Unmistakable Marks

Warranted Genuine Snarks

Simple Solutions to Complex Problems

Matthew Yglesias points out a non-obvious truth about teacher salaries: That as Americans get more productive on average, labor in areas that don’t enjoy big productivity gains will get disproportionately more expensive. Specifically, you need to either a) pay U.S. teachers an increasingly large wage, even though they’re not getting more productive over time, or b) suck it up and get teachers who aren’t good enough to get a better job.

Yglesias briefly mentions avoiding this problem by sending kids off to poor countries to be educated, but dismisses it for obvious reasons. But what he doesn’t consider is in-sourcing the out-sourcing. H1(B) workers: They’re not just for IT any more. And it turns out that I’m not just being facetious: Some districts have already started bringing in foreign teachers.

I say, good on them. Being taught an abstruse technical subject by a teacher with an incomprehensibly thick accent may be the best preparation for college available in high school.

Comments | January 9, 2006

Do not pay money to those sons of bitches at Yahoo!

A few months back, I bought a subscription to the Yahoo Unlimited music subscription service. It was a bit flaky at first, but $5 a month (as it then was) for unlimited use of a huge selection of music is a hell of a deal, so I’ll put up with a bit of flakiness. I loved the service, and have since come to believe that music rental (and more generally, media rental — a true Netflix, in the future when bandwidth is higher and hard disks are bigger, will be ultra-cool) is the killer app of DRM.

The problem is that Yahoo is the biggest bunch of incompetent fuckups ever. A month ago, I stopped being able to synchronize Yahoo music to my portable device. It looked like a licensing problem, probably on Yahoo’s end but maybe on mine. I spent the next week exchanging email with Yahoo support (very slowly; every response took two days to get). They suggested a few things that didn’t help. And then they just got quiet, even though my account wasn’t fixed. They ignored subsequent email completely, which was charming. But now for the kicker, they just responded to my latest email (which still has the support case ID in the subject line) with a response indicating that they aren’t even paying attention any more. (”In order to use this capability, you must subscribe to the service that you already subscribe to. We hope this helps you.”)

I really, really love the Yahoo Unlimited service; but I am coming to despise Yahoo with the sort of hatred you can only get after a month of fruitless email, and no way to even get someone in India on the phone to talk to. I almost wish I hated the service a bit more, so I could just ask for my money back and never talk to them again. As it is, I want to beat them with sticks for a long time, but I also want to keep being their customer.

Comments | January 5, 2006

In Which the Future Surreptitiously Arrives

So you know how you’re sitting there, waiting for the future to arrive, and then one day you look around and BAM, it’s the future already? It happened to me when broadband suddenly went from being “available in limited markets for a lot of money” to “available just about everywhere for $40”, and it just happened to me again when I traded in my five-year-old clunky cell phone for this portable brain augmentation device.

I’d been looking at PDA phones for years — really old Palms, Treos, Samsung’s PocketPC phones — but they were never quite what I wanted. They were too slow, too clunky, too limited, too stylus-oriented, and just generally not quite all there. But the PPC-6700 suddenly and amazingly nails it. It’s not any one thing about the device that makes it into magic future-tech instead of just a nice try, it’s the confluence of several things. First, Windows Mobile 5, which is the first version of Windows Mobile (nee PocketPC nee Windows CE) that’s actually designed to work well as a phone. Then there’s the side-sliding keyboard, which is an absolutely brilliant (and obvious in retrospect) design that makes the keyboard big enough to be usable while simultaneous making the screen more useful for computing purposes (Windows Mobile is smart enough to automatically re-orient the screen when you slide out the keyboard; it’s slick). Then there’s the connectivity: EV-DO, which is broadband-ish speed over the air (for only $15 a month extra, unlimited, with Sprint); WiFi, if you happen to be in a WiFi-able place; and Bluetooth, if you want to hook up a headset or whatever.

My fear when I bought the thing was that it’d end up just being a clunky phone, and that the PDA/Internet aspects of it would be a novelty. Not so. With the smooth notification system and contact integration, it’s the best damn phone I’ve ever used (though to be honest, it probably helps in this regard that my last phone was five years old). And the Internet capabilities are good enough that when I was doing some morning Internet browsing in a hotel, I didn’t even wish that I had my laptop with me. After a month of living with this phone personal communications device, I can’t imagine going back to a plain ol’ phone. No email? No web? No way.

I don’t want to sound like a salesman here, because the thing isn’t perfect — it’s still a little bulkier than would be ideal; it feels a bit less well-constructed than I’d prefer; and there are a few quirks of the software that I’d like to see changed (like the screen coming on when it checks email) — but it’s rare to get something that’s even better than you were expecting, and it’s even rarer when it’s the thing for which you’ve been waiting impatiently for years, so allow me a bit of gushing.

Comments | January 4, 2006

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