If you think that cell phone toy that you bought your kid is cool, or remember the toy phone of your childhood, check this out – a set of toy phones out of 1927 Sears, Roebuck catalogue:
I’ve been leafing through some old Soviet science and technology magazines, and came upon this cartoon mocking inventors of the yesteryear. There’s a trunk-lifesaver, steam-powered sewing machine, a built-in bottle opener, an automatic candle extinguisher, a variety of ridiculous looking egg cookers, and … a pneumatic tea kettle, which in one shape or another can be found in just about any coffee shop, catering hall and cafeteria these days.
Also in the mix – what they imagined a cell phone would be like in the 70s.
Blue Sun Corporation is and important, but not very noticeable part of the the brilliant, but so very canceled TV series Firefly. Their logo is everywhere you look, but they are oh so very evil. They conveniently provide all sorts of goods and services, but at the same time they run sinister human experiments, employ vicious killers and wallow in their crapulence in every imaginable way an evil corporation could.
You can buy your very own Blue Sun t-shirt at Think Geek.
In Manhattan there are two corporations that very much remind me of Blue Sun: Verizon and Chase. Every time I deal with them I feel that I am forced to do things that I don’t want to do and that I am getting a bad deal. The only reason everybody’s dealing with Chase and Verizon is because they are everywhere you look. In Manhattan you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a Chase branch, and Verizon cellular signal reaches underground into some subway stations.
Chase advertises its omnipresence with this sinister ad that could just as well be from an alien infection film.
This kind of ubiquity allows these corporations to charge above market prices and have bad customer service.
Why do I hate Chase? Well, they keep thinking of ways to make depositing money more difficult. First they changed their deposit slips. Am I the only one inconvenienced by that? No. Here somebody altered the little poster announcing the change.
Now they started using cash machines that do not take envelopes, but scan your check. As you, me, and the people who plowed money into Riya, you can’t rely on computers to non-trivial optical recognition. I tried depositing 3 checks several times. The machine ate one of the checks (not giving me a receipt) and rejected the other two. I wasted a lot of time and cell phone minutes trying to report the issue (they did not even provide a courtesy customer service phone). I still haven’t seen the money from that check.
Lying commission-driven customer service is another big problem. At Chase they constantly trying to sell you something. Once a customer rep tried to sell me a historically market out-performing mutual funds. He had this awesome “prospectus” with charts carefully selected to show crazy returns, but refused to give me a copy so I could research it.
Verizon reps will routinely forget to tell you about contract extension that comes with any service change, even if you don’t have get a new phone. Then they will refuse to change anything in your contract. They will add expensive features you don’t ask for. Good luck trying to have your defective phone repaired – it’s an ordeal.
Both Chase and Verizon are a bad value, but great convenience. I suspect that part of their penchant for name changing is not so much because they keep buying up competition, but because their customers don’t think very well of them at all. I was their customer when they were Chemical Bank and Bell Atlantic. They sucked back then too.
The worst part of dealing with banks and communications companies is that they heavily penalize you for your mistakes, but there’s not much you can do to charge them for theirs.
Chase stopped sending me Amazon credit card rewards for about a year. An hour of customer service phone calls and a month later I got my Amazon gift certificates. It’s free for them to mess with you: you have to do a lot of work to make sure that what you get from them actually comes through. Instead of digitally depositing the certificates, they send them on paper slips containing long strings of letters that you have to type in. It’s cheaper to splurge on the cost of printing and mailing in the hope that it will get lost. And if they stop sending them and you forget? Bonus. Also, there’s something called “float.”
On the other hand, send your credit card payment late and you get a huge fee.
Use a bit more minutes than are in your Verizon plan, and you’ll get a bill that will make your teeth grind. But on the other hand, they overcharge you and then sheepishly return the money (which just now happened to me), you don’t get to charge them a fine.
I think there was this guy who charged his bank a fine for every mistake that they’ve made, but I can’t find a link.
Anyway, to make the long story short, Verizon and Chase make me want to vomit in terror. I’ve been with them for years, but it’s time for a change.
It’s interesting to note that I’ve worked for both Chase (briefly as a consultant) and for Newscorp. What’s interesting about it? Well, Newscorp owns New York Post which was founded by Alexander Hamilton. The “Manhattan” part of Chase Manhattan Bank (as Chase used to be known) comes from The Manhattan company, founded by none other than Aaron Burr. Because I currently work at the World Trade Center, I frequently walk past Hamilton’s grave in Trinity churchyard.
April 1 is a semi-official holiday in the city of my birth, Odessa, Ukraine. Humorina, as it is known has been celebrated since the 70s. The first few Humorinas were actually pretty funny and sophisticated, punctuated with elaborate pranks. It was a bit on the downswing by the time I remember it: it is very hard to come up with original Fool’s Day jokes.
In later years Humorina became a tourist event, culminating in a non-organized costumed “parade” and vigorous displays of public drunkenness. Odessa is still widely renowned as a capital of humor, but Humorina is just embarrassing these days.
What is interesting, is that April 1st is becoming commercialized: here’s a garish display that some cell phone company company put up in Moscow.
Now that Soviet holidays are not celebrated anymore, non-Soviet holidays are more important than ever, thus more activity on April 1st. But as with everything, many people take it upon themselves to just get drunk and behave in most unappropriated manner. Take St. Patrick’s day, for instance. It’s now celebrated in Moscow. Take a look at these pictures of Muscovites parading in kilts and faux-Irish garb of all kinds, flashing their privates in public and getting drunk in the streets. It’d be funny, but for some reason isn’t. It all smacks of an American Wapanese and other allied culture copiers.
So, Google announced what we are going to get instead of the gPhone. This is a bit like getting $1000 towards college education instead of that hot new toy for your 12th birthday.
This is excellent news, of course. I really hope this will force the evil cell phone companies in the US to either change for the better or go out of business.
I spent a week in the Ukraine, and experienced what the cell phone experience is like in the rest of world. I purchased a very nice new Nokia phone for about $60, activated a SIM card that came with it and immediately received a phone number. It came with enough credits for 100 minutes of non-time-of-day restricted conversation. Later I was able to purchase cards with scratch-off code on just about any street corner that refilled my minutes at very reasonable prices. The competition is fierce and prices are good because you can change phones and SIM cards at will. Phone calls and SMS messages in the Ukraine were very cheap, and even calls to the US were only about 25 cents per minute.
On the other hand, Verizon, my provider of choice, increased the length of my contract just because I added a single handset, added extra data “services” to my plan without checking with me just because my phone supports them, made using activation of a third party handset a 4 hour rigmarole, not even counting all the time that I have to spend on the phone with them just to make sure that they are not overcharging me. I hate Verizon so frickin’ much, but at least they have enough towers in the city to actually allow to use my phone to, you know, conduct whatchumacallit — phone conversations. Ironically, the usually more reliable SMS messages are dropped or delivered days late with them.
” ‘I feel you’re being a little harsh on your more eccentric callers.’
‘Of the Howardly persuasion?’
‘Precisely. You undervalue them. Viruses in cashew nuts, visual organs in trees, subversive bus drivers waving secret messages to one another as they pass, impending collisions with celestial bodies. Citizens like Howard are the dreams and shadows that a city forges when it awakes. They are purer than I.'”
Luisa Rey on the Bat Segundo’s show in David Mitchell’s “Ghostwritten”
One of the skills that you learn as a New Yorker is tuning out the mentally ill or simply obnoxious people, with cell phone headsets or without, who constantly assault your hearing. As tuning out a subway preacher who constantly modulates her voice is next to impossible, I usually carry a pair of earplugs in my bag.
Yesterday, as I was riding the Brighton line while reading an interesting book, a man sitting a couple of seats from me began ranting. Looking like Isaak Asimov in his later years, but more disheveled, the dude had a voice of a PBS announcer. A couple of minutes into the rant, I suddenly realized that he was talking about something rather familiar to me — the history of the BMT and BRT, and the Malbone Street Wreck in particular.
The Malbone Street Wreck was the worst subway disaster in New York’s history. 93 people perished in a horrible crash caused by Edward Luciano, a crew dispatcher pressed into service as a motorman during a subway strike. He hit an S-curve designed for 6mph at 30mph. I happened in 1918, when the trains were still made out of wood and there were only 4 cars in a train. The first and fourth cars survived the crash mostly intact, but the middle two cars derailed and slammed into a tunnel wall under Malbone street.
As the unwelcome subway tour guide was pointing out, we were passing by what used to be Malbone Street, but is now called Empire Boulevard. The street was renamed because of the accident, kind of to dim the memory of the crash. What is even more disturbing, there is no memorial at the station where this happened. Well, at least I don’t remember seeing one.
All these years I mistakenly thought that the crash happened somewhere on the 2 line, nearer to Brooklyn College. I guess it took a disturbed man’s rant to set me straight on the matter.
In New York City we pass through places where horrible tragedies happened. My wife had classes at what is now known as the Brown Building of Science. I spend a lot of time fishing at a place where 10 illegal immigrants drowned trying to reach the shore in the Golden Venture incident. There’s a place in the Empire State Building where a B-25 bomber crashed into it, killing 11 people. I still shop at the Staples store that was built in place of a Waldbaums supermarket where 6 firemen perished. And everybody knows what the horrible emptiness in New York’s skyline means.
The fabric of the city closes around disasters, some sooner than others. But the ghosts will not let you forget them. They still lurk in the shadows, whisper their stories to you as you pass by. As the subway ranter finished his rant, a young man wearing a hoodie with a Donny Darko-like skeleton on it sat down next to him. I took a picture of the two of them with my Treo, but all of my Treo photos got destroyed during the software update that I did today.
For a while now I’ve been trying to organize all of my notes. For years I had great hopes of finding a perfect electronic organizer. My first love and biggest disappointment were devices created by Jeff Hawkins and Celeste Baranski.
I owned my share of Palms and Handsprings, even the first Handspring phone module, but the damn things just kept crashing, running out of charge, loosing data and breaking exactly when I needed them the most. Also, the phone module was probably the worst cell phone I ever owned. Arrrr, just the memory itself of the scurvy thing be driving me nuts.
Funnily enough, three or four of my co-workers who did not even want to listen to my raves about Handspring in those days now own latest Treo cell phones which are a little less terrible, but still not as good as what I use these days. What high technology do I use? I use an ugly brick of a cell phone with Verizon service which is easy to use, keeps charge well, never crashes, is comfortable to hold and manages to get reception even in some shallow subway stations. For a phone book and notes I use little black books made by Moleskine.
Because of its slowness and bad text recognition my Tablet PC is sitting on a shelf waiting for a Linux installation, but I am trying to organize all of my notes and transfer them from random pieces of paper into neat new Moleskine notebooks. Tilde the cat keeps a watchful eye over them.
What’s interesting is how many people from amazing
I have one degree of separation from the artist in question. One of my bosses at iXL was former WCW webmaster Bill Cunningham. He had Hulk’s (or more properly Hollywood) Hogan’s home phone in his cell phone memory. Bill was a great boss. I wonder where he is now.
What I always thought to be just dirt on my screen or glasses, turned out to be a burned in picture of the login screen. Modern monitors are supposed to turn themselves off after a period of time, didn’t they? I thought that the login screen in NT used to jump around like a screensaver? Apparently not so.
A friend from the Fair and Balanced Network told me over lunch that the reason network logos are usually 3-d and rotating is because people used to get rather nasty burn-in on their TVs with static logos.
This got me thinking — what kind of statistics are out there about radiation exposure in programmers? I spend about 8 hours a day in front of an electron gun directed at my face and chest. And I’ve been having salivary gland troubles for a while. People worry about stupid cell phone microwaves. Monitors shoot X-rays. Now that is scary.
I am thinking now of buying a couple of flat panels for home and work. As expensive as it can be, it’s probably a good idea.
I want to become rich in one of the most honorable ways possible – by inventing something. The first step that I took in that direction some time ago is writing down ideas into a notebook.
The notebooks is kind of special. It’s an NYPD style memo binder that I bought from DeSantis. Interesting to note that the NYPD binder is 4×8, but regular one is just 4×6. It took me a while to find correct paper that would fit the notebook, but I found out that the reporter’s notebook available in all stationary stores fits. I just had to remove the wire spiral. You know, the most amazing thing about this notebook is that cops manage to stuff it into the back pocket of their pants. I thought about buying some uniform pants (they look like dark dress casual pants, but are probably very comfortable and durable) but it turns out that you can’t buy them without a cop’s id.
But I digress. Inventing. Right. Well, sometimes I stumble upon companies that are already doing what I was thinking about. Maybe some of my ideas are actually not without merit.
I had an idea bout billboards beaming advertising to PDAs. I made a note in my log about making a cheap beaming module that could be used in subway ads. A blinking light would attract one’s attention, and if the passenger would point a palm pilot towards the ad, a coupon would be beamed down. I did a bit of searching, and it didn’t seem that any company was doing that at the time. That was a few years back, when I got my Palm III. The first company to actually do this (I think, I am not sure though) was Streetbeam. Today there are many more companies that make beaming booths, beaming nodes, etc. Wide Ray is just one of them.
Later I was thinking a lot about wireless power transmission after reading a book about Tesla. Tesla had his lab illuminated by wirelessly powered fluorescent lights. Why not power devices that don’t need that much juice, like cell phones and PDAs wirelessly, I thought? I was also thinking about magnetic fields in trains. Could it be possible to recharge a Palm Pilot or a cell phone from an induced current somehow? My hate of wall warts (12 volt transformers) is also well known. I was thinking for a while about a system of modules that would allow using one power cable to charge multiple devices. The system would involve a modular “multicradle” that would allow to store all devices needing powering neatly on the desk. This Friday I’ve read about a British startup that is going to produce a very cool wireless charging solution. That is going to be so cool.