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Pogues’ Imponderables: Impondered

David Pogue pon­ders a few things about the world. I decide to answer them. Wish me luck.

* Why is Wi-Fi free at cheap hotels, but $14 a night at expens­ive ones?

That’s an easy one. At the core it’s price dis­crim­in­a­tion, or the art of mak­ing people pay the max­imum of what people are will­ing to pay. The way it works is that rich people at expens­ive hotels have more than enough cash (and value their time online highly) to buy WiFi for their room. At cheap hotels you have crummy cheap people who aren’t will­ing to pay one penny extra for WiFi, but for whom it’s still a fea­ture which’ll make them choose the WiFi-hotel over the Non-WiFi-hotel.

* What hap­pens to soft­ware pro­grams when their pub­lish­ers go out of business?

Some cus­tom­ers cling on to them but in the end every­one switches over to some­thing newer and worse.

* Would the record com­pan­ies sell more music online if it weren’t copy-protected?

They’d sell more because it’d ‘work every­where’. Which is to say that if they’d sell mp3’s then yes, and if they sold (hypo­thet­ical) mp7’s (which would only play on one line of hypo­thet­ical devices), then it’d lessen that effect con­sid­er­ably, until the other device man­u­fac­tur­ers caught up.

* Do cell­phones cause brain cancer?

In sci­entific stud­ies only the people who believed it would be bad for them had (any­where near sig­ni­fic­ant) neg­at­ive effects. Pretty much a neg­at­ive placebo effect.

* What’s the real reason you have to turn off your laptop for take-off?

It ads con­fu­sion in an emer­gency and stew­ard­esses are sad­istic little creatures who want you to exper­i­ence the dis­pleas­ure of tak­ing off in all its glory. Muhahahahaha.

* Why can’t a digital S.L.R. cam­era record video?

Because they’d have to reconjig’re it to do so which would cost time and money. Given that the people who are in the mar­ket for a digital S.L.R. cam­era wouldn’t be happy with a stuck-on-video mode if they really wanted video and that the rest of the people wouldn’t want video any­way, makes that they’d have a hard time earn­ing their invest­ment back.

* Wi-Fi on air­planes. What’s tak­ing so long?

Airlines didn’t believe that Wi-Fi would be a major enough selling point to give them an edge in attract­ing cus­tom­ers up till now. I don’t think they were wrong, and I also ima­gine that 3G mobile tech (woo! inter­net!) on a plane would make many more people hap­pier in the com­ing years.

* Who are the mor­ons who respond to junk-mail offers, thereby keep­ing spam­mers in business?

Two groups: The nice naive people with time on their hands and the mor­ons who watch and order from Tell-Sell.

* I’m told that they could make a shirt-pocket digital cam­era that takes pic­tures like an S.L.R., but it would cost a lot. So why don’t they make one for people who can afford it?

Because the people who can afford it can be flogged a digital S.L.R. AND a shirt-pocket digital cam­era at the moment.

* How come there are still no vir­uses for Mac OS X? If it has 6 per­cent of the mar­ket, shouldn’t it have 6 per­cent of the viruses?

Aside from the fact that we don’t know if 6 % is big enough for it to be prof­it­able, it’s the same reason Apache has 50.48% of the web-server mar­ket (down from 70% a year or two ago) and still doesn’t get the most vir­uses or hack­ings. (Hint: It’s a Microsoft product that does!)

* Do share­ware pro­gram­mers pay taxes on all those $20 contributions?

Most would as either they’d be hon­est or it’d rep­res­ent a size­able chunk of income.

* How are we going to pre­serve all of our digital pho­tos and videos for future generations?

On YouTube.

* Why are there no fed­eral rebates or tax cred­its for solar power?

Because at this point there’s no tech on the mar­ket that’s effi­cient enough and/or you don’t live in Germany.

* Why do you have to take tape cam­cord­ers out of your carry-on at air­port secur­ity, but not the tape­less kind? Couldn’t you hide a bomb equally well in either one? (Actually, I have about 500 more logic ques­tions about the rules at air­port secur­ity, but I have a feel­ing they’ll remain answer­less for a very long time.)

Because That’s How the Rules Are.

* Laptops, cam­eras and cell­phones have improved by a thou­sand per­cent in the last ten years. Why not their batteries?

There has been ground­break­ing work with altern­at­ive meth­ods (i.e. other than Lithium-Ion) like sugar and fuel-cells. From the mouth of an HP researcher: (para­phrased) “Lithium-Ion tech is at its end, we don’t believe it can be improved much more.”

* SmartDisplay, Spot Watch, U.M.P.C., Zune… when will Microsoft real­ize that it’s not a hard­ware company?

Not until it finds another high-margin won­der to com­ple­ment (and replace) windows/office cash-flows.

* Why don’t pub­lic sinks have foot pedals?

They do in (our) trains. It’s most likely more expens­ive to install.

* Why don’t all hotels have check-in kiosks like air­lines do?

In the high-end, there’s no way the level of expec­ted ser­vice could be achieved and at the low-end it’s handy to have human eyes, ears and noses to sniff out poten­tial trouble-makers.

* Five bil­lion dol­lars a year spent on ring­tones? What the?

I know. It’s like people want to show the world they have an indi­vidual taste. Who knew?

* How come cell­phone signal-strength bars are so often wrong?

If you’re in a part of the world where it Just Works Everywhere, you stop look­ing at them.

* Do P.R. people really expect any­one to believe that the stand­ard, stil­ted, second-paragraph C.E.O. quote was really uttered by a human being?

Do P.R. people know from their train­ing that the stand­ard, stil­ted, second-paragraph C.E.O. quote will have the desired effect?

* Why aren’t there recyc­ling bins for bottles and cans where they’re most obvi­ously needed, like food courts and cafeterias?

Because that’d mean that the food courts and cafet­er­ias would have to deal with that recyc­ling for you instead of just throw­ing everything in the dumpster.

* Why doesn’t someone start a cell­phone com­pany that bills you only for what you use? That model works O.K. for the elec­tri­city, gas and water com­pan­ies —and people would beat a path to its door.

We have that. I can get a nice nor­mal mobile (cell-phone) for 35 euro, without giv­ing up any per­sonal inform­a­tion, with 10 – 15 euros of phone-credit to start me off included, free voice­mail and never-deprecating phone-credit.

Still, most people have a plan because it’s cheaper.

* Why doesn’t every­one have lights that turn off auto­mat­ic­ally when the room is empty?

In Korea you can turn the lights on and off with your mobile. WAY COOLER.

* What’s the deal with Palm?

They didn’t have a clue (any­more). People left, struc­tures got reconjig’red and stuff just kept trudging along. There are new people at the top now, who might actu­ally know what they’re doing, so don’t give up hope!

* Why are so many people rude on the Internet?

I present you with John Gabriel’s Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory, as recor­ded by Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik.

Phew, that’s a lot of ques­tions answered. Hope that sat­is­fies you Pogue! If you think you have bet­ter ones, or are simply deeply awed by my insights, don’t for­get to speak up!

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