THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 16, 2004 Here we go again
I wrote about automotive black boxes
a few months ago, and it generated a lot of TalkBack that basically supported the idea of auto data recorders. In that case, you'll love this: Some insurance companies are conducting tests of their own black boxes in your car.
Progressive in the United States and Norwich Union in Great Britain are out in front on this one. It's all voluntary--for now. You sign up for the device, plug it into the existing diagnostic harness under your dash, and periodically pull it out and connect it to your PC to upload driving data to the insurance company.
They look at the data to make sure you didn't unplug the thing, drive at high speeds, have a bunch of panic stops, or exceed the mileage you say you drive. If that all checks out, they would give you a 15 to 25 percent premium discount.
Progressive says there is no downside to using the device--at worst, you wouldn't get a discount, but they swear they wouldn't use the data to raise your premiums or cancel you. But of course there's no law that says that, it's just a policy, and as the fine print tells us, they can change the rules at any time, and you don't have the right to withdraw your past data. And that's where the problem lies.
While there is a pretty good legal argument that the factory black box data belongs to you, the insurance black box data does not. It belongs to your insurance company, in perpetuity. They can do a lot with it that doesn't involve your permission. And of course, it can be subpoenaed.
On the other hand, 25 percent is a pretty steep discount, especially if you live in a place like L.A. or New York where premiums are insane. So would you do it?
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Yes, I know, TalkBack sucks
The people who engineer and run our sites are stuck between two or three little fiefdoms here within CNET and ZDNet, and they also have to answer the demand from on high that we jump on the blog bandwagon. So things have become a little kludgy along the way. Trust me, they're stressing over it, and a fix is coming--soon.
TalkBack | Read all comments WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 15, 2004 It's like the old days
Like most people, I use Internet Explorer. It's bloated, hooked into many Microsoft "services" I don't want, and a target for hackers. But it is the browser most sites are designed for, and it has very slick integration into the OS. And it's there.
That said, I was delighted to see Firefox 1.0 go out this week. I've been using it for a couple of months now, and it has reminded me that a browser can be light and fast.
I've been e-mailing myself reactions to Firefox as I've used it; here they are:
"It's so fast. Pop goes the page!"
"Takes some getting used to, but I'm starting to like the fact every hacker on the planet isn't aiming at my browser anymore."
"Have just about forgotten about the Google toolbar. FF handles pop-ups just as well, and I like its multiengine search box."
"Snagged my IE bookmarks and links bar perfectly."
"I really miss IE's ability to dance with the file system."
"Trying to watch Hurricane Ivan coverage from WPMI
--needs a Real plug-in, which isn't working on FF. Need to debug it."
"CNET front door breaks--Flash plug-in no good. Have to debug it."
"Can't touch IE when it comes to Outlook Web Access. ActiveX strikes again."
"Tabbed browsing: Pass."
By the way, Firefox can support ActiveX stuff with a plug-in, but Mozilla itself advises users not to do it. Firefox also has a wealth of extensions written for it that make it totally customizable. Love it.
At home, Firefox is currently my default browser, and I launch IE only when I know I'm going to a site that needs it. But I bet that I'll eventually tire of that and go back to IE. I suspect I'm like most people in that respect. So Firefox may take market share mostly away from the other alternative browsers in that eternal battle for distant second place. If you use IE now, try Firefox and let us know if you're able to commit to it.
TalkBack | Read all comments TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 14, 2004 Highway to bureaucracy
I've long known that the highway bureaucrats at NHTSA are wound so tight they squeak, but this is just amazing: the agency in charge of meddling with cars has just issued an order
that bans the use of rocker or toggle switches to operate power windows.
Seems kids are being killed by using the toggles when they shouldn't. The magnitude of the problem? About 1.5 children per year. Per year.
First, let me paste in the standard response: Even one child killed is one too many. OK, now let's get serious: This is not a "problem." This is a by-product of getting out of bed in the morning. This is why they invented "Sh*t Happens" bumper stickers. It's true, it does. Ralph Nader told USA Today that current power windows are "callously designed to thrust upward with cruel force." And yet they allow in-dash navigation systems?!
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I was here at CNET back in the mid '90s when multimedia was the current buzzword. Every Web page had to be "multimedia"--preferably with push technology. Then overnight, "multimedia" became passé. And you never heard it again.
Same thing with the letter E. For a while, everything was e-something: e-travel, e-shopping, e-brokerage--and eventually an e-liability to use such monikers.
Now I fear blogs are going the same way.
Everyone is blogging now. But what is blogging? About all you can definitely say is that it's a personal grab bag, frequently pointless, presented in a space that doesn't make it clear what you're gonna get. I can get that at any number of dive bars.
High-minded experts tell us blogs give us diverse viewpoints or unvarnished information from the bowels of major corporations and bureaucracies. Yeah, maybe 1 in 1,000 do.
Isn't blogging just good writing? Written only when you have something to say? Honest? Pithy? Not overthought? OK, add a feedback forum, but that's nothing new. To me that's just writing on the Web.
Now if you'll pardon me, I have to attend another meeting about turning this column into a blog.
TalkBack | Read all comments MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 13, 2004 What spam crisis?
Spam shares an important trait with online shopping fraud: both are nonexistent crises.
I actually started writing today's entry to advocate a draconian suggestion: that we start paying for each piece of e-mail we send as a way to make spammers' business model untenable. Most of us could afford a quarter-cent per message, but spammers can't, so they would stop. The idea has been floating around for a couple years and faces a variety of business and technical hurdles. But the biggest hurdle I found was the lack of a crisis.
Let's blast some myths, shall we?
Myth: Corporations can't deal with the spam flood.
Reality: Yeah, they can. Using CNET as an example, our server-side spam filtering works really well. In fact, the IS guys recently told me I could stop using MailFrontier on my PC and just let their mail servers kill spam. Yeah, right. But that night I apprehensively switched off MailFrontier and went home, expecting an onslaught of spam the next morning. Nope. No perceptible increase at all. And that was almost two weeks ago. Server-side filtering works well.
Myth: Spam is costing corporations a fortune to manage.
Reality: The server-side spam blocker SpamAssassin is open source, and it's free. Meanwhile, disk storage is the fastest decreasing expense item in all of IT, and IT will continue to shrink. (How do you think Gmail can offer the unwashed masses a gig of online storage?) And it seems nonsensical that corporations are spending money on lots of extra bandwidth just to handle the volume of spam. All of their bandwidth needs are increasing, and spam e-mail is just a part of that.
Myth: "I can't get anything done because I have so much spam to deal with."
Reality: You're sandbagging. In fact, here's some new data from IDC about our spam "workload." This is the amount of time spent dealing with spam as reported by people at work--and even these numbers look overblown to me:
|Time spent||Percentage of users|
|Less than 2 minutes per day||14|
|2 to 5 minutes per day||25|
|6 to 10 minutes per day||23|
|10 to 15 minutes per day||16|
|More than 15 minutes per day||22|
This is a productivity crisis? Sorry, if Srinivathan in Bangalore took your job recently, it's not because spam killed your productivity.
Now, if your company isn't filtering spam at the server, it's their fault you're swamped. If they are filtering it and you're still bamboozled by the fraction of spam that does get through, then the hum of the air conditioner must also be killing you.
And I'm always surprised when I ask a few questions of people who tell me about the onslaught of spam that is choking their in-box. It's usually something like 100 spam messages per day at most. It's so daunting that they wait till the end of the day to deal with it, wringing their hands all the while and telling coworkers their e-mail is "a mess today--call me on the phone if you need to reach me." Wimps. Knocking off 100 spam messages takes me about 15 seconds spread over an eight-hour day. Even if you read at a fourth-grade level while your lips move, you can scan the subject lines and delete it all in a few minutes.
Now, I know this doesn't take into account all the feckless users who'll always be overwhelmed by anything technological: the grandmas on AOL, the poor slobs on dial-up, the people you see in John Mellencamp videos. But their e-mail traffic is not part of the nation's GDP.
The bottom line is that we're pissed about spam because we think of our in-boxes as personal space. But stop calling it a crisis.
TalkBack | Read all comments Who has an answer to this one? Shoot it to us in the TalkBack below.