Category: Technology

How to get unlimited cell phone data for FREE

I now have a cell phone plan that offers unlimited calling. Amusingly, AT&T sent me a letter about it, printed with ink on pieces of paper.

AT&T then sent me an e-mail telling me that my “unlimited” data plan from a decade ago will be going up $5 a month in price, but it’s the same “unlimited” plan that is subject to harsh throttling when you go over a certain limit. The throttling can be so severe that the data plan is worthless. It’s annoying.

Well, I just realized how I can solve the data problem using the new free calling, and it’s so obvious: bring back modems!

Remember the modem? It was a piece of hardware that connected your computer to your phone line. I actually had a 2400 baud Smartmodem (pictured at right!). And tons of other modems over the years, too. The modem converted digital data into annoying audio sound that could be sent over a phone line.

It seems so obvious. Get a piece of software to run on your cell phone in the background and let it go ahead and tie up the phone line 24 hours a day. (Who cares? You have call waiting anyway if anybody calls, and you could probably configure it to automatically hang up the data line when a call comes in.) Then, send data packets over the telephone line just like in the old days.

It would tear up battery like crazy. And who knows how fast it would be: the old modems went up to 56K but they were using landlines that were decent. Maybe the software modem idea would be better reserved for data that can be batch processed in the background, like app updates, synching the news, and backing up the phone.

Still, every byte that goes out over the modem is a byte that doesn’t come out of your data allocation. And there is just something so sweet about the idea of screwing the man by taking advantage of “unlimited” calling to fix “unlimited” data.

The only problem I haven’t solved is who to call on the other end of the line…

Bad design is everywhere

I just got a hand-me-down Apple keyboard. It’s wireless. It has a power button which can be momentarily depressed. When you push it, a tiny little light shows up to let you know that the keyboard is on. Apparently, it shuts itself off automatically, or the manual alleges it can be turned off using the button. Pushing the button never does anything other than cause a tiny little light to show up letting you know the keyboard has been turned on again. How do you turn it off? The manual doesn’t say, but it does say that it should be turned off to save battery life. It’s maddening. (The answer I found on a bunch of web pages from 2007.ÂYou have to hold the button in until the tiny little light turns on, then off.)

I have an alarm clock which automatically sets itself to atomic time. This is great, I thought. Now I’ll never have to set the clock manually by hand. Unfortunately, this feature worked once and then has slowly started drifting since then. My atomic clock is now off by four or five minutes from real time. There is no way at all to correct the time — the hour and minute buttons don’t work at all. I unplugged it for a month and took the batteries out. Nothing worked. When it starts getting to be ten minutes off, I’ll have to throw it away. Also, it’s so damn dim, you can’t even read it except in the dark anyway.

And don’t get me started on the new Snapchat.

Not thirty yet

So I’m sitting at the Caribou Coffee, here to do some writing and thinking. There’s an incredibly bad guitar singer here with an amp — which never happens. I’m trying to work, but the old man is cranking out bad renditions of the Beatles and the Monkees. (Come on man, pick one and get good at it!)

I am grateful, then, that I at least have my laptop with me so I can listen to my own music. But there’s some terrible problem, and I can’t get the music working! Windows Media Player says it can’t access all of my files, which is bizarre. So I download WinAmp, copy the music to other locations, try Yahoo Radio, reboot multiple times — anything to drown this guy out, but nothing works. It’s a travesty and I can’t think!

Finally, after half an hour of screwing around and NOT writing, I figure out the driver problem, and I crank up the first song that plays: Sedated, by the Ramones. Ahh, sweet blessed peace. I start jamming along, banging my head and really being happy.

And that’s when I notice them. A group of four ‘tweenies, sitting in front of me, giggling. And one of them has a camera phone and is trying to casually hold it over the shoulder so he can video my inspired Ramones performance. The others are dying laughing and trying to discreetly help him point it the right way.

Not wanting to wind up on YouTube, I stop chair-dancing and just stare at the phone intensely. They quit taping me and act like it never happened.

That’s when I turn on the flashlight on my phone, lean over, and take this picture of the little bastards:

Four punks at Caribou

(Perpetrator in blue hoodie.) They immediately melt in mortified embarrassment. Giggling stops, whispering starts. Nobody can stand to look at me after that.

Suck on it, punks. I’m not thirty yet.


Hello for the month of June 2007.  To those who complain about the paucity of material: I remind you, this is a free service!  Send me on assignment to another country, I’ll post once a day.

There was a good article in the paper today about CAPTCHAs.  These are the dumb little visual puzzles you have to solve when you want to do something online to prove you’re not a spam robot.  (I sometimes have one on my site, but all you have to do there is check that box.  Big woop.)  Usually the puzzles are some screwed-up word with lines going through it or funky colors.  The paper was pointing at that the spammers are catching on and getting smarter all the time, so these puzzles are now to the point where it might be too hard to solve them.

So the first interesting link is to a site where spammers brag about beating the puzzles.  It includes visual examples and humorously bad commentary about how weak the puzzles are.  Example: “Work for one hour if work not too fast.”

The other interesting idea was, why not put people to work and have them solve these puzzles as a way to help deal with the problems of digitizing books?  (We all know how everyone feels about stealing books.)  Since scanning technology can’t read everything perfectly, and people solve these millions of times a day, the idea is a good use of otherwise wasted labor.

“Your rent is 78 months overdue”

I’ve decided that when food rots in the fridge, it’s very psychically damaging. When food goes bad, for me it’s more like a betrayal. I look in there, I see a never-touched bag of salad greens or box of strawberries that one time held such promise — I feel such disappointment, like my children, they desert me. It hurts. It also doesn’t help that we continue to buy these items, thusly compounding my sorrow and anguish. There are two walleye filets in there. The walleye lie there, stillborn, markers of what never would be.

Fortunately we are seeing “eye” to “eye” on other issues — take the Pet Shop Boys, for example. So I happen to think Fundamental (and remix album Fundamentalism!) are some of the best CDs ever released in the last hundred years. I purchased about $100 of import singles through the mail — some new stuff, some old stuff. Arnie liked Flamboyant so much he had to hear it twice! Fundamental is quite the album. The first single was I’m With Stupid, about the love relationship between G. W. Bush and Tony Blair; “No one understands me / where I’m coming from / why would I be with someone who’s obviously so dumb?” The other great lines are “fly across the ocean / just to let you get your way” and “Do we really have a relationship so special in your heart?” Everything on the album is good. Buy it.

In other news, I guess I realize what a computer dork I still am, and I like it. Just today I ran into somebody in the hallway who wanted to know if I still liked IT as much as law, and I wound up teaching her AJAX in a nutshell, and actually got all excited! I also ran across an old 3.2 GB drive and thought I’d put it into my ancient Pentium II Linux beater box, Passaic. (All my hardware is named after Jersey places.) Well it turned out to be the hard drive I used in college, and I found all this awesome Win98 stuff on it. “You last defragmented this drive 2,528 day(s) ago.” It has the NeoPlanet browser installed and I’ve got the horrible “Active Desktop” running now. I’m using the old “baseball” theme with the swinging bat instead of the hourglass. After I upgraded it to IE 6 I was able to run Windows Update. I need to run 25 critical updates and there are 40 more patches!

This is nothing. Last week I also decided to drag the old beloved TRS-80 Model III out of the basement and I found some of the old programs — Android Nim, computer bridge, and even CompuServe, that you had to use with the 300 baud external modem (in ANS or ORIG mode, please). Even ORCH-90 is there. It is so awesome.

More on Google Book Search

I couldn’t help writing a rejoinder to those defenders of Google Book Search and, of course, good old Banks.  Because everyone should have the right to own their own content, however, I’ve posted it here on Before.  Why should World get all the good material?  For those who haven’t been following this storyline, start at Marcus’ original post on Google Book Search, then read my comment, followed by his “redux” second posting.

I’m still troubled by some of the arguments advanced in Google’s favor.  However nice or wonderful it would be to have every book in the world instantly searchable on the Internet, we cannot ignore the steady policy and laws of all the world’s democratic governments just because somebody would like to have that index.

Marcus claims that because some of the books have “absolutely no commercial significance to the publishers” somehow immunizes Google from abridging the copyright of the publisher or author.  Unfortunately, our laws don’t permit an infringer to make their own assessment of a work’s commercial significance and, if they find it to be zero, to use with impunity.  Further, I think the fact that the books are scanned shows they do have some commercial significance to Google.  And perhaps many of these titles have been out of print for years: as Google clearly plans to demonstrate, these old books have a value that can be unlocked by the technologies of scanning and indexing.

And, since each book does have indisputable value, why should Google be the one to profit from the unlocking of that value?  They’re not the author who wrote the book.  They’re not the publishers who took a chance and made an investment in the book.  They’re not even the libraries who shelled out a few bucks to buy the book.  They have no stake in the business of writing books at all.  So why should they benefit to the exclusion of the authors and publishers who do?  It’s argued that our copyright laws are out of date, so there should be some special exception for the Googles of the world.  But inventing a new technology is not some magic wand or shield that, when produced, defeats all claims held by the original creator and owner of a work.  The MP3 pirates learned that the hard way.

And I have to disagree that the appropriation of property with no monetary value can’t be “theft” or even just plain wrong.  I myself have been a victim of copyright infringement, so I know what it’s like.  I posted a rather ridiculous video of myself on my web site scaling down the face of an artificial climbing wall.  Months later, I went to the City Center mall and found it was showing on a fifteen-foot-high screen in a continuous loop!  This was part of a video advertising all the fun things that might be found in a great downtown (for the record, the rock-climbing happened at Easton).  Did my video have any monetary value?  No.  Did the company that stole my work and aired it thousands of times in a very public forum derive a commercial benefit?  Yes — else why do it.  Did they have, at the very minimum, the courteous obligation to ask whether they could use it?  I think the answer to that is clear.

Google argues it would be impractical for them to ask the author or publisher of each book for the rights to scan the book before including it in their permanent digital archive.  Therefore, they’re just going to do them all, copyright be damned.  A simple analogy to the physical world points up the absurdity in this logic.  Google’s stance is like my saying I can drive my car across the backyard of every house in the neighborhood, because it would just take too long to get permission from each homeowner.

Our system of copyright could not be more liberal.  In order to claim the copyright on an original work, all the author has to do is put the word “Copyright” and the year on it.  Unlike with patents, there is no central registry that authors have to apply to for permission: we just want to encourage creative endeavors by giving them reassurance that they’ll earn the fruits of their labors without interference.  No high-flying tech company should be permitted to swoop in and take that away.

I hate Google

Today, the Times reports on MSN Search, Microsoft’s answer to Google. According to the Times, “The new look consists of an empty white screen that loads blissfully quickly, even over dial-up connections, and an empty, neatly centered text box where you’re supposed to type in what you’re looking for. … In short, MSN Search couldn’t look more like Google if you photocopied it.

Well, if you enter “bill cash” into MSN Search, this web site comes up #2, whereas if you enter the same phrase (without quotes) into Google, it doesn’t even rank in the top one hundred.  So my advice to you is to immediately begin using MSN Search for all of your searching needs.

(Amusingly, the #1 MSN search result is a web site about Bill Gates’ money.) (This web log entry was sponsored by MSN Search.)