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0808 PD: On the Edge of Common Sense: Cell phone overcharge

Baxter Black Published on 19 May 2008

This story began a year and a half ago according to John (JG).

Technology had swept through the valley and drawn JG into its zephyr. The telephone company modernized his irrigation system by incorporating cellular phones. With a call to a cell phone attached to his sprinkler, he could give instructions to turn it off when the wind blew, turn it on after fixing a gear box and by doing so, he could save lots of gas and time.



In addition, the sprinkler could call JG’s monitor cell phone to report a problem like a break in the line or frozen pipes. The programmer put a nice lady’s voice as the interlocutor between JG’s monitor cell and the one on the sprinkler. She sounded like a cross between Tokyo Rose and C-3PO!

Valley Sprinkler even donated used cell phones to JG out of the goodness of their heart and agreed to bill him annually since the calls were so few.

When JG received his second annual bill, he was astounded! It was over $300 dollars! Someone had been calling his monitor cell phone. Not once or twice, but two pages worth! He had no memory for so many calls. Fortunately, the number of the caller was listed right on the bill, over and over and over!

In an austere mood, he punched in the number. A lady answered. JG introduced himself and immediately began castigating her.

“I do not appreciate your constant calls to my private line,” he said. “You are costing me hundreds of dollars, and I don’t like it!” He thought it best to avoid trying to explain the sprinkler cell phone connection.


“Oh, oh, oh,” the woman started. “I don’t believe this! Please don’t hang up; I’m in Colorado Springs! (100 miles away). Your phone has been calling me for a year. Late at night, in the early spring and late fall. I’ve called back over and over only to get this crazy computer woman’s voice asking me to enter my code!”

She sounded horrified.

“I’ve been crazy with this harassment,” she said. “I’ve called the district attorney, the sheriff’s office, Verizon and even Art Bell!” She raged on hysterically until she broke into tears. JG assured her it would never happen again.

Turns out that on cold nights the sprinkler phone would call JG to give him a freeze-warning, shut-down alert. It happened so often that he just turned his phone off after dark. But it was programmed to call a secondary number, if one was available. And it turns out that the used cell phone had never been cleared properly, and it faithfully put the sprinkler through to the nice lady in Colorado Springs, time after time after time, driving her bananas.

JG quickly hung up and found the delete button on his phone. The beleaguered woman didn’t press charges. PD

Baxter Black