THURSDAY, DECEMBER 16, 2004
Cell phones on planes--this just won't die
Back in May, I was howling about the dreadful prospect of cell phones being allowed on commercial airlines. I wasn't worried about navigational interference, I was worried I would commit a federal offense at 30,000 feet
Well, I'd better get used to penitentiary food. Today, the FCC is moving ahead
on a rule change that would allow you to be just as big a cell phone moron on a plane as you already are on buses, in restaurants, and riding the elevators here at CNET.
The FCC will be mostly concerned with how badly a cell phone at 30,000 feet might confuse the cell sites on the ground below, which were never meant to work with phones high aloft. There is also some concern about navigational interference, though that has been largely debunked as a nonissue. All kinds of technical input and a comment period will drag on well into next year. But in the end, I have little doubt we'll see (and hear) cell phones on planes by late 2006.
The airlines actually want
this to happen; they see it as a way to attract business fliers. And with the major financial problems the airlines are facing, the FCC will be under no small pressure to grant rule changes that can help keep the big carriers solvent. American Airlines and Qualcomm have successfully demonstrated a system
that allows cell phones to be used aloft, a technique that involves selling and installing additional gear in aircraft. So add Qualcomm, Boeing, Airbus, and others to the voices advocating an end to the cell phone ban. You'd better buy a pair of these
TalkBack | Read all comments TUESDAY, DECEMBER 14, 2004
In-store movie rentals: aren't we done with this yet?
Video rental has always irked me. At any given moment, there are probably tens of thousands of cars and SUVs logging tens of thousands of miles shuttling VHS videocassettes or DVDs from rental places to homes and back. What an insane system.
Now we have the vastly more efficient Netflix, as well as the bigger copycats that will likely kill it off. And soon there will be new broadband movie services that will kill off the competing services that will kill off Netflix. It's all about an inexorable move to a low-friction, low by-product way to connect us with the Hollywood dreck that we use to fill our idle hours.
So it is sadly humorous to watch the gyrations Blockbuster is going through to eke out a few more quarters of relevance for its empire of 4,500 antique rental outlets.
Its new policy
would make Stephen Hawking furrow his brow and read it over again: Blockbuster is "eliminating late fees" on rented games and movies, goes the headline of the press release. But in fact it is swapping out late fees for a one-week grace period on the rental, after which it charges the product to your credit card, minus the rental fee already charged. Or, if you didn't really
want to buy that copy of Blade Trinity
to own and cherish forever, you can bring it back for a refund of your inadvertent purchase--minus a restocking fee--but you have to do that within 30 days of the original rental.
What a mess. Blockbuster says it has tested this madness in some markets and found it increased same-store revenues. That just tells me a lot of people are "buying" rental movies through their own laziness and sloppiness. Not exactly the kind of consumer upon which I would want to build my public company's near-term revenue prospects.
To be fair, Blockbuster is growing its Netflix-killer Blockbuster Online, and the company was a pioneer in broadband movie streaming--with Enron--back in 2000. That lasted about a year. So the country's largest video outlet will probably remain that in the digital future. It's just too bad it is so tied up in real estate leases that it has to keep pretending that the physical rental business is still a good idea.
TalkBack | Read all comments MONDAY, DECEMBER 13, 2004
Read this security article--twice
Bruce Schneier is a really smart guy. In fact, he's one of those guys who is so smart, he makes you feel kind of stupid. I've chatted with him a couple of times in my years at CNET, and while my mouth might be saying, "Bruce, how do we defend against the symbiotic threats the ubiquity of the Microsoft code base has created?" my mind is thinking, "What in the hell is an English major with a very average GPA doing wasting this guy's time?"
Bruce answers crisply and thoroughly, staring back at you with what the Marines call the "thousand-yard stare." But it's not because he's shell-shocked. He's probably solving two other meaty problems in the back of his mind while he's talking to you. He's intense and engages in demanding conversations.
Luckily for Bruce, he didn't aspire to be a maître d' or Bette Midler's opening act: He's a security guy. One of the best. CTO of Counterpane. And he just wrote one very good piece on how to compute safely. You'll find it at News.com
. Go read it now--I'll wait for you.
See, he's talking about a very simple set of behaviors and technologies, the kind of thing average computer users ask me for all the time, with questions such as, "Do you think I'm safe from that Internet problem I heard about on the news last night?" From now on, I will e-mail them Bruce's piece. He understands that user behavior and knowing what you're doing is as important as any piece of software or firewall setting.
I would like to see the FTC mandate that a printout of his piece be included with every PC sold, waiting right there with the quick-start guide when you cut the tape and open the box. Oh, that's right, I hate government meddling.
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