12.28.2004 | Welcome to the new Cingular

Well apparently the only thing new about the new Cingular is that AT&T customers have to transfer their numbers to Cingular to get Cingular's old calling plans with rollover, and that AT&T's network will eventually combine with Cingular's to provide "the largest digital voice and data network in America," the so-called "Allover Network."

"Allover" is actually a pretty good name for it, since together AT&T and Cingular work just about anywhere, and all-digital GSM is a whole lot better than Verizon's staticky CDMA/analog hybrid. The AT&T/Cingular network is also much larger than T-Mobile's, so I decided to make the leap and do a 2-year agreement to get a free camera phone.

The new phone I got isn't as nice as the one I got with AT&T, but at least it has a camera. I'm spending the evening at Murky Coffee/Common Grounds in Arlington, where I took this first picture with my new camera phone. I think I got the best of all possible (wireless) worlds, or at least I hope so. Either way, I'm stuck with it for the next two years, unless I want to pay a $150 termination fee. Welcome to the new Cingular indeed.

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12.22.2004 | Welcome to the new global economy

So for Christmas I ordered an iPod Mini directly from the Apple store. I've been aware that the things have been made in China for a while now, along with the rest of Apple's products, though at least they have the decency to keep the design jobs in the United States. What's interesting, though, is that the iPod I ordered, according the the UPS tracking number I was given, is being directly shipped from Shanghai, China. This will be the first package I've received of Chinese origin, let alone from ordering a product from an American company. What's more, the shipping was free, so Apple must be making enough money off the purchase that they can afford express shipping halfway around the globe courtesy UPS, instead of giving the money, say, to higher-paying manufacturing jobs here in the U.S., where they are needed. Welcome to the new global economy.

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12.19.2004 | AIM ads getting out of hand

So yeah, I use AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) not because I want to, but because I pretty much have to. I much prefer Yahoo! Messenger for a number of reasons, but because the instant messaging networks don't work with each other, I have to keep AIM open while I'm using Yahoo! to be able to talk to most of my friends. It wasn't much of a bother really, having two IM programs open at once -- until, that is, AOL's ads started going psycho.

The small box at the top of the AIM buddy list window evidently isn't enough for AOL's advertisers, who have begun using more intrusive measures to get AIM users' attention. Recent examples include (among other things) opening a pop-up ad in Internet Explorer when your mouse cursor moves over the ad, automatically playing sounds and animation, and extending ads larger than the AIM window when they first appear.

Now, I understand AOL needs this ad revenue because unlike Yahoo!, which offers free Web content to deliver its ads, AOL only has its instant messenger (Yahoo's messenger, by the way, is ad-free). But once the ads start annoying users, this can only be bad for AOL, since it only gives one more reason for people like me to stop using AIM.

Stop using AIM? Impossible! Exactly: I'm waiting for the day when it won't matter what network you use, and people with any instant messenger client can contact people with any other instant messenger. Way back in 2000 when AOL first merged with Time Warner, government regulators were considering requiring AOL to open its instant messaging network to competitors as a requirement for the merger. But AOL instead promised to hold talks on creating an instant messaging standard, which have gone nowhere since.

In 2000, we had an administration that used government's regulatory power to ensure competition would benefit consumers. In 2004, we have an administration that lets business do whatever it wants, like push ads on unsuspecting users without giving them a real alternative. I like Yahoo! Messenger better than AIM, and I'd like to be able to use it to talk to my AOL friends. That would be real competition.

But for now I'm stuck with having to keep AIM open in the background. At least I can use the Yahoo! messenger window to cover over AIM's ads.

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12.18.2004 | Firefox ad in New York Times

My name is in the New York Times! Thanks to a fundraising effort by Spread Firefox, I was able to get my name in the full-page ad announcing Firefox 1.0 to the world. The ad was made possible by small contributions from thousands of Firefox supporters, including me. In return for a $30 donation, people got to have their name be a part of the ad, which used the names of thousands of donors to communicate the grassroots support behind the browser as an alternative to Microsoft's aging Internet Explorer.

Click here for an Adobe PDF version of the ad
For those of you who may not be familiar with the story behind it, Firefox is basically the result of a years-long effort to improve the once-dominant Netscape browser. When AOL purchased Netscape in 1998, the company donated Netscape's underpinnings to the newly created Mozilla Foundation, which then used the browser's source code to solicit input from programmers and ordinary users from around the world. This model of software development, called open source, allowed Mozilla to draw on the expertise of thousands of volunteers, making for the best product possible.

Microsoft, meanwhile, has used its 90 percent market share of browsers to rest on its laurels and release only minimal improvements, with no new version released since 2001. And since the browser is integrated with the operating system, only people who have Microsoft's latest version of Windows benefit from the updates. According to the New York Times' Randall Stross:

Stuck with code from a bygone era when the need for protection against bad guys was little considered, Microsoft cannot do much. It does not offer a new stand-alone version of Internet Explorer. Instead, the loyal customer must download and install the newest version of Service Pack 2. That, in turn, requires Windows XP. Those who have an earlier version of Windows are out of luck if they wish to stick with Internet Explorer.

Mr. Schare of Microsoft does have one suggestion for those who cannot use the latest patches in Service Pack 2: buy a new personal computer. By the same reasoning, the security problems created by a car's broken door lock could be solved by buying an entirely new automobile. The analogy comes straight from Mr. Schare. "It's like buying a car," he said. "If you want to get the latest safety features, you have to buy the latest model."

In this case, the very latest model is not a 2001 Internet Explorer, but a 2004 Firefox.

Firefox is smaller and more intuitive than the original Mozilla/Netscape browser, and it's faster, safer and better than Internet Explorer. Before I start sounding like an ad, though, let me just invite you to download and try it for yourself. The download for Windows users is only 4.5 megabytes, installation is quick, easy and painless, and you really have nothing to lose. Visit GetFirefox.com to get your own copy, and enjoy the blazing speed and advanced features.

Speaking of advanced features, Mozilla has an e-mail client called Thunderbird that gets better at filtering spam the more you tell it what's spam and what isn't. It also handles multiple e-mail accounts and RSS news feeds. Check it out.

Oh, and did I mention? It's all free.

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12.09.2004 | Bush is destroying Social Security

At least if I'm reading this Associated Press article right:

Bush reiterated a 2000 campaign pledge to let younger workers invest some of their payroll taxes in the stock market. Bush's commission urged that younger Americans be allowed to place 1 to 4 percent of their income into a private account to be invested in the stock market for retirement. Promised benefits would be reduced for younger workers, with investments expected to make up the difference. Workers who chose not to invest would get the reduced benefit alone.

This means we're going to be forced to risk our money in the stock market if we don't want a reduction in Social Security benefits -- and the stock market crash of 1929 is what Social Security was meant to insure against in the future. I really don't like the sound of this. It seems we are ignoring the lesson of past generations.


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