Are humans improving?

Dana Blankenhorn says that of all the examples of Moore’s Law that he has encountered, he has never found one for training. Is that because training has never really improved? Or because humans aren’t improving?

Carl Zimmer, the author of Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea, suggests that humans are evolving at a very slow pace. Unfortunately we are speeding up the pace of evolution in the rest of the natural world.

The only way to learn?

The City or Toronto, Canada has a program that allows poor children to get a computer and an internet connection, so they can continue to keep their grades up. The implication here is that only computers can help students do well in school.

I use the internet extensively, as does my entire family, and it is an extremely useful tool. But when did the internet become the only way way to learn? What about teachers, textbooks, and libraries?

Protecting ‘wronged’ patent holders.

USA Today has a wickedly funny piece about patent lawyers coming to the rescue of inventors like Allen Kaplan.

Kaplan is trying to protect his four patents that describe how a router would use computer chips to determine the best way to route information. Oddly he created these ideas in 1996, about 12 years after Cisco was founded to build routers, and about 23 years after Bob Metcalfe invented Ethernet networking.

How to lose a customer.

It costs ten times as much to get a new customer as it does to keep an existing customer. So why do so many companies insist on going after the new customer at the expense of the existing customer?

My wireless provider, Rogers, is also my cable tv and high speed internet provider. I’ve been a customer since I moved to Canada 2 years ago. We have 4 mobile phones. Last year I spend over $4,000, and this year a little over $3,000 with the company. I wasn’t overly happy with their treatment of me as a customer, so I now carry 2 phones, one for business and one for personal. So Rogers has lost about $1,000 in revenue from me, but they’re still getting a pretty good chunk of change.

My wife’s phone was getting on in years and needed replacing, so I called Rogers regarding a hardware upgrade. The operator told me that I don’t spend enough on her phone – she is on a Family Plan and apparently they require me to spend over $200 per month in order to qualify, even though I am certainly willing to sign up for another 2 year term.

They will give a new customer a discount on a new phone, but the customer who spends over $3,000 per year isn’t worth their time. So the upshot is that they saved the $100-$200 discount, and they lost $1,000 in revenue in one year from a long term customer. This same long term customer also realizes that for $200 he can buy his way out of his contract, and even more of their lost revenue will go to a competing wireless provider.

I’m sure that this scenario is repeated daily at every carrier, but what part of this basic math isn’t clear? Banks are brilliant when it comes to treating their frequent (and profitable) customers well. Why don’t wireless companies get it?

Moving to Canada?

According to Reuters American Democrats considering immigrating to Canada to escape four more years of Republican rule would have to stand in line like any other would-be immigrants — a wait that can take up to a year.

The wait is apparently much shorter for 25 year old Romanian strippers who work on the Immigration Minister’s re-election campaign. Alina Balaican was granted a ministerial permit to stay in Canada and apply for landed immigrant status, ahead of tens of thousands of applicants trying to come to Canada legitimately.

Open for business… and government.

I was reading an article by Tom Atlee on Citizen Deliberative Councils, and thinking that some organizations get it, while others don’t. Clearly CDCs can be an excellent way for people to exercise their democratic power, and for governments to get a cross-sectional view of the public’s thinking. Information sharing, as much as possible, should be a key to this process. After that they should disband, as Atlee says “having no permanent or official power except the power of legitimacy and widely-publicized common sense solutions to compelling public problems.”

In my town we have a similar entity known as Advisory Councils. As a taxpayer I have no obvious way to determine who the people on the council are or how they were selected. Their work is not open for public consumption. In the case of one group, the RIM Park Advisory Council, they presented their report to city council, but the report regarding marketing of a sports facility is not available online to read. The city website does not provide either the composition of the council or the report, or if they do, the extremely poor excuse for site search is unable to find it.

Furthermore, the Advisory Council, including two city councilors, would like city council to convert it to be the oversight group of the facility, with carte blanche control over budgets, staffing, and marketing. They have stated that they expect no less and are unwilling to take no for an answer, because they have good ideas, but have not justified their experience running a similar facility. To its credit, the city council has said that without further study the answer is no.

Governments at all levels need to learn that the continued culture of secrecy is a recipe for failure. Oddly enough, the reason the facility needs to improve its marketing is a result of secrecy over the original deal to build it, and the attendant $33 million over the original price tag for the facility. One hopes that eventually they will learn their lesson.

(Link from David Weinberger)

VoIP in Canada.

Mark Evans suggests that expectations of VoIP penetration in Canada may be overstated “mostly because local phone service in Canada is so inexpensive it leaves little room for VOIP players to come in under the competition on price.” Looking at my residential telephone bill I’m not sure I agree. My basic residence line consists of the following charges:

Line 19.13
Call Answer 7.00
Call Display with Name 8.00
911 0.21
Net Charge 2.95
Touch Tone 2.80
First Rate Overseas 2.80
—————————— ——-
Total 45.04

For some reason I have the pleasure of paying a $2.80 Touch Tone fee. When was the last time you saw a non-touch-tone phone? Okay, my father does have one rotary phone. But why am I paying extra for a service that the telecom switch provides for free? It probably costs extra to provide rotary dial.

The First Rate Overseas charge gets me a 10 cent per minute rate for US and Canada long distance, and a discounted rate for Europe. Local calls within my area code are free. But I used about 670 minutes of long distance, so my bill was about $130.

The Vonage Premium Unlimited plan is $45.99, and includes Voice Mail and Caller ID with Name, plus unlimited US and Canada long distance. I currently pay $19.95 plus long distance charges (over $67 this month) for a total of about $87, meaning that Vonage would save me about $40 per month. While this isn’t true for every Canadian, it certainly works out well for me, so I’m switching. I will keep a single generic phone line just in case, and I do like my phone number, so I’ll forward it to my Vonage phone.

(Link courtesy of Om Malik)

Thinking for the future.

I’m doing some work currently with a software company that thinks ahead. Every employee is issued a fairly powerful laptop and a mobile phone. Rather than office voice mail the call transfers to your mobile phone after four rings. They’ve been sharing information and collaborating with a wiki for three years. And for a $20 one-time fee you get a gym membership.