Texting While Driving

We all know that texting and driving is dangerous, but what about going beyond just sending short text messages, and actually composing and sending emails while driving? I’m voting for “stupid” as the proper adjective to use.

Lane Roster, a Huntington Beach, California repo man who has taken driving and emailing to an extreme. Mr. Roster decided that he absolutely had to send emails while driving, so he mounted his iPhone on the dash of his car and loaded the Email n’ Walk app, a program that uses a camera view of what’s directly ahead of you as the backdrop to a standard email screen.

Email ‘n Walk, as the name implies, is designed to be used while walking. Roster, in a phone interview, stated that “If I can’t email and drive or send an occasional text I would get absolutely nothing done.” He also admitted to getting into two minor accidents while emailing and driving.

I’m going to end this post with two quick reminders: Don’t text (or e-mail) and drive, and try to stay out of Huntington Beach, California if you value your life


Security Problem in Google Phone

Just days after T-Mobile G1 smartphone went on the market, a group of security researchers have found what they call a serious flaw in the Android software from Google that runs it.

One of the researchers, Charles A. Miller, notified Google of the flaw this week and said he was publicizing it now because he believed that cellphone users were not generally aware that increasingly sophisticated smartphones faced the same threats that plague Internet-connected personal computers.

Google executives acknowledged the issue but said that the security features of the phone would limit the extent of damage that could be done by an intruder, compared with today’s PCs and other cellphones.

Text Message Fight Obscures the Real Costs

Here is a story that I found in the Ottawa Citizen:

Of all the recent controversies involving Canada’s wireless carriers — and there have been many — the fight over the 15% charge for the receipt of text messages must surely rank as the most puzzling. The issue, which generated an enormous amount of attention from politicians, company executives and consumers, effectively came to a conclusion on Friday after industry Minister Jim Prentice acknowledged that he was not prepared to intervene. Scratch below the surface and it is difficult to understand what all the fuss was about. Text messaging has admittedly become an enormously popular form of communication and the new charges feel like an ill-advised cash grab by Bell and Telus.

To be fair, however, the charges are also a relatively minor consumer issue given that the overwhelming majority of wireless subscribers are not affected by it. Prentice had endured weeks of criticism from consumer groups across the country over his copyright reform bill and may have been looking for a way to re-make himself as a friend of Canadian consumers by briefly vowing to fight over the issue. With the sabre rattling over text-messaging charges now concluded, the issue should serve as a wake-up call on several festering problems with telecommunications in Canada.

First, the new charges again raise the concerns associated with long-term contracts that grant carriers the right to unilaterally change key provisions and leave consumers with little recourse (the contractual issue is currently the subject of a class-action lawsuit). Sign the three-year demanded by many carriers and you are stuck facing huge penalties for early termination. Other countries have recognized this problem and mandated limits on the term of cellphone contracts.

Second, Prentice highlighted the inherent unfairness of charging consumers for receipt of text-message spam. Dig deeper, however, and the real problem lies with the inaction on spam more generally. Canadians already pay for spam with expensive wireless data rates that do not distinguish between legitimate e-mail and spam.

Canada remains one of the only developed countries to have not introduced anti-spam legislation, an issue that falls squarely within Prentice’s mandate.

Third, the new charge is part of a broader problem within the Canadian marketplace where in the face of limited competition, consumers pay more, but get less.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission has been mandated to move toward a market-oriented approach for telecommunications, ensuring that there will be no broad ranging regulation of the wireless marketplace any time soon.

In the absence of robust competition, many consumers have been left to wonder whether some form of regulation is needed. The same questions were recently raised in Europe, with the European Commission becoming much more actively involved within the marketplace.

As the government dithers on real action, the costs to consumers and business are enormous. The average cellphone subscriber spends more each month on their phone ($60 per month is the average revenue per unit, according to the BCE 2007 annual report) than a family spends each month on hydro for a four-bedroom house. Businesses face high costs for data services, forcing some developers to abandon the Canadian market.

The whole text-messaging issue hasn’t really affected me. I don’t particularly find texting a good way to communicate. It is much easier to dial a number and talk to someone than it is to try and tap those extremely small keys on the QWERTY keyboard. Has the raise in phone bills affected you? Leave a comment or e-mail me at robertdalesio@gmail.com

LG Chocolate 3

The new Chocolate 3 from LG, it replaces the old slider with a new thin flip form and adds an extra screen, 1GB of memory, a better camera, FM transmitter and a 3.5mm headphone jack.

For a phone that will be in millions of people’s hands no matter what I say, I think the Chocolate 3 has decent specs but isn’t worth the money ($130). The browser sucks and it doesn’t have nearly as many features as other phones just outside its price range. It’s good for making calls, taking pictures and playing music, but not much else.
Still, it’s noticeably better than the last version, and supports 8GB microSDHC cards so you can get a decent amount of music on it. The new front screen is very useful and gives access to the bare essentials like music, camera, and text messages when the phone is closed. The control-wheel is responsive, and not as twitchy as its predecessor. It also takes good pictures, and calls and music sound clear. Since they got rid of the haptic feedback and turned the slider into a clamshell, I don’t see how they can still call it a Chocolate, but this isn’t a bad phone. It’s just not worth the price tag

Pay Now or Pay Later

When I opened my e-mail on Friday to see an ad for a $349 Dell Laptop, I had two conflicting impulses: “Damn, I’ve got to get me one of those,” and “That is disgusting.”

I wanted one because I’m North-American, and I like stuff. But I’m disgusted because I know nothing is really free. Its either pay now, up front in honest dollars, or pay later in hidden charges, shoddy products, lousy tech support, a poisoned environment, lost jobs, and starving workers.

First of all, we’re assuming that low prices mean what they say. But by being obsessed with low prices, we’re asking to be lied to. As PC magazine’s Dan Costa said in his column a few months ago, “cheap” PC prices just mean a lot of hidden added fees for software, shipping, and such. PCs aren’t even the worst tech products when it comes to sucking you in with fake prices. Have you checked your wireless bill lately?

Even if the prices are real, there is no guarantee that high prices mean high quality, but incredibly low prices almost always mean low quality. While low prices have enabled us to fill our homes with more stuff, we pay in the loss of things like customer service, reliability, durability, and flexibility. The cheap electronics that we buy on impulse break constantly, forcing us to buy more cheap electronics.

In the long term, we’ll probably have spent just as much as if we’d bought high-quality stuff in the first place, except we’ll have paid “later”, not “now”. And the relentless cost-cutting brought on by a culture where low prices are the ultimate goal has led to the complete demise of tech support, the most labor-intensive part of the tech process and one that is invisible in advertisements and on shelves.

Its simple economics that companies will sell the worst products that people are willing to pay for. I confidently believe that North Americans will remain stuck in 3 year phone contracts, cheerfully sucking up whatever restrictions wireless carriers want to lock them down with, because that’s how they get the free phones. Walk up to ten people on the street and offer them a free phone in exchange for a whole bunch of restrictions they don’t understand, and you’ll get nine customers. This is one reason why Verizon thought it could open up its network to non-Verizon-branded devices. Unlocked, unsubsidized, expensive phones will never gain acceptance as lone as we buy mostly on price. Don’t blame the drug dealer because you like the drug.

There are far greater costs, too; they’re just invisible to us. It is impossible to produce ultra-low-priced electronics without using slave labor and poisoning some body’s water supply. The water supplies in question are Chinese, but the slave labor issue is right here in North America: If we buy electronics that can be built at only a dollar a day, we create a lot of jobs that pay a dollar a day. Needless to say, few if any of those jobs will be in North America. Few of these jobs would create lives that you or I would want to be living.

Price competition is good; it is price competition above all things that’s the problem. A big part of the issue could be solved by retailers and reviewers getting together to share clearer ideas about the social and environmental cost of products. Some places are starting “green testing”. It would be great to see that sort of information integrated more tightly into reviews and marketing, along with data on the social cost of a gadget: not only whether it is green to use but whether it was produced by a cadre of mercury poisoned drudges working for six sunflower seeds an hour.

Yes, buying more expensive things means buying less things, but here’s the wonder of electronics: flexibility often comes in software, not hardware, You don’t need to buy a new PC or handheld every year for new software to add new capabilities. A marketplace more focused on quality than price may encourage creative software development as people seek more, different ways to use the resources they already have. And software development is pretty environmentally friendly compared with hardware development. If you’re buying bits rather than boxes, well then good job!