Monthly Archives: November 2004

Words Fail Me

The British Council, the agency that promotes British culture worldwide, published the results of a survey of 40,000 people in 102 non-English speaking countries about their favorite English words. The list was of 70 words, the number chosen to mark the Council’s 70th anniversary.

Mother came first

“Lollipop”, “flip-flop”, “hen night” and “banana” were all chosen, along with “twinkle”, “hiccup”, “hodgepodge”, “whoops” and “oi”

Sad to report, “Father” wasn’t in the list.

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Living without a plan

Those who know me are acutely aware of how much I detest cellphones – or more accurately the loudness, rudeness and incessant inane (and sometimes dangerous) babbling of some of those who use them, particularly while driving.

However, there have been too many occasions over the past few months when I have found myself wishing I had one – like passing Wal-Mart on the way home only to be greeted with “Could you run up to Wal-Mart and get some milk?” Bah.

On the other hand, I am reluctant to pay out big money for a phone that I will use perhaps thirty minutes a month. Adding a second phone to Milady’s plan would have set me back $20/month – twice as much as I was willing to pay – so I started looking elsewhere. Many of the big providers offered “pay-as-you-go” plans, but these invariably had a $20/month minimum requirement, which was no better. For a while I considered Tracfone, but a combination of ugly phones and complicated plans put me off. Then I stumbled across Virgin Mobile.

The next stage was to do some research into their “small print”. Lessee… no contracts, no commitments, no activation/deactivation fees and no monthly bills. So far so good. There was a $10 sign-up bonus, a $5 one-off credit-card bonus and a $5 “pass-it-on” bonus (for passing on a previously-used phone).

You can “top-up” your credit balance using your credit card or by buying “top-up” cards. The minimum top-up amount is $20. Topping up can be done on the phone or through the web. The only condition that I could find was that to keep your phone active requires adding at least $20 every 90 days, which works out to less than $7 per month, or roughly one minute a day. Calls anywhere in the country are 25c/min for the first ten minutes each day and 10c/min thereafter. Text messages cost 10c to send and are free to receive.

One look at their website and it soon becomes obvious that the service is blatantly pitched at young people. Most of the imagery is of the Yo/Hip/Dude variety. Nothing wrong with that – for an oldster like me it is more amusing than anything else – but I suspect that they are doing themselves no favors by excluding a large market that does not find that approach appealing.

For instance, men.

Most cellphones are marketed to women. Why? Because they do most of the talking. That’s not misogyny, it’s just the way things are. A secondary market is teenagers, all of whom seem to want one, but not all of whom can afford one. Many men aged 25-50 need to be reachable but don’t need a whole bundle of minutes or a whole lot of hassle for a phone they rarely use. Anyway, I digress. The verbiage on VM’s website was refreshingly simple and user-friendly, giving the impression that it was written by real people and not by lawyers.

I then tried calling their support line and made the acquaintance of Simone, an interactive automated phone routing system. Now I detest phone routing systems, but Simone was the best that I have encountered. Besides, telling her “live advisor” a few times was enough to get me through to a real person. The wait time was about three minutes. Not too shabby if you are calling from a land line, but a little frustrating if you are calling from your VM cellphone.

Phones range in price from $60 to $150. All the phones were nice, if somewhat youth-oriented. I fell in love with the V5 “Slider” (Kyocera SE47), but at $150 it was a little more than I wanted to pay. Not long afterwards, they discounted the phone to $100, as the phone is being discontinued – but I picked up a used one on eBay for $61+shipping, which included a case and a spare battery.

Signing up was simple – you can do it through the web or Simone, but I insisted on shouting “live advisor” until she put me through to a real person. The process took about ten minutes, after which it the phone was usable, though some features such as voicemail took about a day to come on-line.

Getting your balance is free, though setting up voicemail for the first time entails a four-minute call from the cellphone, but it’s a dollar well spent – and voicemail can subsequently be picked up using a landline at no cost – another cost saver.

The killer feature for me is the free receiving of text messages. It is possible to send a short (up to 160 chars) e-mail message to the phone which is free to read. VM support did not know about this, but it was on their website. I have tested this and it takes anything from five seconds to two minutes to receive – great when I am on the move and Milady wants to “beam down” her shopping list – and free, to boot!

Verdict: This is far and away best plan I have seen if you are an occasional user (60 mins/month or less). For those with a teenager who “needs” a phone (don’t they all?) this may be a good way to teach them how to use phones sparingly and responsibly – no credit card is needed and the use of top-up cards means that they will can only use what they have paid for, and will therefore have to find the money to “finance their own habit”. The phone is nice too… but that is another story for another time.

Computer Security Update

This is the first month in a long time where there has not been a bunch of “Second Tuesday” patches. Whether this is because MS has finally attained security Nirvana or they have stopped patching Pre-XP-SP2 versions remains to be seen.

Firefox 1.0 was released on November 9th. See my review of the pre-release version posted earlier this month. Upgrading is a snap – just install on top of your old version. Trouble-free and highly compatible – the only problem sites that I have encountered so far belong to Microsoft. What a curious coincidence…

Also in the news, AVG 7 Antivirus has a free version. Again, this will install painlessly on top of the free version of V6. Highly recommended if you don’t have antivirus protection.

Nine Out of Ten Dentists Agree…

Once each month, all of the dentists in Pillsbury go out for lunch at Chez Bob’s, their favorite diner downtown. They chat about the business and about their patients and about all of the quirky little things that their hygienists do. They also share tips about dental floss and mouthwash.

This month, they discussed brushing and nine of the ten dentists strongly agreed that brushing is definitely a good idea.

“I’m all for it,” said Dr. Anthony Garner. “I think everyone should brush every single day and I tell my patients so.”

“You’re right, Tony,” Dr. Thomas Howell agreed emphatically. “In fact, I’ve been telling my patients that it might even be a good idea to brush twice a day.”

“Ya know what?” added Dr. Timothy Carlyle. “I even give my patients toothbrushes so they’ll have no excuse for not brushing every day.”

At that point, one of the ten, Dr. Franklin Brewster, who had remained silent until then, spoke up. “What are you guys thinking?” he shrieked. “Are you trying to lose business? You’re just driving your patients away! Brushing every day? Free toothbrushes? You’re making their teeth perfect! They’ll never need dentures! How do you think you’re going to make money? Tony, you have three kids to put through college. And Tim, how do you expect to make payments on your summer home in the mountains?” And he continued on his tirade. Simply put, he was appalled by his colleagues.

The rest of the meal was nothing but one big argument. The nine doctors who were in varying degrees of agreement about brushing continued to try to convince Brewster that brushing was an important part of their patients’ dental health, but he wouldn’t budge.

Their lunch was barely over when Brewster got up and hurriedly got ready to leave. “Gotta run!” he called as he glanced at his watch. “I’ve got a root canal to do! See ya next month!”

After a quick recount, which was taken while the remaining nine dentists waited for the waitress to bring their change, four out of nine Pillsbury dentists still agreed that brushing every day is a good idea.

The other five agreed that they’d like to buy a new BMW.

Original story by Kristin Dreyer Kramer

Link of the Day

Evil Care Bears!

You’re losing me… Verizon Wireless

Studies have shown that irritating and annoying TV advertising works. That reflects poorly on the rest of us. An example is Verizon Wireless’ latest spate of TV ads which portray the father as a dimwitted boob whose only function is to supply wanted-but-unneeded phones to two ungrateful little brats who think that cellphones are for sharing meaningless yap with their friends. He then gets sidelined by a “best-buddy” Mom and ignored by the lot of them.

Call that family-friendly? I don’t. For behavior like that Dad should return the phones to the store and get his money back. As a friend of mine tells his teenage daughter: “You want a phone? Get a job.”

Fatherhood in America is under heavy fire. Too many fathers are either going AWOL or never reported for duty in the first place. Fatherless families are in danger of becoming the rule rather than the exception. Children – particularly boys – need a father to teach them the values that make a real man. The alternative is men raised by the media – shallow men with no sense of identity and poorly developed character who are more likely to view women as objects and repeat their father’s mistakes. But what would I know? I grew up without a father. I survived and prospered in spite it – not because of it.

The media generally portrays Fathers either as idiots or irrelevant – “Seventh Heaven” is the only show that I regularly watch that portrays fatherhood in a positive light.

Thanks Verizon Wireless, you have now become part of the problem – you have denigrated fatherhood and put me off your products.

Link of the Day

A Segway for bikers – I want one!

Spammer Conviction – it’s about time

Back in the 60s, the Internet was designed by engineers and geeks (not Al Gore!) – trusting individuals, who tended to assume that everyone else’s motives were as altruistic as theirs.

They were wrong. It was not long before the make-a-buck, something-for-nothing freeloaders showed up and assumed that the internet was designed for them for the purpose of taking advantage of others.

The situation has been getting progressively worse for years, until we now have a situation where more than half of the e-mail flying out there is junk.

I have always maintained that things would keep getting worse until a spammer was strung up. Until now, the spammers have always enjoyed minimal risk – the chance of getting caught was remote. At last we finally have a conviction for one of the more prolific spammers.

I hope that this marks the turning of the tide, but I suspect that it will not. Spammers are not exactly the most ethical people out there, and the cynic in me suspects that they will just dig in and make themselves harder to find.

One thing disturbs me – how much of his estimated $24 million fortune in ill-gotten gains does he get to keep?

Goodbye Mister Arafat

The death of Yasser Arafat made national news, his funeral in Cairo and Burial in Ramallah were attended by worthies and dignitaries from far and wide as the world said its last farewell to a great statesman…

Huh?

Are we talking about the same Yasser Arafat who blew up planes, ordered the deaths of hundreds if not thousands, swore that he would not rest until Israel has been “driven into the sea” and even up to the time of his death, saw nothing wrong with using children as human bombs?

Yes, we are.

I believe that there is a special Hell set aside for terrorists – particularly those who try to use religion as an excuse for their activities. A place where the flames are set to “extra hot”, and the demons have especially sharp pitchforks. Over the entrance is inscribed the words “You did WHAT in my name?” Of course, such a place may exist only in my head.

There are only a handful of people in the world who could claim to be the father of modern terrorism. Arafat was one of them. He was not the only person to embrace terrorism as a tool for political gain. Menachem Begin, former President of Israel, made a lot of trouble for the British during the struggle for Israeli dependence. And before he died he saw the consequences of his actions – he got to see the other side of terrorism.

Of course the situation in the Middle East is complicated, and there is much we do not know and never will. I do not believe that everything that Israel does is automatically right, and I have a bit of a problem with the billions of taxpayer dollars that the US gives them with no strings attached every year. But I also appreciate that being a small country surrounded by sworn enemies puts them in a difficult position.

The lives of Mohandas Ghandi and Martin Luther King served to prove that nonviolent protest can work. Yasser Arafat – a man who won the Nobel Peace Prize and then returned to armed conflict – proved the futility of violence.

I see very little about Yasser Arafat’s life that makes me mourn his passing. And that is so very sad.

Rest in peace, Mr Arafat – if you can.

Blue States to secede?

The Washington Times carried
this interesting story
about how some people think that the Kerry States should secede and join with Canada.

I think it sounds like a great idea. So does Codewarrior, who made the following comments…

1. Ummmm… bu-bye.
2. Where are you going to get your food from? As I recall, It’s grown in the red states.
3. Jesusland… Yeah, I could handle living in a place like that.
4. Isn’t it ironic that they now complain that they don’t like welfare? Or is it just that they don’t like welfare being given to people they don’t agree with?
5. “the states that are blue are all the states that are paying for the bulk of everything this government does, from … Social Security to everything else, and the people in those states don’t like what this government is doing.” Yeah, the south didn’t think much of it in the 1860s either. What’s your point. Oh, I get it. You’ve finally found a tax you don’t like.
6. …away from the “rednecks in Oklahoma” and the “homophobic knuckle-draggers” in Wyoming. We were all going to move to various other countries, but then we thought
why should WE move?” the anonymous message asks. “We hold our noses as we fly over you. We are sickened by the way you treat people that are different from you. The rest of the world despises America, and we don’t want to be lumped in with you anymore.” Ummm… As I said, bu-bye.
7. Secession may cause another civil war. Where are you going to get the means to fight it? As I recall, you don’t believe in firearms ownership.

For the past four years we have put up with Democrats whining about how Bush “stole the country”. Now that he has won – and with more votes than Clinton ever received – we have to put up with “Everyone who voted for Bush is stupid”.

Seems that some Democrats don’t like Democracy… when it disagrees with them.