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Comment Cancel by phone? (Score 1) 120

That never works. When I tried to cancel TiVo by phone, their CSR claimed he was only authorized to suspend accounts, not cancel.

Rather than waste my time and theirs, I sent them a certified letter, and they cancelled my service promptly. Just search around for an address for customer service, or failing that, the legal department.

The last time I cancelled Comcast, I had to return the box, which is another definitive way of terminating business with them, in fact I'm pretty sure a click-to-cancel provision is pointless if you have any equipment.

Comment Where is government now that we need them? (Score 5, Insightful) 319

The FCC and FTC definitely need to step in the the wireless market. Policies like this promote stagnation and high prices.

Why should the customer be bound to a wireless contract when this doesn't apply to landlines? I've said before that wireless contracts are keeping prices artifically high, allowing providers to charge quite similar rates for similar plans, because it is so difficult to switch. If customers were not tied to contracts, the ensuing price war might bring wireless rates down closer to prices that I have seen outside the USA.

Speaking of other countries - Why is the USA one of few countries where I can't just pop the SIM or UICC card out of my handset and put it into a new one? Why did it take intervention by the Chinese government to force device manufacturers to standardize chargers to minimize electronic waste?

Comment If the FCC is reading Slashdot... (Score 2, Interesting) 178

It would be nice if they would do something about consolidation in the telecom market. I think it's a little suspicious that, of the four remaining major wireless carriers, there's a significant trend towards uniformity among plan features, hardware, and especially pricing. In fact, one might even suspect price fixing. I remain shocked every time I travel abroad at how little people pay for wireless outside the USA.

All the government would need to do is do away with early termination fees for individual consumers, as well as mandate easy portability by forcing adoption of SIM or UICC cards, so users could quickly switch when a better deal came along.

Comment Your tax dollars at work (Score 2, Insightful) 626

This is not an example of computers sucking at math.

This is an example of engineers and developers failing to draw up valid requirements, failing to develop to specification, and failing to test against real-world use cases.

Management undoubtedly shares an equal if not greater portion of the blame here. This is typical military-industrial complex, lowest-bidder contractor mentality at work, just another form of corporate welfare if the government doesn't turn around and punish shortfalls like this.

Comment Speaking from past experience in the field: (Score 1) 349

I used to work in sponsored research into new drug entities. There are a couple other reasons that placebo may be becoming more effective, which is a clever way of saying new drugs are less effective.

First, developing a new drug is a very high-risk undertaking. Even if you don't buy the oft-cited US$800million figure for developing a new drug, it's still a tough sell to the MBA's who manage R&D and production operations. None of these managers wants to lose their jobs for missing quarterly numbers, so even though it often takes several years to recognize return on R&D investment, there is little incentive to strike out into something completely new. A number of new drugs I have seen are merely tweaks of existing compounds (e.g. Lexapro) that promise only marginal improvement over the existing compound (Celexa), but extend patent protection over the brand name. Truly novel compounds are being developed, but lately these are very specialized compounds in "hot" fields like cancer.

Speaking of cancer drug development, another reason that placebo effect may seem stronger is that the patients who might benefit the most may be excluded from trials for liability reasons. The Vioxx lawsuit has spooked everyone in the field. When a new compound shows even the possibility of cardiac side effects, it won't even be offered to patients with cardiac complications. It's becoming safer to let them die naturally of leukemia than offer them a novel treament that might risk scuttling a study and possibly an entire project because of a small possiblity of side effects that could expose the sponsoring company to a lawsuit.

Comment it's the free phone scam (Score 1) 827

I figured that cell phone plans were more expensive because of "free" phones, where the cost is really amortized over the length of your contract. If you keep your phone long enough (e.g. Verizon's "new every two" plans, where you keep your "free" phone for two years on contract), they more than recoup the cost of the hardware. But Americans don't think that way, they only care about the upfront freebie. You likely won't see a serious price drop until we get a SIM-based system with shorter or no contracts, or more pre-paid options, that allows hardware and carrier swapping and thus increased competition; perhaps that's why we don't have such a system here?

Comment Lack of options, as usual (Score 5, Informative) 887

I selected "bus" though I take a train. I interpret the options as follows:

"bike" = human powered (to include walking)
"bus" = mass transit (my choice, to include rail)
"boat" = mass transit (a "mass transit" option would include this, of course)
"car" = you environmentally insensitive clod! :)
"wire" = telecommute

Also, this poll certainly deserves a "CowboyNeal" option...

Comment Makes no economic sense? (Score 1) 495

It makes plenty of sense economically, but we Americans do not understand amortization of costs. Two examples: cell phones and electric cars. In the former case, people feel they are getting a great deal on a free phone but in fact the carrier is merely splitting the cost over the term of your contract (this is the principal reason for contracts and the early-termination fee, I think). In the latter case, you pay a large sum up front, but consider that gas costs about $4 a gallon, so let's consider a more reasonable example:
Chevy Malibu = $20,000
Gas for 36K miles over 3 years (standard lease term) = (36000 / 22-30 mpg) * 4 = $4800 - $6500
Converted Chevy Malibu (aka "Volt") = $27,000 - $30,000
Electricity to power, assuming no fuel and 40 miles / 16 kWh charge = $1440 (= $.10/kWh)
So the Volt has a higher TCO (Total Cost of Ownership), but not by much. Extending this to 8 years, the expected warranty life of the Volt, the TCO becomes:
Malibu = $ 32,800 - $37,000
Volt = $ 33,840
So even if fuel prices stay low (they won't), you are only paying a slight premium for the Volt over the life of the vehicle. We can only assume that electric cars will become cheaper over time as well, whereas the gas guzzler really won't, bringing greater price parity.
So using the above numbers, is it worth $125/year to cut emissions and dependence on foreign oil? I think so! You can easily save $125/year in energy costs by switching to CFL's, putting better insulation on your hot water heater and in your attic, and making your next file/print server a VIA-based Mini-ITX system.


Submission + - Programming Language Popularity Statistics (

DavidNWelton writes: "I redid some statistics I did a few years ago on programming language popularity. It's not scientific, nor terribly accurate, given that it's simply not possible to know these things at any level of detail, but I do think the results are broadly relevant. Not that you should choose a language based on popularity alone, but it's fun to look at."

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