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Phones can seem smarter than phone companies

by JOY SCHWABACH | October 16, 2021 at 1:45 a.m.

My friend Nancy just bought her first smartphone. But when I tried to help her transfer her number to Consumer Cellular, AT&T gave us the complete runaround.

The trouble started because an AT&T guy had pasted a yellow sticker on her router with the wrong network name and password. It got worse from there.

When Nancy told AT&T she wanted to transfer her service, they asked for her account number. But after she logged on to their website, she got a different one from the one they wanted. That was just the beginning. Over the next 90 minutes, AT&T asked for a four-digit pass code, a four-digit PIN and a six-digit number. We had difficulty finding all those.

AT&T also asked for the last four digits of Nancy's Social Security number and other info. At one point we had three phones going. I held two phones facing each other. That way, the tech from AT&T could talk directly to the tech from Consumer Cellular. Meanwhile, Nancy's flip phone continually buzzed with texts from AT&T. The texts asked her to reply with a code. But when she did, she got "invalid response."

The hero of this story is the representative at Consumer Cellular. Not only did he stay on the line for around 90 minutes, he called AT&T, talking first to their porting department and then to their fraud unit, with Nancy getting on the line to verify everything. But AT&T wouldn't budge: She hadn't answered the text correctly. On the web, I learned that so-called "short code" messages, like the one they sent, can't be replied to, even though AT&T was asking for a reply. Finally, we went to the AT&T store. After keeping us waiting while two representatives handled one customer, they said they couldn't help us. In the end, Nancy gave up on the idea of transferring her old phone number. She got a new one from Consumer Cellular. They spent a very helpful hour teaching her how to use it. Now she's hoping it won't be tough to cancel AT&T.


I can't stop listening to my new backpack, which fills the room with beautiful sound through speakers on the back. It's aimed at bicyclists, walkers and anyone who want to share a music moment on the fly. It works by connecting to your phone through Bluetooth.

The Tajezzo PZ5 is available for pre-order on for $259. It ships in February. Like the $170 Tajezzo Motorcycle Backpack, available now, it has a hard-shell exterior and is water-resistant. Both backpacks protect delicate items such as DSLR cameras. Both have an impressive number of compartments. But only the new PZ5 plays music, takes calls and produces a light show. It has a 6- to 8-hour battery life and can charge other devices.

On the downside, my phone calls through the backpack did not go well. Whenever I was listening to music and a call came in, the backpack answered. At first I forgot to push the button on the strap to take the call. When I did push it, I could hear the caller perfectly, but they thought I sounded as if I were in a large auditorium.


If you play music through Bluetooth-connected speakers, you may have heard it stutter. I got a whole lot of stuttering when testing the Tajezzo PZ5. But it wasn't the backpack's fault. I had to clear my Bluetooth cache.

Here's how to do that in Android 11. Go to "Settings," then "Apps & Notifications," "Show All Apps," and then tap on those three vertical dots at the upper right. Now select "Show System Apps" and find Bluetooth in the list. Tap it, then tap "Storage and Cache." Finally, tap "Clear Cache."


I've used the "Wayback Machine," from, to remind myself how this column looked in 1998 or to revisit any other website in a specific year. For the archive's 25th anniversary on Thursday, the organization is hosting a virtual celebration, "From Way Back to Way Forward: The Internet Archive Turns 25." Search on that phrase to register for the free event. Sci-fi author Cory Doctorow will show us what the year 2046 might be like. If you go to, you'll discover the Archive's dark view of the future web.


Women are less likely to trust online apps than men, according to NordPass, a password manager. For example, only 25% of women completely trust Facebook, compared with 31% of men. Women were even more doubtful of Twitter, with only 16% completely trusting it, compared with 24% of men. More men than women completely trust Tinder, the dating app -- 13% versus 7%. The only app that women trust more than men is Pinterest.

Joy Schwabach can be reached by email at

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