before the mobile radios are assigned a trunk frequency and are able
to set up and transmit: again, enough to swallow the first syllable of
a word, although usually not enough to turn "Don't Shoot" into
"Shoot." Some departments still rely on ten codes, and some have
started to use the Amateur radio "Q" signals instead, e.g., Miama-Dade
County. Either way, the effect is the same.

I don't know if any of the "tap codes" used on landline systems were
called "ten code", so more research is needed.

Bill Horne

Re: Signalling Codes (was Nationwide Outage ...) [telecom]
Subject: Re: Signalling Codes (was Nationwide internet outage affects CenturyLink, Verizon)

On Sunday, December 30, 2018 at 5:14:45 PM UTC-5, Michael Moroney wrote:

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Some observations:

. Many early communication systems had their own code for signaling
that was specific to their operations.  In railroads, passenger
trains still use a trainline buzzer for the conductor to signal
the engineer.  For instance, two buzzes at a station stop indicate
to proceed.  The engineer has various codes for the whistle.  We've
all heard the grade crossing warning _ _ . _.  There are various

. When in school, there were various bell signals (actually it
was a buzzer).  Four buzzes meant indoor recess.  A long and a
short was a page for the principal, and a short and a long was
a page for the custodian.  Six buzzes was an air raid drill.

. In many buildings, each fire alarm pull box had a separate  
code assigned to it.  There was often a chart next to it noting
the location of each code.  (Some systems, as at my last office
building, didn't have that.)  In elementary school, we were taught
to know the fire code for the box closest to our classroom.  In
this way, if the fire was near us, we'd know to take special action.
(This seemed like a good idea, but it was not used anywhere else I
attended school nor worked.)

. In my old office building (1963), in addition to the fire pull
boxes, there were fire sensors in the ceiling.  They were connected
to a vacuum line.  High heat from a fire would cause air pressure to  
increase, and set off the fire alarm.  They were tested regularly.

. I don't think the Bell System supplied fire alarm systems, except
perhaps in its earliest days.  However, the P-A-X systems provided
by independent companies did provide a fire alarm option.  Dialing
a special code would sound the alarm.

. Philadelphia appears to have lost its street fire boxes long ago.
In the 1970s they were still in use.  When pulled, it would sound a
very loud buzzer in the City Hall fire dispatcher's room in accordance
with the code of the box.  It would also sound in the firehouse that
served that box.  Citizens were instructed to stay at the fire box
until the fire truck showed up to direct them to the specific location,
but people didn't always do that.  Also, there were a great many
false alarms sent by pranksters.  None the less, in the 1970s, most
calls came in by firebox, not telephone.

. I don't know if Phila fire boxes could be opened to key in additional
messages.  However, that sounds like a very useful feature.  Often
times the arriving fire company would need to request more equipment
or assistance.  By the 1960s fire trucks had radios.  I think by
the 1950s, or maybe even much earlier, they had street telephone
boxes for public safety personnel.

Western Electric did supply mobile radios for public safety.

***** Moderator's Note *****

The code " _ _ . _. " is either "MEN" or "TTEN" in American Morse Code,
which is what railroads and fire departments always used, so unless
someone has a Rosetta Stone we can use, it will have to remain lost in
the mists of time.  

--...  ...--  -..  .  .--  ....-  .  .--  ....  

Bill "Sorry, I couldn't resist" Horne

Re: Signalling Codes (was Nationwide Outage ...) [telecom]

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I believe that final "." is the end-of-sentence period, not part of
the signal. shows a
bunch of these.  The canonical reference seems to be the railroad
General Code of Operating Rules - current version is at

The "grade crossing" is shown as "= = o =" meaning "long long short
long", or "--.-" (which as a single character is "Q" in International
Morse, and as far as I can tell is an unassigned sequence in
American/Railroad Morse) or "TTET" in either version of Morse.

I don't see any obvious correspondence between the meanings of the
signals, and a straightforward mapping of the long/short blasts to
dits and dahs in a single Morse Code character.  There may, of course,
be history behind it (as you suggest)... or they may just be fairly
arbitrary choices.

Re: Signalling Codes (was Nationwide Outage ...) [telecom]
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I fear you have read the final period as being part of the signal. The  
grade crossing whistle is long long short long, all evenly spaced, as  
specified in the "General Code of Operating Rules". I've heard it all  
over the country. Some other whistle signals are:
-        stopped, air brakes on
--       brakes released, proceeding
...      backing up
-.       approaching men or equipment near tracks
..       proceeding past men or equipment, repeated
........ hey dummy, get off the track

Re: Nationwide internet outage affects CenturyLink, Verizon [telecom]
On Friday, December 28, 2018 at 12:31:52 AM UTC-5, Bill Horne wrote:
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NBC News reported that the FCC wants to investigate.

Would anyone know why this would be a nationwide outage?  I would
think 911 service would be a local function.

Back in 1966, the Bell System advertised about the high reliability of
its network and usefulness in getting police help:

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