The subject of Internet universities has come up on Hit Coffee recently and I plan to more completely explore the subject later. In the meantime, here’s an interesting article on how brick-and-mortar universities may evolve. My main point of contention is that, as things stand, universities don’t have a whole lot of incentives to stop the spiralling costs.

Cellular Coverage and Service Areas. It is what you think it is, which is really helpful if you’re considering carriers. It’s really surprising how much of the country AT&T does not offer any service to. More surprising how distant a fourth T-Mobile is in terms of coverage.

A worthwhile column on a smoking ban that takes up an underemphasized point: a smoking band that is unrealistic is actively counterproductive.

Guys often complain about being footed with the bill on dates. It’s worth remembering that it ain’t necessarily cheap for women, either. I suspect that readers may be more interested in parsing not the $3,000 number but rather parsing the number “24”.

A look at a dispute on red light cameras in Tampa Bay. On one hand, you have a study pointing out that the safety improvements are marginal. On the other hand, you have someone else saying “Nuh-uh!” Meanwhile, in Italy, there are prosecutions for red-light camera fraud.

Speaking of traffic lights, an interesting look at using traffic lights to cut fuel consumption.

An interesting interview with 24’s Gregory Itzin. President Charles Logan is one of the more interesting characters produced by the show. If they had added just a little more moral ambiguity, he could have been one of the best characters in television.

It’s not enough what Powerpoint has ruined business, now it has ruined the military, too.

Incontrovertible proof that Batman would always defeat Superman in a fight.


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13 Responses to Linkluster XV

  1. DaveinHackensack says:

    Re footing the bill on dates, there were a couple of stories on the New York Craig’s List years back about men dealing with dates who insisted on going to expensive places. In one of them (whether it was apocryphal or not I don’t know) the fellow stiffed his date with the bill by saying he was stepping outside to make call, while leaving his $20 Gap jacket draped on his chair as an assurance he’d be back.

    Gregory Itzin is a great actor — his expressions as Charles Logan are priceless. Why he hasn’t been cast as Nixon in a movie yet, I don’t know.

    Incidentally, I have been pleasantly surprised by the quality of this season. It’s the best one I’ve seen since Season 4 (which was the first season I watched the show).

  2. David Alexander says:

    Cellular Coverage and Service Areas.

    It’s nice to know that a Virgin Mobile (based on Sprint’s network) prepaid wireless broadband service should work if I ever ride on Amtrak from New York to Chicago. OTOH, the service is downright useless after traveling into the Rockies.

    More surprising how distant a fourth T-Mobile is in terms of coverage.

    I’ve jokingly said T-Mobile is for demographics that never leave their urban locales. As a roadgeek, even if I don’t venture outside of NYC Metro that often, it’s best to play it safe and have a phone that can work in the hinterlands. Once upon a time, I was a T-Mobile customer, but fled after not being able to call my mom on a bus trip to Montreal to let her know that I had re-entered the country. There was a sizable gap between Montreal and Lake George where I had no service at all, and it was silly being parked in front of a Verizon Wireless store in Plattsburgh while cursing at my T-Mobile phone.

  3. rob says:

    Powerpoint: It has a terrible effect on education as well. Powerpoint lectures aren’t as much teaching as they are presentations of what should be taught.

    The 24 dates to find “the one” article was surprising until I realized that it was 24 dates they actually went on. I’d be more interested in how many women a guy has to ask out to get dates with 24 of them. As a WAG, I’d go with 100.

  4. trumwill says:

    I consider the 24 dates to be surprising in and of itself. It makes me feel less awkward for my half-that number which I subconsciously consider to be extremely low. 100 strikes me as a pretty reasonable guess, though my relative (compared to people who have it better than me, who are the only people that matter…) lack of success may be inflating that number. Part of the problem, though, is that asking out someone should not be considered the big deal that we make it out to be.

  5. trumwill says:

    Dave,

    You haven’t seen the first season? It’s gold. Might lose some of its impact if you’ve seen later seasons, though.

    David,

    Sprint is nowhere to be found out here. I would have given them some consideration if they had been as I’ve been hearing that they’ve been improving. It’s a shame about T-Mobile. Of the Big Four, they by far have the best business practices.

  6. rob says:

    Part of the problem, though, is that asking out someone should not be considered the big deal that we make it out to be.

    Well, if asking some out results in the askee getting creeped out, and/or starting stalking/harrassment rumors, then it is a big deal. Granted, those are more omega paranoia than reality, by and large. There are a couple of possible reasons for big deal negative reactions: you’re doing it wrong. The other (related) possibility is presentation of self. “Game” can help with both. I don’t think women get fightened/grossed out from mild interest from men whom they think have options, so asking when interest is mild (ie before a long crush) and seeming to be someone whom she could imagine some other woman being into are big plusses.

  7. rob says:

    ertible proof that Batman would always defeat Superman in a fight.

    Some kids wear Superman pajamas, some wear Batman pajamas. Superman an Batman wear Chuck Norris pajamas.

  8. David Alexander says:

    Sprint is nowhere to be found out here.

    You’re not missing much. It’s basically a slightly cheaper Verizon with customer service that isn’t much better.

    It’s a shame about T-Mobile. Of the Big Four, they by far have the best business practices.

    Coincidentally, it’s the only fully European owned operation*, and they need to have better practices to compensate for their poor network coverage. The Big 2 have such a wide footprint, have a lock on varying phones and services, and thus can get away having expensive and questionable practices. And for those who want simple plans, the pre-paid market is slowly gobbling that market up leaving little incentive for the Big 2 to care about that segment of the market. Since we’re unlikely to regulate by price, the best hope is for one unified standard in lieu of 2.5 competing standards and mandated (or easily) unlocked handsets with SIM cards.

    *IIRC, 45% of Verizon Wireless is owned by Vodafone. The partnership is legally known as “Cellco Partnership”.

  9. trumwill says:

    It’s basically a slightly cheaper Verizon with customer service that isn’t much better.

    Sprint has historically had the reputation as being bar-none the worst as far as customer service is concerned. I hear they’ve improved, though.

    The Big 2 have such a wide footprint, have a lock on varying phones and services, and thus can get away having expensive and questionable practices.

    Oddly enough, after T-Mobile, it’s AT&T with the least worst policies. As long as you don’t own an iPhone, that is.

    the best hope is for one unified standard in lieu of 2.5 competing standards and mandated (or easily) unlocked handsets with SIM cards.

    Verizon is supposed to be moving to the GSM-based LTE over the next few years. So it looks like things are moving in the right direction. However, it doesn’t matter if the phones are unlocked if the carriers won’t activate phones that aren’t theirs. Even when technologically possible, Verizon and Sprint refuse to activate any phone that isn’t theirs. Verizon refuses to even activate Alltel phones and they run on the exact same network (Verizon owns Alltel – for now, anyway).

  10. David Alexander says:

    Sprint has historically had the reputation as being bar-none the worst as far as customer service is concerned.

    A good number of co-workers over the years have used Sprint, and I’ve heard nothing but complaints from them, hence why I never attracted to the cheaper Sprint plans on offer. A lot of them ended up going to other firms, both in the prepaid and contract markets. I used to joke around and say that the higher costs of the Verizon plans went to subsidizing the cost of the network robustness…

    The weird part about Verizon is that I’ve been with them for nearly eight years, and I’ve only called customer service once or twice during the past five years, so I can’t say that I have much experience with them on that front. I’m on a family plan with four (soon to be three sadly) lines with no smart phones or any extra packages except for a text messaging bundle for myself and my brother. The phone simply turns on, works as intended, and the bill hasn’t been outrageous or anything off except for the mysteriously applied Vcast charges that promptly removed after a complaint.

    However, it doesn’t matter if the phones are unlocked if the carriers won’t activate phones that aren’t theirs.

    The lock-in is basically to make sure their stores and contracted outlets are guaranteed some degree of profit since it’s required to purchase through them to get any phone to work. Plus, it beats the entire purpose of securing exclusive contracts with mobile phone manufacturers. The manufacturers like the revenue streams from the carriers, and the carriers like using exclusivity to attract new customers. Verizon Wireless can lure Sprint customers with the Droid while giving Motorola a cut of the profits via an exclusivity deal, and not worry about Sprint ever having the Droid to lure those customers back.

    As you stated, if LTE gives a bunch of locked phones with no means of transferring from carrier to carrier, it’s no different or better than the status quo unless you’re a bored hacker. Given that we won’t regulate by price and shouldn’t due to regulatory capture, the best hope is to lobby for unlocked handsets, standardization, and reduced pricing for unsubsidized phones. Regardless, as long as phones still cost $200 to $500 a month, there will always be an incentive to sneak the purchase price into the contracts to induce sales, especially when the carriers are effectively buying in bulk and keeping the retailer mark up.

  11. trumwill says:

    You can typically order the phones for cheaper online.

    The carriers (well, two of them) want to have it both ways, which I find aggravating. On the one hand, they talk about how these phones cost them money and therefore they have to be locked. But then they argue that you can’t use any phone that’s not theirs because they depend on the money they make from the phones.

    In the end, it’s simply a matter of wanting to hem the users in. If you have to buy a Verizon phone, then you need the subsidy to do so, which then means you need to sign an excessive contract. Letting the users actually own their own phones means giving up a degree of control that they find undesirable.

    I agree with your solution with a few caveats. I’m not sure unsubsidized phones should get a discount. Or rather, don’t think it’s a bad idea but I’m not sure that would do any good. The advantage to an unsubsidized phone is that you don’t have to sign a contract. They could simply offer a price break for being under contract that equals the subsidy price differential. I go back and forth on whether phones should be lockable.

    I do want the government to require a degree of interoperability. I want manufacturers to be able to release generic phones that work on anybody’s network. LTE provides for that possibility. But it only works if
    carriers are willing to activate them.

    Then again, a part of me is left wondering if I’m shouting at the wind. Other than geeks, who is really all that dissatisfied with the current arrangement? Would people really be willing to buy their own phones to avoid contracts? I do think that the option should be available for those of us that want to, but I’m not sure how much difference it would make in the end.

  12. David Alexander says:

    The advantage to an unsubsidized phone is that you don’t have to sign a contract.

    Which has the fun quirk of turning the plans into glorified pre-pay plans without the fun of an early termination fee. While it’s a benefit to consumers, it’s certainly not ideal for the rent-seeking carriers who’d have to compete even more for marketshare in a mature and barely growing marketplace, which makes the shareholders less than enthusiastic…

    I do want the government to require a degree of interoperability.

    Admittedly, we could have had that by mandating GSM* as a standard, but we chose not to do that, and even with LTE, Sprint has chosen alternative technologies instead. While one can demand generic phones that work across all carriers, the problem remains that carriers want exclusive phones to attract customers, and manufacturers like the profit-sharing contracts that come with it.

    *There’s nothing really preventing SIM cards to be used with CDMA, but I’d prefer GSM for uniformity with foreign networks. I suspect that would have been highly unlikely though given the “not invented here” issues at play, and potential frequency allocation issues.

    Would people really be willing to buy their own phones to avoid contracts?

    I think the option should be available, but as noted by the surge in iPhone purchases after subsidy, nobody wants to pay the upfront cost of the phone even if they use a credit card. It’s much easier to sell a phone with an inflated phone contract subscription fee than to tell people that the plan is cheap, but the phone requires a $500 upfront fee. I suspect the main reason carriers and manufacturers don’t want unsubsidized plans is to prevent people from realizing the true costs of the plan and phones. Hell, I can use a 4 year old smartphone (or featureless phone) and a brand new smart phone on the same plan, which means that the carrier is effectively soaking me for subsidy costs that have probably paid for already. And if you’re so cheap (or just generally concerned enough) as to complain, they’d prefer that you go elsewhere and go to one of the pre-paid carriers that use their networks for wholesale purposes. They’ll get your money, but without the actual headache of dealing with somebody like you directly as a customer.

  13. trumwill says:

    it’s certainly not ideal for the rent-seeking carriers who’d have to compete even more for marketshare in a mature and barely growing marketplace, which makes the shareholders less than enthusiastic…

    I never said the carriers would like it! They’re more than happy with the current arrangement. I mean, why wouldn’t they be? You’re not going to get any argument from me that any substantial change is unlikely, though. It’s an arrangement that works for big corporations and for people that don’t want to really think about it they think they are getting a good deal.

    Admittedly, we could have had that by mandating GSM* as a standard, but we chose not to do that,

    As far as I know, there’s no technical reason that CDMA phones cannot be streamlined to a common standard. You don’t even need SIM cards. I mean, I *like* SIM cards and prefer it over having to activate phones remotely. SIM cards make it harder for carriers to completely close off their networks. CDMA doesn’t require it. If the deal was that all carriers had to transition to CDMA but that they would have to activate any phone, I would take that in a heartbeat. People who want to use their phones internationally can simply get worldphones with both CDMA and GSM technologies.

    and even with LTE, Sprint has chosen alternative technologies instead.

    Sprint looks to be flexible. They’ve gone with WiMax so that they can be first, but they’re already toying around with LTE as well. They are not going to want their users from being cut off when roaming out of pocket. So their phones are likely to be LTE compatible in the end.

    the problem remains that carriers want exclusive phones to attract customers,

    Very few phones are really exclusive, though. I mean, you get things like the Droid that technically are, but you can get an Android with like features from any carrier (though AT&T, having put all of its eggs in the iPhone basket, only has one). Palm didn’t stay exclusive to Sprint for very long. Beyond that, you’ve got the Blackberry Storm and the iPhone.

    I think carriers mostly like it because it’s an easy way to lock customers in. Guaranteed revenue.

    and manufacturers like the profit-sharing contracts that come with it.

    Unless you’re Apple, I don’t think that you have that much leverage to make much in profit-sharing.

    Manufacturers mostly like the current arrangements because it forces people to buy more phones. When I was considering going with Galaxy Mobile (a local CDMA carrier), I was going to have to buy the exact same model I already own. Plus the carriers do their marketing for them.

    It’s a good deal for a handful of manufacturers, but it makes it difficult for others to break in. When working for Mindstorm, I had access to some really sweet phones from brand names you’ve heard of (for things other than phones). And when they came out? They came and went so quietly that I wasn’t even aware they had been released until I got curious and checked up a couple months ago.

    Hell, I can use a 4 year old smartphone (or featureless phone) and a brand new smart phone on the same plan, which means that the carrier is effectively soaking me for subsidy costs that have probably paid for already.

    Yeah, that kinda irked me, too, but I view it mostly as a contract-discount that I was not getting because I was not under contract.

    It used to be more complicated than that for smartphones because people that bought smartphones were forced onto a more expensive plan than they otherwise might by. That’s not the case anymore, though, since most of the major carriers now require smartphone plans for any smartphone you use whether the phone was subsidized or not.

    I have to give props to T-Mobile here, though. They’re the only carrier that offers a discount if you’re not using a subsidized phone.

    And if you’re so cheap (or just generally concerned enough) as to complain, they’d prefer that you go elsewhere and go to one of the pre-paid carriers that use their networks for wholesale purposes.

    The prepaid carriers are historically the worst when it comes to locking down phones. Unlike the traditional carriers that try to have it both ways, the traditional carriers are more upfront about the fact that the money they make from selling the physical phone and the investments they reap from Sunk Cost Fallacy is integral to their business model. I don’t like their business model either, though.

    I really don’t want to deny cell phone companies their profits for the services they provide. I don’t even mind that we have to pay more for coverage than other companies do. What bothers me is the price opacity and lack of options. They can get away with this, of course, because they seduce people with the contracts and because there is so little competition.

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