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.
"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. One option is to use Skype, which lets you change your caller ID to any number that you can receive a text at. Another option is Voxox, which is similar to Skype, but it will let you change your number to anything you want. And then there's Spoofcard, which will let you change your caller ID and record your phone calls.
"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 (as of 2016) 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.
My setup involves a desktop computer, a laptop computer, an external mixer with a microphone, and a bunch of wires and connectors. I make the phone calls on my laptop while the desktop does the recording and the broadcasting. The laptop acts as a second sound card, which is looped through the mixer. It's hard to explain, so I made a video explaining exactly how I do it. The video is a few years old now and a few minor things have changed in my studio (such as using Asterisk instead of Skype, and YouTube instead of Mixlr/Sam2), but it's still all basically the same (in 2016) and it will work for you if you have the things you need.
If you're interested in seeing a slightly older version of my studio, which may have some tips for you, here's a video from 2011.