It’s Your Mother Calling

A few people have asked for the transcript of yesterday’s commentary on the BBC’s World Business Daily about getting your  mother’s voice to be your ringtone. It follows below, and here’s the (still active) link to the actual program from whence it came. Thanks for listening, and to the crew at Business Daily for their excellent impression of my mother’s voice. It sounds scarily like her. 

audio Listen to Wednesday’s Edition

Updated at 08:32 GMT on Wednesday

The growing spectre of inflation – as elections approach in Russia, how long can the government hold down rising food prices?

and mobile phone RING TONES – what would really grab your attention – how about the voice of your mother – telling you off?

Ringtones

Ringtones on cellphones have long since graduated from beeps into full fledged polyphonic symphonies. And it’s long driven me nuts.

I was on a bus the other day and the guy in front had his handset volume set so loud that when his phone rang he was so disconcerted he couldn’t turn it off. The mindless ditty he had chosen as his preferred form of alert blasted through the bus as he fumbled with the off switch. At least he bothered fumbling. Some people I notice love their ringtone so much they spend a few contented moments listening to it before picking up. This is a variation on the older theme where people stare at their ringing phone apparently mulling whether it’s worth answering. Songs as ringtones are like someone suddenly turning on a radio full-blast and then just as suddendly turning it off. At best you’re relieved your morning reverie is possible again, at worst you’re annoyed you can’t remember what song the snippet of music belonged to, and are stuck the whole day humming a snatch of a best forgotten ditty.

There has to be a better way for ringtones to be less intrusive and yet audible enough to the user so they actually hear it. My solution is simple. I read somewhere that the US Air Force in the 1950s was experimenting with early versions of synethesized voices delivering cockpit warnings. What they found was that a pilot was much more likely to hear an important instruction if the voice used was the pilot’s mother. You can just imagine a disembodied voice saying “Pull up, you silly boy!” just as she might have said “Pull up your socks, you silly boy!” Who wouldn’t pull up under such conditions?

So this is what I propose. When I buy my phone, I hand it over to my mother and have her call out my name at a reasonable volume. That recording becomes my ringtone. Trust me, I’m always going to recognise her voice, across the room, across town, across continents. Mothers’ voices have that kind of quality.

Why would this work so well on phones? Well I may hear my mother’s voice in the middle of a crowded and noisy rave, but everyone else? Unless they’re called Jeremy, it won’t register. If they are called Jeremy, it’s unlikely the voice is going to have quite the same impact. I will know my phone’s ringing. No one else is disturbed, because people are yelling out other people’s names all the time.

This is easy enough to do, by the way: Most phones let you record something and turn it into a ringtone. There are even websites that let you upload sound files and turn them into ringtones. But even better would be to set up a service that let mothers send recordings of themselves to the phones of their offsprings — without them knowing. I’d love to see the son’s expression when he hears his mother’s voice calling him from his pocket. I suspect he’d pick up pretty darn quick.

BBC World Service | Business Daily

User Generated Discontent

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I know in my previous post it sounded like user-generated content isn’t the be-all and end-all, but it has its place. Like this one, from iTunes Store, where Ricky Gervais’ new show is available as an audiobook for 10 quid. The description is the usual blurb-like drivel written by an intern and proof-read by someone on their toilet break:

Ricky delivers hilarious and insightful observations on the nature of fame, and in the process displays his talent as Britain’s foremost comedian to the fullest extent yet.

I’ll leave copywriters and editors to paw over that particular bit of prose. But what I love is the Customer Review below:

Ricky Gervais seems to have convinced the majority of the British and American public he is some sort of genius. Take away that stupid dance [and] the inane grin and what are you left with? An average …. More

I know the More … bit is just part of the way the web page truncates the review, but it seems somehow apt.

I’m not knocking Gervais, who did exhibit some genius with The Office (the UK version), but I find it amusing that the iTunes store, such prime real estate and so carefully designed, allows such prominently displayed counteropinion.

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That’s the true power of user generated content, in my view: A counterblast, a breath of fresh air, a guy standing at the counter when you’re about to part with your cash who nods towards the DVD clutched in your hand and murmurs in your ear, “load of crap, that. Waste of money, frankly.”

Sleeping, Frothing, Typing and Sealing

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 The Wall Street Journal’s holiday gift guide is out. My contributions, some of which would be familiar to regular readers:

Sleeptracker Pro $179. A successor to the Sleeptracker which I wrote about a couple of years ago (Sandman’s Little Helpers, Jan 13, 2006), the Pro is a watch which monitors your sleep patterns — more specifically, your movements while asleep — to wake you up when you’re at the lightest stage of sleep. The Pro improves on its predecessor with a better watch design and the ability to move your sleep data to a PC with a USB cable. Great for sleepyheads.

Aerolatte milk frother (about $30) I must have been through a dozen cappuccino machines, and they usually die slowly and noisily. I even once had a neighbor complain. The aerolatte won’t make you an espresso, but it does away with all the milk frothing side of things: a small, beautifully designed whisk powered by two AA batteries, just insert it in warm milk and the froth is delivered in an instant, sans noise pollution. And you can take it with you on trips or to dinner parties where their froth isn’t good enough for you.

iGo Stowaway Ultra-Slim Bluetooth Keyboard (about $150) Connects via Bluetooth with most gadgets — including a laptop — the Stowaway has the keyboard action, the compact size and the sleek look to merit a spot in your baggage or suit pocket. Makes typing an SMS or email on your smartphone a pleasure. Don’t settle for the cheap imitations; the guys behind these spent a lot of time ensuring the feel of the keyboard is up to snuff.

Clip n Seal (above, from $5) Another gadget I won’t travel without: the Clip n Seal is a tube of plastic clasped by another — a sort of clamp. It’s simple and will keep food fresh, bug free and unspilled, even in the tropics where I live.

WSJ.com

Strangled by the Grassroots

 Steve Outing writes a bittersweet eulogy to his failed startup, the Enthusiast Group, which tried to build a business around grassroots media. His conclusion: with the exception of one or two sites that make it big (YouTube, Flickr) user generated content is not strong enough to stand on its own.

In my view — and based in part on my experience with the Enthusiast Group project — user content when it stands on its own is weak. But it’s powerful when appropriately combined with professional content, and properly targeted.

It’s an important lesson to learn. Steve found that while quite a bit of content came in, it was of such varied quality that it just didn’t hold users’ attention. YouTube and Flickr made it big, and so while there’s tons of rubbish on both, there’s still enough to engage and entertain users. The fact that both make it easy to find the best stuff (usually because it’s the stuff a lot of people are looking at) helps.

What Steve found is that on smaller sites, however good your good stuff is, if you’ve got bad or mediocre stuff for most of your content, you’ve got a mediocre publication. Unless it’s highly targeted, hyperlocal content it just won’t hold the reader’s/viewer’s interest.

Of course, the bigger lesson here is that quality matters. Which means good writing/photography/video/reporting/editing still matters. Which means that despite all our fears, journalists still matter. What we’ve yet to do is find out how best to merge citizen journalism with professional journalism. Or, as Steve concludes:

I depart my latest venture nevertheless convinced that grassroots or user content is immensely powerful. We just have to figure out how best to leverage it.

An Important Lesson About Grassroots Media

Enthusiast Group enters deadpool reflectively

Wikiscam

Just because something has the word Wiki, community and/or .org in its name, doesn’t mean it isn’t a scam. I just received an email from someone called Navin Mirania about Wikimmunity which on first glance sounds like a worthy project: a website designed around local community content. But on closer examination it has the word ‘spam’ written all over it: 

How are you?  My name is Navin from Wikimmunity.org. I recently tried to contact you by phone regarding your blog/web site Endangered Spaces to see if there was any opportunity for us to work together.  Wikimmunity.org, the local community source, is looking for writers to write about local organizations, groups, attractions, people, places, and more.

We pay a modest fee for writing about places and things that you already know about in and around your local area.  Your idea/topic list is unending. Let me know if we can set up a time for us to discuss further. We’d like to help you to generate additional revenue from your blog.  In the mean time, visit  https://www.wikimmunity.org/affiliate/scripts/signup.php to register.  I’ve also included some other links that you might be interested in visiting below. Thanks and I look forward to hearing from
you NAME HERE

Navin calls himself a “Content Distribution Specialist” which is a new one on me. I guess it sounds better than “spammer who forgot to set the autofiller in his distribution list software”.

And what of the website itself? Well, it looks and feels like Wikipedia, until you realize there’s no information about who’s behind it, and until you start reading some of the entries. Which are, it has to be said, unconsciously amusing. Try this one, for example, about Walmart:

walmart has a lot of people’s needs at great prices. they have snacks, electronics, drinks, furniture, sports stuff, music, and many more. they have video games and acsessories and many more. If you want the newest things for a great price go to walmart. They have so much sales and and items you know it is goinig to be a good store all around prices. if you wann visit their online store [1]. they are one of the best stores to go to. they have toys, fishing equipment, tires, and even t.v. so for this holiday that is coming up you must go to walmart for their awesome prices

Copy I’m sure Walmart would be proud of. Or this one on Barnes & Noble:

Alot of people should be Familiar with this store. In case you don’t know this is a book store. in this store you can get all kinds of books in this place. they have fiction, non-fiction, realistic fiction, and many more. They also have new releases of books all the time. They also have cd’s. the music they have is rock, classic rock, country, rap, and others. this is a good store to get both books and music. They also have drum books. They have Jimi Hendrix cd’s!!!

Well, blow me down. Jimi Hendrix CDs?

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Leaky Laptop

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My friend has brown gunk leaking out of the bottom of her laptop. I’m not able to see it in person, but the above is what it looks like. She says that nothing has spilled on her laptop, but that’s the only explanation I can think of. Could it be something else?

Grynx has a couple of interesting posts on this kind of thing: One post describes rain getting in to a router:

It didn’t look that bad from the outside, but gee it really looked bad on the inside. The brown gook is what was left after the water dried. It seems like the water wasn’t that clean and that it contained a lot of minerals which has rusted.

He points out that the problem is not the water:

The water in itself is not your enemy but what is contained inside the water is. Especially the minerals which will be left after the water evaporates and in this case it went really bad as the minerals decided to corrugate.

I can only assume this is what has happened to my friend’s laptop. Over time the water has gone but left behind the minerals which have corroded the circuitry inside. What can be done about it? Well, the best thing would be to take it in for servicing, but if you wanted to try to resolve the problem itself, there are some interesting solutions among the responses to the post, and in this post on cleaning a laptop that has suffered from a wine or soft drink spill.

Among the tips:

  • Clean the laptop as soon as you’ve spilled something. Don’t just dry it out and think the problem’s gone.
  • As soon as you have done the spill, turn the laptop off and disconnect the power. Remove the battery.
  • The key is washing off the residues. Suggestions: compressed air, rubbing alcohol (which contains Isopropyl alcohol), contact cleaner, WD-40, distilled/deionized water.
  • When you dry it out, leave it for several days. Use a hairdryer and/or compressed air as well.

There’s another video here on cleaning up a spillage from eHow.com.

All these stories, however, have the computer/device not functioning. My friend’s does. But with that kind of gunk coming through, I can’t help feeling its days are numbered.

Update: Apparently, it’s not a liquid spill but a partial melt of the rubber seal around the hard drive, a problem not uncommon in the model (a Toshiba Portege R100.) It explains why the machine is still functioning, for now. Sounds like a design fault they need to fix.

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What’s Up With My Data, Doc?

I can’t find the original article on the IHT website, but there’s a great piece in today’s edition on how pharmaceutical companies push their drugs by funding — I would say bribing — doctors. It’s written by Daniel Carlat, who writes a blog and publishes the Carlat Psychiatry Report.

The most interesting part of the piece is on something called prescription data-mining, where data from pharmacists on prescriptions — what patients are given what medicines — are linked to the doctors prescribing said medicines. This allows pharmaceutical companies to target doctors and get them to push their drugs by paying them to make presentations to other doctors.

Carlat himself made $30,000 in a year doing this before he saw the light. He is now a major critic of the practice, and challenges in a recent blog post the absurd industry defense of the practice of prescription data-mining that it’s all about transparency:

Today, however (on a tip from PharmaGossip), I read the most absurd argument in its defense yet, reported in yesterday’s Philadelphia Inquirer. The reporter, Karl Stark, quoted Jody Fisher, Verispan’s vice president of product management, as saying: “Doctors are trying to create a special right of privacy. I can certainly appreciate where they’re coming from. But the way the world is going is toward increased transparency of information.”

“Transparency of information”! What a wonderful Web 2.0 buzz phrase!

Of course, I’m interested because you can see in it the power of data-mining. The original pharmacist data doesn’t include the doctors’ names, only their Drug Enforcement Agency registration numbers. It’s the American Medical Association that effectively reveals the doctors’ names to Big Pharma by licensing its file of U.S. physicians, allowing data-mining companies like IMS Health and Verispan to match the numbers with the names, Carlat writes in today’s IHT piece. The AMA makes millions of dollars in this process, by the way.

Are similar things being done with our Internet-based data? Is the anonymous becoming less anonymous? If it’s not being done now, assume it will be in the future. It’s a great example of how data aren’t always valuable until they’re linked to other data, and then they’re extremely valuable.

The Carlat Psychiatry Blog: September 2007

Marooned at 30,000 Feet

Don’t be fooled: Business class doesn’t have anything to do with business.

Aboard the new Cathay Pacific business class seats, which feel like a cross between a throwback to the cubicles of boarding school and cow pens. Still, they’re fitted out with power sockets — real square ones, which don’t require fancy plugs, so I eagerly rolled up my sleeves for another working blitz. This time around I didn’t even bother to bring my back up battery because on the outgoing flight, despite it being an older aircraft, they carried power adapters for most brands of laptop.

So I was only marginally alarmed when no power came through to my laptop. I pinged the attendant, who looked apologetic and said “There’s a Memo on this actually,” she said, as if that made it all alright. “This flight is HKU which means there’s no power.” She kind of looked as if this was good news; that I’d be somehow delighted by the news and slam my laptop lid shut and order caviar. Instead I spluttered into my champagne. “No power?” I gasped. “This is business class, right?”

She went away to talk to her colleague, who came back with the actual Memo itself. Turns out this flight really does have no power. Well, presumably, it has some to fly the plane, as by now we’re halfway through the first round of drinks and have reached 30,000 feet. But there’s no power to replace my fast dwindling battery, and no one looks like they’re about to thread a cable through from the cockpit or something. So, I’ve got about 20 minutes of battery left, half of which I’m taking up writing this rant.

This is where I have some issues with the whole class system. Surely “business class” means just that? It means that the class is designed for road warriors like me who want to keep working, indeed plan our schedule around it. Instead, we’ve got in-flight entertainment up the wazoo, but no way to actually turn this time into something productive. (And don’t get me started on the lack of free WiFi at the business class lounge at Heathrow. It’s like going back to the 90s.)

Disappointing stuff. I don’t often get the chance to fly business class, but if this is how airlines assign their priorities — loungers, booze and Big Entertainment why don’t they at least change the name to something more apt: Leisure Class, Lazy Class, Lots of Cash and Nothing To Do But Watch Movies and Eat Oysters Class?

Next time I’m going cattle class and bringing six batteries. And if I ever do fly Business Class on Cathay again I’ll ask to see the Memo before I book.

The Skype Revolution Wears Thin

What’s going on over at Skype? The one thing that I felt was really useful with the service, apart from all the free chats, was their Skype In service, allowing you to have one phone number wherever you were. You could set it up to forward to any phone on the planet, or your Skype account, or to your Skype voicemail, and it worked great. Now it’s gone.

Well, not gone, but they’ve had to change some of their numbers. This is the message I just received from them:

We’re very sorry to tell you that we have to change your SkypeIn number. As some of you may know, we get SkypeIn numbers from a variety of telecoms suppliers. Unfortunately, we have to return some of the 0207 SkypeIn numbers to one of our suppliers of London numbers.

This means your number will stop working from December 20th 2007. We realise the inconvenience this will cause you, and sincerely apologise.

That’s less than a month away. How on earth can you go around the world telling every Tom, Dick and Auntie Phyllis you’ve ever given your “lifetime” number to that it’s changed in that time? And just before Christmas, to boot!

To soften the blow Skype have given people affected “a new SkypeIn number and voicemail – free for 12 months on us – to thank you for your patience and to help make the changeover as painless as possible for you.” 

Nice thought, and would help, except the voucher doesn’t work. At least not for me. Just keep getting an “invalid voucher” message. So more pain and delay. 

I still talk about the Skype Revolution, where ordinary Joes can suddenly increase their tech knowledge and stay in touch with people more easily than ever before, but I’m beginning to wonder whether it isn’t time for someone smarter, quicker and better organized to take over the revolution.

Update: I’ve heard from Merje Järv- Griffiths of Skype, who offers this extra information on the dropped numbers:

As you know, Skype obtains SkypeIn numbers from a variety of telecoms suppliers.  The London-based SkypeIn numbers in question came from one of these telecoms suppliers. We spent months in discussions with a telecoms supplier to see if we could keep the SkypeIn numbers we rented from them, confident that the issue could be resolved. Hence the somewhat late notice to our users — we never thought things would get this far, given the time and effort put into resolving the situation.

Unfortunately, we have to return some of our 0207 numbers so we’re asking our SkypeIn users who are affected to change their London-based SkypeIn number.

And if any of you are having the same problems I had in redeeming the voucher, try this.

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Thanks for Cancelling!

image Beware booking online: This is what confronted me when I tried to book with Skoosh, an online travel booking company. My reservation didn’t look like it had taken, so I went elsewhere, only to find I’d received a confirmation email. When I went to cancel, I found the above: the amount paid equaling the cancellation fee. Hmmm.

I’m checking with the company involved to see what’s going on. In the meantime, be careful when you book with them.

Update: I’ve just spoken to Skoosh and they say the hotel requires three days’ notice for a cancellation, hence the charge. As the room was booked (apparently: no notification page appeared) and canceled within five minutes of each other, this appears somewhat rich.

This is where these aggregation sites get a bit tricky; terms and conditions of each hotel vary wildly so there’s not an awful lot they can do. But while it seems to have been a glitch that caused my transaction to go through without my knowing it, when there’s no change of cancellation we need to be sure something like this doesn’t happen.

So, a warning to users: make sure if you are booking via an aggregator you know exactly what you’re committing yourself to, and check your email inbox to see whether a booking may have happened without it being clear from the website.

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