The Skill of Writing

March 31st, 2003

[Original Link] Tim O’Reilly on a favourite quote of his by Edwin Schlossberg:

“The skill of writing is to create a context in which other people can think”.

And would it be too cynical to say that the skill of politics is to create a context in which they can’t?

Microsoft Office Depot

March 30th, 2003

[Original Link] This came out a week ago but I’ve only just seen it. Office Depot (which, for UK readers, is the US equivalent of Office World or Staples) is apparently not going to carry hardware or software items unless they have the ‘Designed for Windows XP’ logo on them. So if you want to pop down to your local store for a copy of RedHat, you’ll need to do so before May 30th.

Design Question for the day

March 30th, 2003

Every mobile I’ve had (I think) allows me to set a personal text greeting so that when I turn it on it says ‘Quentin’s Phone’ or something similar. But in every case, this appears after I’ve typed in the PIN number.

Now, will somebody tell me what this is for? If I’ve typed in the PIN, I know it’s my phone and don’t need to be told. If, on the other hand, I don’t know the PIN, it’s probably somebody else’s phone and the only way I will get it back to them is by knowing their name, which I can’t see…

Or is there some other intended use for this feature? Perhaps an inspiring message for the day? Or a joke to cheer you up when nobody’s left you any voice mails?

But perhaps these days PINs don’t make too much sense. Most operators will disable a mobile using the handset serial number once they know it’s stolen, so there shouldn’t be a great incentive for stealing them. And if you lose it, the more access any well-wishing finder has to your data, the more likely you are to get it back.

Call for change?

March 24th, 2003

From my (modest) hotel room, I called the front desk, told them I was about to make some calls to the UK, and wanted to know how much it would cost. Much to my suprise, they were able to tell me, which is more than some hotels I’ve visited.

“A very large amount! There’s a $3.80 connection charge, and then between $8 and $15 per minute depending on whether AT&T or MCI pick up the long distance.”

Now, I’m sorry, but this is getting ridiculous. That’s between five and ten times what it costs me to call back to the UK on my roaming UK-based mobile. And to make things worse, I know that Seattle businesses can get rates of 8c/min to the UK with a little negotiation. So we have a markup of between 10,000% and 20,000%.

Can this really be sustained? I would have thought that if the hotel and carrier had simply had a modest markup of, say, 400%, which might be considered more than generous for a service which essentially involves no effort on their part, they would make a lot more money. But I guess such profits might still be negligible compared to what you can get from one visiting businessman who makes a few one-hour calls to Japan and doesn’t care about the bill.

In my case, the hotel was good enough to point out that the gift shop was still open for another half-hour, and that they sold prepaid calling cards. I found that the rate on these is 10c/minute. I don’t care how many of my 120 international minutes remain unused when the card expires in 6 months’ time, because it cost the same as less than one minute at the hotel’s rates.

What’s even more bizarre is that my room has a good-quality broadband ethernet connection. And it’s free! Time for hotel gift shops to start selling IP-based telephones?

Media merits

March 22nd, 2003

When I’m visiting the U.S, I miss the world’s best radio station, BBC Radio 4, but I do get much more of an opportunity to read the world’s best newspaper, the New York Times.

Congratulations to Kaveh L Afrastabi for an elegant turn of phrase in a letter to the NYT: “…a war of choice, not of necessity.” […and of course I’ve since realised that many others, before and since, have used the same categorisation. Still good, though.]

Bloglet

March 21st, 2003

[Original Link] Bloglet is very cool. I’ve added a subscription box on the right hand side of the Status-Q front page, so you can subscribe by email if wanted.

Making a statement, in absentia

March 20th, 2003

[Original Link] NY Times article about a whole new mode of communication: sending a message by not sending a message.

[untitled]

March 20th, 2003

When I arrived in Seattle a couple of days ago, and turned on my phone, it beeped as a text message came in. “Have you had an accident recently? Call or text us for no-win, no-fee..” etc. I smiled a wry smile about life in America.

But my distress in having such rubbish sent straight to my pocket was nothing compared to my realisation that this had come from a UK number and had followed me around the world…