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Marketing Musings

Despite having two heads, three arms, and writing science fiction for a living, I am — contrary to rumour — an ordinary human being with ordinary preoccupations. Such as buying mobile phones.

I am not happy with my current mobile phone account from T-Mobile. Perhaps it's an accident of my local coverage, but when half my incoming calls don't reach me, it's time to look for a more reliable network. It's widely reputed that Vodafone focus on network quality more than their cheaper rivals (and I've got a few other reasons for looking at them) so I decided to look into it in a bit more detail. I need a 3G (UMTS) phone, with tri- or quad-band GSM for overseas travel, wifi a nice extra. Bluetooth too, so I can use it with my laptop. I'm unreasoningly prejudiced in favour of the QWERTY keyboard layout and I text a lot more than I talk, so I decided to look at some high-end phones, notably the Nokia N95 (yes, I know it doesn't have a QWERTY keyboard, but it's the current high-end flagship phone and it makes a good benchmark), the Nokia E61i, and the one I hanker after, the Nokia E90 Communicator.

(You will notice the lack of Windows Mobile phones in this list. I've tried it, more than once, but it's quite simple: Windows Mobile makes me break out in hives. I will have no further truck with the spawn of Redmond in matters telephonic.)

(You will also notice a lack of Crackberries. I have an unreasoning prejudice against phones that I can't run a Python interpreter and a word processor on. I don't know why, it's just the way I came factory-configured — if it's got QWERTY and a screen then it is a computer, and I get deeply uneasy when confronted by computers that I can't, in an emergency, hack out a new operating system on: it's like buying a car with no steering wheel or brake pedal.)

(You will notice the lack of the Apple JesusiPhone on that list, too. It doesn't do UMTS, its bluetooth stack is so broken that you can't get an HID-compliant keyboard to talk to it, and the operating system is locked down by default and Apple keep pushing firmware updates that bork the jailbreak exploits. Also, it's only available in the UK on O2 and I still remember them from the bad old days when they were Cellnet. Sorry, but changing your name in the hope that people will forget how crap you are doesn't work on me. And I didn't buy an original Mac 128K either.)

Anyway, this left me with just one cellco to look at, and a choice of phones and tariffs. I favour monthly accounts aimed at small businesses/sole traders; but how to figure out what the best deal is?

It's funny, but the phone company web sites I've looked at all refuse to tell you how much a bloody phone costs until you select a tariff. It's fairly clear that they don't want you to go comparing their tariffs, because then you might learn something useful — such as the total cost of ownership (TCO) and running costs per unit of time/text message consumed. There is some interesting marketing theory behind all this ... and probably several PhDs in game theory. I'm not a marketing expert, but I know what to do. The first rule of looking at a phone company website is to realize they're trying to game you. And the second rule is to game them right back.

Being a bit obsessive, and annoyed at being bamboozled with pretty websites that don't tell you anything, yesterday I attacked Vodafone's online shop with a spreadsheet I went through the site a couple of dozen times, with different tariffs — 12 month and 18 month ones — and fixed combinations of phones, trying to figure out what the best options were.

The first obvious conclusion I reached is that if you look at the total cost of ownership (TCO) of a phone, including both the phone cost and the monthly tariff cost multiplied by the term of the contract, there's surprisingly little elasticity in the bottom line until you get into the eye-wateringly high usage tariffs. The TCO for a sample phone on 18 month contract varied by only £102 between the Talk 75 and Talk 500 tariffs (75 included minutes and 100 included texts per month, versus 500 minutes and 1000 texts per month). The same pattern held on 12 month contracts, with a £60 spread. Which is, frankly, ridiculous, because you get so few minutes and texts on Talk 75 that the actual cost per minute is nine times higher, and the cost per text is eight time higher than on Talk 500.

But it's not a good idea to go up a level to Talk 800. Do that, and suddenly there's a big price jump. You get more minutes (but no more texts), and the end result is that the cost is barely any cheaper per minute used (and no cheaper per text) than on Talk 500.

What I had discovered looked weirdly like a classic bathtub curve — only plotting price against contract time, rather than the more familiar failure rate against time. It's a familiar curve: airline seat price allocations often follow the same distribution. At one end of the curve, you've got the chancers who want a flashy phone but no commitment to use it. Typically they'll sign up for a short, cheap contract with an expensive phone. Fashion victims, in other words. The cellcos are set up to recognize and fleece them, however. At the other side of the curve you've got the gabby heavy users, and they're going to throw money at you whatever you do, so you might as well take it. In between, you've got a highly price sensitive market, which you want to encourage to use their phones more (and graduate into being heavy users), so you dangle some promising discounts in front of them, weighted towards the heavier tariffs.

(Airline seats for long-haul flights: if someone books a flight six months ahead of departure, it is a Big Deal to them, so they value it, so you can price it high. If they book at two day's notice to go to Aunt Irma's Funeral in New Zealand, it's a coercion purchase, so you can price it high. In-between, there's a trough where people have time to pick and choose which carrier to use ... so seat prices are at their lowest in the period 8-12 weeks before departure. It's the same bathtub-shaped curve.)

In fact, the sweet spot on Vodafone's tariff curve (in the Anytime business packages) seems to be Anytime 500 on a 18 month contract. (By the time you hit Anytime 500 on 12 month contract, costs are beginning to rise; and anything less than Anytime 500 on the 18 month contract is in the "soak the trend-follower" category.)

And there's my second point: 12 month tariffs are weighted on the assumption that you're a trend-follower and may be part of the general customer churn. They invariably have a much higher total cost of ownership than the 18 month tariffs. How much higher?

Cost for a Nokia E90 with Vodafone, 12 month contract, Anytime 500: £187.23. Cost per month: £34.04. Cost of phone plus twelve months: £595.71.

Cost for a Nokia E90 with Vodafone, 18 month contract, Anytime 500: £127.66. Cost per month: £29.79. Cost of phone plus eighteen months: £663.88.

Read that again: the total cost of a twelve month contract costs nearly 90% of the price of an eighteen month contract. If you take the twelve month contract and stay on it for eighteen months, you'd be paying a whisker under £800. The mark-up for going for a short contract is huge; they're counting on your natural reluctance to be locked in for an extra six months to lead you to pay hugely over the odds.

(Want a twelve month contract? You might as well buy an eighteen month contract — if you decide to switch telco, the break-even point is thirteen months. At that point you might as well buy a new phone, set call divert on your old number, take the old sim out and cut it up so you can't run up any additional charges, and get going: you're still ahead of the game. The system is loaded insofar as it relies on customers fixating on the contract lock-in period and not realizing that they can "buy themselves out" at any point by cutting up a SIM and making a note on their calendar to remind them to close the account when the lock-in expires. And on most people not running the total cost of ownership through a spreasheet before they buy.)

They're also counting on your natural reluctance to pay for a "fatter" sounding tariff than you need to drive you to pick a "cheap" one like Talk 75, which is disproportionately more expensive.

Anyway, the moral of the story is: if you're planning on buying a new phone, it pays to hit your phone company website with a spreadsheet before you sign anything. And don't take anything for granted until you've run the figures. The TCO per minute for a phone purchased on the superficially cheap-looking Talk 75 tariff turns out to be two and a half times higher than the TCO per minute for Talk 200, and a ridiculous seven times higher than on Talk 500. They're gaming us. You should game them right back.




I'd like to hear you and Stephen Fry go at it about smart phones! He has some interesting things to say about them in his recent columns for the Guardian. I'd post a link but I don't want to trigger your spam filters.


I'm toying with purchasing a cell phone, but the monthly costs have so far kept me out of the game. Preferably I'd like something as slick as the jesusPhone that was pay-as-you-go for cell service plus skype interoperability via wifi. Yes, I'm a dreamer. 2 more years? 5 more? Or will the prophet Steve surprise us next week with a less restrictive EULA on a next generation device?


Berry: link away, I'll unblock your post after the spam trap stops it.

Bruce: dream on. (St Steve of Jobs has always had a broad control-freak tendency, and a desire to build the ultimate simple all-in-one gizmo. Usually he gives way in the face of market forces, but he keeps coming back to it -- Macintosh, iMac, iBook, iPod, iPhone. He'll only give up control when it's wrestled from his cold, dead fingers. NB: this is fine if you happen to like the Jesus Machine du jour, and welcome it into your heart. It's just a bit less ... useful ... for the rest of us.)

(And the Mac I am writing this on has a bootable Linux partition. Just in case.)


You might be interested in the OpenMoko.

As for dealing with the cell companies: give up; it's hopeless. It's not worth breaking your heart to try to get the best deals; none of the deals are very good, so make a reasonable choice and live with it. Buy to the right of the "bathtub"--if you get the "best" price on one of those bathtub-bottom deals and you suddenly have a need to use the phone a lot more--say, an unexpected trip or someone in the family dies and you are suddenly making a lot of extra calls--all your "savings" will be wiped out and then some, so lease extra--I've been leasing about 2-3x my average usage. Useful fact: the average voice call takes three minutes.

The cell companies are absolutely cleaning up in the USA; charging 5 or 10x the price it costs them to provide the service. Reality is, most of the cost of telephony is in the "last mile" of wire, and cell networks don't have a last mile, but they're billed 3-4x wireline serivce. So, why not just provide moderate-bandwidth, moderate-latency wireless service tax-funded, like roads?


You overstate Steve Jobs proprietary impulse; he's got to make money at this to do it at all, and it's not easy. He's actually much more liberal than Bill Gates, or any of the telco or entertainment moguls. So bitch about them, first, hunh?


Stay away from the N95. I bought one six months ago and here are the bad things you will find about it:

- Poor battery life. It will last maybe 3 days on stand-by, 1 day if you use somewhat and less than a day if you use it a lot.

- Poor GPS reception. It works quite well if you have 5-15 minutes to spare while it locks on the satellites. Use in cities with lots of buildings is difficult (urban canyons). The navigation feature is extra (but you can download the map cache a install on your mem card)

- It is unstable. I had it die in the middle of conversations, while writing SMS, out of the blue (I happened to be looking at the screen).

- It is generally sluggish. The messaging interface takes too long to start - Nokia has done so well in this area in the past and now it managed to underachieve by its own standards. Other top functions are also slow: call record and even dialling.

That said, it is a very nice little toy if you are willing to put up with the nags. Because the battery dies so quickly, I really wish it could be charged via USB.

Hope it helps.


The company I have (AT&T, thanks to mergers) doesn't even offer a plan with less than 450 minutes. But price per minute seems to decrease pretty steadily as minutes in the contract go up.

In the US it seems that if you're a casual user, you're pretty much either forced to pay for minutes you don't use or else pay full cost for a phone and use prepaid cards to buy minutes in small amounts (at higher prices).

I think they've designed the pricing to make people think they're getting a good deal -- free phone and a lot of cheap minutes -- but are counting on people not to use all of that time they're paying for.


I would actually think Gates is more liberal than Jobs. Jobs is like the tech Dalai Lama, the perception is much more liberal than the reality.


I noticed you didn't mention sony ericssson at all - the p910i is an excellent qwerty phone, and SE has the least awful phone UI in my experience.


er, p990i I meant.


For now, I've gone back to prepaid, since after a long wait prices in Germany are moving towards the level I was used to from Austria. Not there yet, but getting better. Right now I'm paying 0.04 EUR/minute for network-internal calls, which is about the only call I'm making right now, and I'm using a cheap-ass Motofone F3 for it.


UI-wise I'm very happy with my Series 40 Nokia (6125); much happier than with my previous Sony-Ericsson (T68i). OTOH a coworker recently bought a new Series 60 Nokia and I was appalled at the sluggishness of the user interface.

I'm currently waiting for the consumer version of Neo1973 (the OpenMoko phone). I don't expect a good product from the first version, but it's the thought that counts.


Ah, the benefits of the Free Market and corporate competition! All you need is a PC, a spreadsheet, a degree in accountancy, and about three days to crunch the numbers and you can easily see which is the best deal for you!

Then you can go through the same process to select your electricity supplier, your gas supplier, your landline telephone supplier, your internet service provider, your cable TV supplier, etc. Good thing you don't have any other time commitments for work or family, and absolutely no social life, isn't it?


David S. @13:
"All you need is a PC, a spreadsheet, a degree in accountancy, and about three days to crunch the numbers..."

All you need is Charlie Stross.


I have an Nokia 7210 and a pay as you go SIM card, and absolutely no intention to change them - and I just don't use it much - it's mostly so people can contact me if they really need to. If they want me to upgrade and use their product more, they can show me clear options and TCO's.

Tech-as-a-tool, tyvm. (And yes, I am a game designer and yes that is rather unusual for someone in this job...)


The network problems are more to do with your location, I suspect. I've changed providers many times over the years, depending mostly on which network works best at home. It's not necessarily T-Mobile's fault....

As for the N95 naysayers, I have to point out that the latest firmware makes ENORMOUS improvements to everything about the phone. GPS, camera, boot times - all the software is faster, the memory usage has improved, as has the battery life. I've not had any mysterious stalls since upgrading either.

It could still do with a battery twice the current size, especially since I use the high-drain features a lot, but as far as the other problems it's had, there's not much left!

Oh, and you _can_ get a USB cable to charge it. Check the Nokia website, or eBay even!


Anyone have any experience with WiFi phones?


@16: by USB cable to charge it, are you talking about the USB to power adapter? I've seen those - I meant charging via the USB interface, with the standard-shipped cable.

Thanks for the info on the new firmware tho.



Ya, the symbian Nokias are startlingly horrible. Not interested in waiting to see whether something interesting happens with Android in the next few months?



Bruce @19, I am currently the victim of a combination of phone and network that discinclines me to hand around for even another week to see what happens. (The phone: a Sony-Ericsson M600i. It's firmware is startlingly bad -- it makes Symbian Series 60 version 3.0 look blazingly fast and elegantly designed. And the network? If half the time people call me at home they can't get through, and a third of the time when I'm out and about people call me and they can't be connected, and a quarter of the time people text me the text gets mysteriously delayed, then I am not happy. And my natural reaction is to assume it's crappy network infrastructure, not a dodgy phone (because it's an unlocked phone I bought after I completed wigged out on the shitty WinMobile phone that came with the contract and which showed similar symptoms), and I am not going to beg a multibillion pound behemoth to fix their network when there's another behemoth with a reputation for running a better network to jump ship to.

The last decent Sony-Ericsson phone I had was the T39m.

Randolph Fritz: I'm typing this on a Macbook. I don't think I harbour any delusions about Steve Jobs being any less of a control freak than any of his competitors in the billionaire stake. That doesn't mean I won't buy his Version 3.0 products -- I just won't be a guinea pig for his Version 1.0 and Version 2.0 experiments.


Oddly enough, I'm in the process of buying into T-Mobile right now, with one of their hot spot at home plans, which is their wacky trade name for UMA/GAN, also known as VOIP over wifi. For $19 a month (tacked on to a $39/month plan) you get unlimited calling to anywhere in the US, over any open wifi connection, as well as the closed T-Mobile hotspots in starbucks, airports, what have you. Tack on another twenty a month and you get unlimited data usage over the cellular network.

Pity you have to buy a blackberry curve to use it, though. I wasn't aware that it was so heavily locked down.


Here in the USA--I'm going to wait to see what Google comes up with. Of course I want a phone that will, if nothing else, be usful as a phone. Not as easy as it seems where I live. And running those "ward" applications can be eat my battery in about five minutes.


David S #13, Soon Lee #14

Save your previous comparison speadsheets for various utilities and "simply" update them every time someone complains about how difficult it is to work out the best deal. And I don't even have an accountancy degree*!

(With a payment of 0.75 meals and 1.6 pints per advice session on average :) )

* Physics, followed by a failure to pass the actuary exams.


Thanks for the info on comparing cost per minutes prices andthe idea of using a spreadsheet to compare stuff. We're currently out contract with our carrier and have been sort of looking around for another better one.

I thing, I will show my total ignorance of terminaology. I know a tariff is a set tax, is that what you are refering to in connection to cell phones? The fact that you mention them as been varied makes me wonder a bit.


Brad: Mobile phone companies set various fee combinations when they sell you a fixed-term contract, to be paid monthly direct from your bank account. These combinations include pre-paid minutes and text messages, and also a combination of fees per minute/call/connection/text if you go over your pre-paid allocation. The fees differ depending on which package you pay for. For example, if you're paying for a package with 500 inclusive minutes per month, you probably pay less per additional minute than if you bought a 75 minute/month package. These packages are commonly referred to as tariffs.

Note that implicit in my analysis is the simplifying assumption that you don't go over your allocation, and you don't go under it either. It's generally the case, though, that if you've paid for a service you tend to use it up to the level for which you've paid.


Boing Boing links to this post with the comment:

Mad Charles Stross took a stab at buying a cell phone in the UK, armed with a spreadsheet and a hankering to sodomize his calm, and discovered the total cost of ownership doesn't vary wildly when you start all of Vodaphone's plans out in neat boxes:

"Mad Charles Stross"? I think you're starting to get a rep as a wild-eyed prophet. Maybe you should think about a book of essays lifted from your blog. Might be a market there.


Charlie, I'm OCD about a similar, but slightly different set of factors, so I would also incorporate the opportunity cost into your spreadsheet. Something simple like a 5% annual return should do it. Which would make the 12-month contract seem even worse.


Re: Why Smartphones are shitty on networks especially unlocked ones... (and yes I'm looking at the iPhone too...

There are two reasons why Smartphones tend to be MUCH worse than comparative feature phones (I'm a fan of most of the SEMC phones my T68 and T610 were rock solid.) One is architecture, the other is economics.

1) They're only just getting single core silicon which can handle the DSP and Application side of the work on a fully featured OS.

Because of that high end phones (all WinMo, S60, UIQ, iPhone, OpenMoko and others) tend to have an application processor with a plug in Radio module to handle the radio and DSP functions (real time fast audio codecs for the voice calls, the GSM/WCDMA stuff etc...)

The application processor then handles the OS, applications and video codecs. This brings up a couple of problems - firstly there's a lot of traffic along a serial connection between the two which leads to bottlenecks and occasional crappy performance (the iPHone gets around this by having an order of magnitude more RAM available for caching activities than any competitor). The second problem is it introduces potential stack timing errors between the application processor and apps and the radio stack. This leads to poor data and radio performance. So the network gets confused about which packet requests are being made etc...

Tuning phones is a pretty black art, which brings me to the economics side. The Smartphones ship a few tens of millions of units a year across the manufacturers across the world (at the momment), compared to feature phones which ship many more times that. Even SEMC, 4th place, ship 70 million plus feature phones a year, all pretty much running off the same core EMP single core solution. They've spent a lot of time bullet proofing that in a way they just can't afford to with a Smartphone which ships a million units.

Field trials and device tuning is insanely expensive and high labour intensive, so a typical field IOT operation costs upwards of $5M (I've seen as much as $15M spent) so they take a call over what costs they can put into the mix. Smartphones tend to come last.

So BOM is king with all these calculations. Most of the phone companies are trying, at Operator behest, to have sub-$50 BOM for feature phones and sub-$150 for Smartphones, so on low volume devices there are problems.

A lot of this is going away. Nokia, Freescale, Qualcomm and a few others now have Single Core solutions which do away with a lot of the performance and bottleneck problems and they'll be using common hardware in a wider range of phones so they can amortise radio work over a wider product base.

Anyway. I know it doesn't help with people who want high end phones now, but I hope that explains why, for example, the UK iPhone has crappier radio performance than the US version and why Smartphones of all stripes tend to suck.

This will change through '08 and into '09 as the core hardware improves.


Charlie: Thanks for the definition. My wife and I are currently out of contract with with our current carrier and on month to month. We are oddities, we actually don't go over our minutes, and of course end up seeing the unused ones disapear at the end of the month. When we got these cells my wife's worked perfectly, but mine, which was identical to hers, gave me no end of problems. You've given me some ideas on what to look for in a new carrier. Thanks.


I had a similar problem with T-Mobile for about the first three months of my service (the last three months). I FINALLY got a customer care person who'd listen, and he reset my account. After that, all my calls came through perfectly.

Of course, YMMV--I'm in the U.S.A, even if everyone in the Continental US begs to differ (Hawaii).


I feel your pain. I'm a trucker in the US and I NEED cellphones for communication as part of my business. I need it so much that I have four. A cell phone and an aircard from both Sprint and AT&T.

The air cards are ok.

The Cell Phones suck. I spit on them and their designers. I fart in the general direction of their marketing departments. Marketing is getting to be an obstacle to overcome in search of the right product....not a help in finding it.

They're waaaaaaay too complicated to use in my industry. They're much too small and too fragile. They're hard too see and hard to hear. I have a palm treo and a Sanyo 7050 a "ruggedized" model. They both suck.

I have yet to find a phone that's built to BE a phone. I dunno what they're made to be. Fashion accessories for anorexic teenage girls...maybe?

Dunno. But I hate em all. They tease but they don't deliver.

By the way....love your books.

Everitt Mickey


Hi, would you consider putting up your spreadsheet for us to plug in our own numbers and see what happens? Cheers!


Everitt - #31- have you tried the Motorola F3? Its that cheap that Tescos here in the UK are selling them at 14.97 pounds, which is equal to nearly 30 dollars. It is just a phone. No blutooth, or anything else. If you need a phone that can hold a huge phonebook and make your busy executive life better, its no use. If you want a phone you can punch a number into and dial, its fine. I've only dropped mine once so far, so cannot comment on long term ruggedness, but the reviews say its supposed to be pretty strong.


Okay, it's not about cell phones, but it is, sort of, about marketing. Proof that you've really made it big, Charlie -- you have your own t-shirt on Amazon:


Now, if only I could decide whether to buy the Charles Stross loves me version, or the I love Charles Stross version. Hee!


Charlie, I found this link via theinquirer. Maybe it will help.


With regards to the N95 I think it's a great phone but be aware. I'm on contract with Vodaphone and they haven't released any new firmware for over 6 months. So I debranded the phone (which invalidates the warranty) and was able to update to the latest Ver 20.xx. The problems described by XCondE in post #6 have gone. The battery has improved a bit but if you use the features heavily you’ll need to charge it once a day.

A bit sad but there’s even a plugin which uses the accelerometer and turns it into lightsaber. Sound only :)


Connie #34: But there are only three "people" in the world who could wear the "Charles Stross loves me" version, and they don't make them in cat sizes!


"Useful fact: the average voice call takes three minutes."

Posted by: Randolph Fritz

My personal gripe is the voicemail messages.
If I'm leaving a message for somebody, it's a rare thing to spend more time leaving my actual message than waiting for the extremely long voicemail jabber to end.


Coincidentally, my brother and I got new phones yesterday (USA, Cingular+ATT). I now have an old phone with no sim card, but a charger and car charger. Does anybody have any good ideas for donations?



Barry: keep it. When you next upgrade, give the last but one phone away. Always keep your old phone as an emergency backup. (I speak from experience.)


Barry, when you do donate the phone, send it here, please: http://www.ncadv.org/takeaction/DonateaPhone_129.html

(I keep old glasses like that -- the last pair stays, the pair I kept before goes to the Lions Club.)


Thanks, Charlie - that's a good idea.
I do the same thing with glasses.


Charlie @ 39

Here in the States it turns out to be a good idea to keep an old analog phone around. Coverage outside large metropolitan areas is spotty, and analog travels farther than digital. I keep an old phone in the car just in case I have car trouble out in the boonies. 911 will respond even if you don't have a contract for that phone with any carrier. That'll be good for awhile, as the carriers are required in most areas to keep the analog service available.


I finally gave in about a month ago and got myself a mobile phone (after years of saying I wouldn't have one unless I absolutely needed it etc). It's a little Nokia 6070, on a prepaid plan from Telstra, purchased because it was the cheapest one available in the shop. So far, it's had much more use as a clock and a pocketweight than it has as a phone. It came with $10 of calls included, I've topped it up with another $30 since then, and I'll probably drop another $20 on this month some time.


Alex waaaay up @17

WiFi phones - I got me a Nokia E65 which has a built in b card. It sucks the life out of your battery time (literally, you may as well be talking) when you're utilising the wifi.

It's not the best for web browsing witht he built in browser - but the range is actually better than some of the tablet PCs I have in my house! It gives a good coverage and fair reception.

If you're thinking of using one in a laptop withouth PCMCIA capability, it'd probably work.

But then if it's to use as a main browser - you're probably better off getting a minibook/eeePC.


Bruce Cohen @ #42:

I don't think there are any analog mobile networks left in Britain. I think theres still some NMT 450 in northern Scandinavia, precisley because of signal reach. I know that NMT 900 was scrapped, to repurpose frequencies to GSM 900.

It seems as if NMT 450 has been discontinued in Norway (well, I guess you can still use a Swedish carrier). Oops, looks like the NMT 450 license ran out on 2007-12-31, so there may well be no carriers left.


Bruce Cohen said, "Mad Charles Stross"?

It's sorta tough to make predictions and have them fail. Ask any broker that not only predicts the future, but bets on it, to realize it's a tough game. It makes my head spin on a weekly basis. Now, if C.S. wants to do it and make some money at it, he wouldn't do so with a book, but rather he would do so as a nice, quiet little day trader that runs his experiments in predicting the future with some money on the line. It's funny how the desire to gain and the fear of loss can influence how we predict the future.



The advantage for Charlie in writing a book instead of playing the market is that he can make money off his failures too. Take a look at the front page of any of the tabloid rags, especially around the New Year; they're constantly quoting "Psychics" about what's going to happen, and I would guess their hit rate to be well below 50%, yet there they are, year after year. Charlie could be a lot more upfront about it and get interested readers by talking about why a given prediction was a miss.


Feorag said (#36): "But there are only three "people" in the world who could wear the "Charles Stross loves me" version, and they don't make them in cat sizes!"

Heh, snap!

Clearly, you need one of those t-shirts, presented to you nicely rolled up and tied with something sparkly, or maybe wrapped around a fine piece of precision electronics. (hint, Charlie, hint)


Hey Charlie;

For some reason Berry didn't ever seem to come back, but the link to Stephen Fry's article on smartphones ("I have never seen a SmartPhone I haven’t bought") was probably this one -


Mr. Fry, it seems, has been a devotee at the temple of Apple more or less as long as they've existed, something I discovered to my very great suprise and joy when he was a keynote speaker at a Sun event a few years ago.

Apologies to Berry if he/she/it was just snoozing, or caught up in moderation.


NMT (the firm, not the technology) ripped out the NMT450 net back in 2005 to install a nice new CDMA450 1xEVDO system from the good folks at ZTE.

BTW, I can report satisfaction with my Nokia E65 and 3UK's service. I get 1GB for an extra £5er a month; so far I haven't managed to use more than 40 or so MB, but then I haven't tried Truphone SIP-over-cellular data yet. The WLAN support is rather good.

Haven't tried the python interpreter yet, though.


Bruce, you're right about dipping into the well with a book. Everyone on Wall Street has a way to sell their ideas, their "secret methods." It just creates more noise in the system.


The misleading or inaccurate info is very common in modern business.I read a good article by a Harvard law professor recently .She had her class try to read a credit card company to see what rate they were charging.Several hours later they thought the had the answer.Another experiment well documented was to call the phone company and over the phone get the rate.Well under 50% of the reps had the correct info.


DON't use these stupid pre-paid contracts!

Use PAYG ( Pay-as-you-go )

Or is there some other overriding reason not to?


It's worth bearing in mind while the contracts are fixed there's some flexability in the phone price, although the high street branches will rarely do a deal on the price of the phone I've found the call centers are quite keen to either keep you on board or win you over from another carrier, I bartered Orange down from £150 to £0 for an N95 less than a week after they'd come on the market with the threat I'd switch over to Vodaphone.


I still don't have a mobile phone... and reading this sort of saga is hardly encouragement to get one.

Probably I'll end up buying one just as they're being superceded by some other class of gadget.


(First post)
Wow... thats some dedication... :D


Or is there some other overriding reason not to?

Cost. If you use your phone on a regular basis then PAYG really really hoses you. Plus PAYG data is really unreliable.


Also: international roaming on PAYG is really unappealing, price-wise. I do quite a lot of international travel, but I'm seldom in any given country for more than two weeks a year, which makes buying a local SIM -- PAYG or contract -- uneconomical. (Visited Australia for a month, did the PAYG SIM thing ... turned out to be more trouble than it was worth.)


Zaphod is now a science fiction writer?


I'm very late for the party, but:

Barry #37:

You should hear the voicemail systems I deal with in Korea, calling friends' cell phones. It's all automated, and designed for people who've never encountered voicemail. "Miss Kim" (which is what any automated voice is called, since they're all female) explains that the user is not answering the phone, and explains (in utterly polite Korean), "You can leave a message after you hear this sound..." and then there's a beep. Then Miss Kim starts talking again, explaining that the phone's owner can get the message later (or something. I never listen too closely). Most confused foreigners don't know what just happened by the time the second beep comes.