I get a lot of emails and many of the questions are the same, so I’m creating this list of Questions That Are Frequently Asked, or QFA for short. If you have a question or want me to elaborate on anything, just ask in the comments or send a message directly to me and maybe it’ll end up on this page someday.
“What’s this cactus business?”
I’ve been told once or twice that I use the word “cactus” a lot. You might even say the word cactus has turned into the PLA’s official catch phrase. The word comes up often in prank calls and phone mobs, there’s an Obey The Cactus sticker, our podcast theme songs have cactus all over them, and people who listen to PLA material often find themselves buying a cactus plant but aren’t really sure why.
Back in the very early 1990’s, I had a friend named Amigados. He would call people on the phone and say nothing except for the word cactus, which would confuse the person on the other end of the phone. I thought the prank was brilliant in its simplicity. During the years after that, Amigados taught me the various ways of the cactus, like spray painting giant magnets green and cutting them into the shapes of cacti to stick on cars and eventually even getting a cactus tattooed on his arm.
When I wrote those text files called the Phone Losers of America in the mid 1990’s, I randomly threw the word cactus in them often, to pay homage to Amigados. At this point it’s just an inside joke between people who know about PLA. But cactus is our war cry and our mascot and probably always will be. There’s an explanation of cactus that has a little more detail to it in issue #35 of the PLA ‘zine.
“How do you spoof your caller ID?”
When I make a phone call to someone, I often change my caller ID so that whatever sketchy thing I’m up to will seem more believable. For example, if I’m calling a person and pretending that I’m one of their neighbors, it helps to actually have one of their neighbors phone numbers show up on their phone.
The way I personally do it is kind of hard to explain if you don’t know about Asterisk, but I’m using the FreePBX build of Asterisk to run my own phone network in my home, running on a dedicated Linux computer. There are many telephone extensions in my home, as well as software-based extensions on my cell phone, laptop, and desktop PC. Asterisk allows me to easily change my caller ID whenever I need to.
The software client (Blink) on my laptop that I use during shows has a drop-down box of several different phone numbers I can call from. When none of those numbers is suitable for the call I’m making, I log into the FreePBX admin panel and quickly change my caller ID from there. If you’d like to change your own caller ID without some wacky convoluted machine, there are plenty of other ways to do it using software. Here are a few suggestions…
Skype: Skype doesn’t let you spoof, but they will let you own a few different phone numbers and swap between them quickly. But they’ll also let you hook up your own personal phone numbers to your Skype account and have those show up on caller ID, such as your home phone, your cell phone, and any of those display phones at the cell phone store, wink wink.
VoiP.ms: This is a company that will lease as many numbers to you as you want, for just 85 cents per number, per month. Currently (in 2021) I have about 10 numbers around the U.S. that I can call from, and I can quickly change between the different numbers in my Blink client. The numbers are spread around the U.S. enough that I can usually find one near the place I’m calling. This is not spoofing, but I like this better than spoofing, because people can call me back.
Spoofcard: This is a service that lets you choose any caller ID you want when you make a call.
“How do you record and broadcast your phone calls?”
Most people ask this because they want to make calls and record them themselves. This is a hard thing to explain, because everyone’s equipment and setups are different. Probably the easiest way (here in 2021) is to use the online service known as Mixlr.
Mixlr is software for your computer that broadcasts audio for you and has multiple inputs that work well with Skype or whatever phone software you use. I can’t tell you how to set this up since I’ve never done it this way myself, but Mixlr is what people seem to have the most luck with when they’re starting out. It costs $10/month to use their service, but it’s worth it if you don’t want to deal with virtual audio cables and other software and hardware. There is no need to buy an expensive microphone. A standard dynamic microphone that plugs into USB is all you need, and you’ll probably want a cheap stand to hold it.
My own setup involves a desktop computer, an external mixer with a microphone, and a bunch of wires and connectors. My current mixer (in 2021) is a Zoom L-12 LiveTrak. For each phone line I have, an additional sound device is required. So I’ve got a PCI sound card for Line 1, A USB sound card for Line 2, and tablet for Line 3. That’s overkill for most people, but I do a lot of weird stuff with it all. I’ve done a lot of video tours of my various studio setups. Here they are…
Here is a 2019 video tour of my studio
Here is a 2018 video tour of my studio
Here is a 2017 video tour of my studio
Here is a 2013 video tour of my studio
Here is a 2011 video tour of my studio
Here is a 2010 video tour of my studio
“What does RBCP stand for?”
RedBoxChiliPepper. Around 1990, I was into the band called Red Hot Chili Peppers so I took the name RedHotChiliPepper when I started logging into computer networks. I knew it was a dumb name, but figured I would change it when I thought of a better one later. I signed everything RHCP back then. Maybe a year later I began red boxing calls (fooling pay phones into thinking I was inserting quarters) so I changed my name to RedBoxChiliPepper, still thinking I would eventually change it to something better someday. Next thing I know it’s 2019 and I’m writing about how that’s still my name in 2019. I sometimes go by Arbie, because that an alternate spelling of the first two initials, but apparently I will be known as RedBoxChiliPepper until the day I die, which will be in late 2033.