Cellphone Spikes and Disaster Management


Steven Levitt makes a good point on the Freakonomics blog about the spike in cellphone usage after the Minneapolis bridge collapse which alerted at least one carrier to an emergency before the news hit. His conclusion:

This would seem to hints at strategies that could be useful for coordinating quick emergency response more generally, as well as military/intelligence applications.

One commenter suggests that this may simply throw up lots of false positives, while another says the real problem is in identifying the cause of the spike — disaster, or a radio station offering $1,000 to the 26th caller?

Seems to me that you should be able to tell pretty quickly where the spike originates — lots of people calling from stranded cars on a bridge are unlikely to indicate a phone-in competition. Perhaps if cellphone masts and base stations also included cameras and/or two-way communication devices it would be possible for cellphone engineers to be able to not only assess the situation but open their communications up to rescue services, who could then monitor the situation and convey instructions and information to those in the affected area.

The Merits Of Online Publishing

Jason Fried of 37 Signals, the guys behind web applications like Basecamp and Tada List and Backpack , have published a book on how to build web apps. And they’ve proven a point — that publishing online can be the smart way to go. Jason tells me they’ve sold 4,000 downloadable digital copies of their new book Getting Real in the first week — at $19 a copy, or $49 for a site licence that allows users to make up to 10 copies for co-workers.

That’s $85,000 in pure profit, Jason says. Which I have to say is pretty good. I can’t imagine the same thing would happen, or does happen, for every tome. I asked Jason why he thought the numbers were so high. Here’s his response:

  • It’s easy. buy it now, get it now. you just download the PDF
  • we’ve been talking about our Getting Real process for a long time on our blog, and now people can get the whole thing in a $19 book
  • Lots of interest in how we work. How we’ve been able to build 5 products, write a book, and write Ruby on Rails in 2 years with only 7 people

Interesting. In other words, if a book really adds value to something that has already attracted a lot of interest, you have a ready audience. Even if you keep a blog, and tell everyone what you’re doing and how to do it, there will still be people interested enough to buy the book to read more. And $19 isn’t cheap: That’s a hardback book where I come from, but somehow online, being able to just grab it in PDF in a second, somehow makes the price seem reasonable. As Jason puts it:

I think there’s a big story here… The idea that authors with audiences don’t need publishers anymore. You can take your message direct to your audience. AND you own the rights to your work.

Dogbert Goes Phishing

It’s not on his homepage yet, but check out Friday’s Dilbert strip: it’s about phishing and does more than a 1,000 bank warning notices could do to show how it works and why folk are dumb to be taken in by it.

An email lands on The Pointy Haired One’s screen, Dear Customer, This is your bank. We forgot your social security number and password. Why don’t you send them to us and we can protect your money. Sincerely, I.B. Banker.

Looks legit,’ the Pointy Haired One thinks to himself.

(It’s up now: here’s the link.)

A Good Way To Organise Outlook Emails

This is a must if you’re a power Outlook user: NEO Pro 3.0, out in Beta today.

NEO is an add-in product that “turns Outlook into an email organizer – without affecting all that Outlook already does”. NEO, also known as Nelson Email Organizer, is good at finding messages quickly automatically displaying messages in different ways.

Caelo Software Inc. (pronounced Kay-lo), the makers of NEO, has introduced three other features:

  • auto-classification of folders between New, Current and Dormant top-level areas (auto-moves old correspondents to Dormant after x days of inactivity)
  • global filtering (e.g. ‘show me my active correspondent messages addressed exclusively to me for the past 5 days’), and
  • manageable Outlook categories (see categories at a glance – easily edit, split and merge your categories).

The beta trial program is free: download it here. I’ve used previous versions, and, while I’m not an Outlook fan, previous versions of NEO definitely made things a lot easier.

Software: Calypso becomes Courier

 I’ve been a huge fan of Calypso, an email program that’s simple, highly fiddle-able, and small. Unfortunately its producers, MCS of Dallas, dropped it a few years back leaving a lot of users in the lurch. I’m still using it, however, despite its quirks under Windows XP, and am very glad to see that another company, Rose City Software, has reintroduced it as Courier 3.5. They promise new features — like “Color Markers” to help organize messages — and a cheap upgrade for Calypso users ($20 against $30 for the full thing.)
I’ve yet to try it out yet, but I’m glad to see that software as good as Calypso doesn’t always just die off. I’ll review Courier in a future posting.