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Polite Note

I see we had a slight influx of visitors yesterday, via Daring Fireball. (The drive-by grammar nazis in my email inbox would have tipped me off, even if I hadn't spotted the comments on this thread referring to me as "the author".) Hello everybody, and for those of you who stuck around for more than a brief drive-by, welcome to my blog. I'm Charlie Stross. I'm a British science fiction author. I also run this website and pay its bills. Look: no advertising! (Unless you count the Amazon affiliate links to my books.)

This is not a tech blog in any normal sense of the term, although I occasionally get annoyed enough to emit a rant on the subject. (I did too much of that stuff back in the early noughties, during my five years as Computer Shopper's Linux/free software columnist; I'm better now, except for the occasional relapse.)

You might have noticed that my blog entries get comment threads. That's because over the past few years it has grown into an SF/geek community hub. It pleases me to maintain it as such, and I'm happy to host discussions that veer off-topic — some of the time. Things I am not happy to host include spam, trolls, flame wars, racists, and folks who think they can come into my living room and take a shit on the sofa. (There is a difference between argument and abuse. Argument is usually fine, abuse isn't.) Certain types of conduct will get you a yellow card (a referee's warning) or a red card (a ban, and your comments deleted). If you want to know what not to do, here's the moderation policy.

Note that I am not the government; I can ban you from commenting here, but I can't stop you running your own blog elsewhere on the internet. I can, however, point and mock.

Anyway ...

Having gotten that out of the way, let me repeat the welcome: just remember there's a regular community here and you'll get on fine.



Who Daring Fireball?
I'm deliberatly NOT looking them up ......

On the previous thread, some of us still want phones as phones, only.
I suppose, sooner or later, I'll have to go over to touchscreen, but the technology just strikes me as so VULNERABLE to damage (accidental) and wear-&-tear, compared to a simple phone.
Also, iof you are a determined PAYG customer, I am under the impression that the snazzy-multifunction- touchscreen-ripoff-salesmen do not lurve U. ( ?? )

Note s-m-t-r-s include Apple, Amazon, Android, and just about anyone other than a simple phone provider.
And I'm pissed-off with them too, changing the prcing structure, in a delberate attempt to drive me towars renting a phone.

Discuss - or is this not relevant?
Over to our host....


Who Daring Fireball?

John Gruber's blog. Very high audience Mac tech blog; guaranteed to dogpile the sort of piece I posted yesterday. Going by the web stats, it has readership levels that are up there with BoingBoing.

As far as the touchscreens go, I suppose you know Apple et al use Corning Gorilla Glass in their screens? It's impressive stuff, a spin-off of research into ultra-tough car windscreens. I still wouldn't trust an iPhone or similar in a pocket with anything metallic in it (without a wallet case) but mine's withstood being dropped several times with no scratches.

I should add: while my phone's on a rolling monthly contract rather than PAYG, it's not carrier-locked. I bought it without subsidy from Apple, as I refuse to be held to ransom by a telco. (Also note that the cellcos are now competing to offer cheap rolling monthly tariffs for smartphone owners who bring their own hardware -- you pay for the SIM and the service only. Works out about half the price of a locked-in contract that includes a subsidized phone. Do the math, and it costs about the same either way. Who'd have guessed?)


"(There is a difference between argument and abuse. Argument is usually fine, abuse isn't."

Monty Python: "I'm sorry, this room is for abuse, arguments are down the hall."


Ah yes -- consumers. They're a sophisticated bunch.


I think I'm in a similarish boat to you; I'm on Vodafone PAYG with their old "Stop the Clock" scheme still enabled, hardly ever text, never video/photo message, and spend about £7 a year on calls as a result!


Me three. I have a cheapo pay-as-you-go phone that I use for voice and text only, although I think I use it a wee bit more than you.

I had my handbag snatched a few years ago. I don't carry anything around with me that it would bother me to lose. I've played with friends' iPhones and other smart phones, and they're nice enough, but not nice enough to change my policy.


I have a Motorola Razr on PAYG from Tesco.
I used to be sooooo cool... :-(


#6 and 7 - Ok, that makes 4 of us and counting.

STC means I pay 15 pence for the first 3 minutes, nothing for the next 57, and 5p/min after that off-peak, so £7 a year can mean about 45 hours of voice calls! :-D

Oh and yeah I have a Razr V3 in black! I chose it to get buttons that are sized to my fingertips rather than because it was what the kewel kids were using though.


I gave up cool years ago. I know my limitations.

My phone is currently an Alcatel OT-808. It cost me 35 UKP from ebay, and was the smallest qwerty flipphone I could find. A hacked MIDP ssh client lets me connect to my home server via GPRS just fine and the whole thing folds into a 5cm x 5cm x 1.5cm square that drops nicely into my pocket. I'm on Virgin Mobile PAYG that gives me 25MB of data a day for 30p and I spend about twenty quid every six months.

On the minus side, it's pink.

Oddly enough, whenever I use the thing I get admiring comments. People really like the design, probably because it's so small. I'd really like a smartphone in the same form factor, but alas, clamshell phones are out of fashion these days...


I've got an Orange San Francisco on PAYG. For £100 it's surprisingly good, which is to say that Angry Birds is just playable and HD video definitely isn't. But web, email, GPS, and phone-stuff (texting and, you know, talking) are all fine (its saving grace is the 800x480 multi-touch screen). It's got a camera, but I still haven't seen output from a cameraphone that I've liked - laws of optics and all that.

WRT charges, I run mine in dumb-phone mode (it connects to the wifi at home) since PAYG data charges are obscene. If you want a smart phone to be smart, you do need a contract with sensible data allowances.


My 13-year-old son tells me that if his ipod were any bigger, it wouldn't fit in his pocket. I guess you have bigger pockets as well as older eyes.

(I'm with you about the older eyes).


Pocket size scales with leg length, usually.
Pocket *utility* scales with leg circumference. ",)


Somewhat off-topic, but has anyone else noticed a significant difference in rates of screen damage between iphones and other smartphones? I just posted on my G+ about this earlier this week when I noticed that a large percentage of the iphones I see (maybe as many as one in ten of the ones I've been handed to look at something in the last couple months) have cracked screens. This is completely anecdata, and there are a number of reasons other than phone design that could affect this rate of breakage--most obviously differences in the customer base and thus usage/care patterns. But since it and other smartphones like my own use Gorilla Glass I was wondering if the 'letterbox' format might be less structurally sound? I doubt it, but I wonder if anyone else has any thought on it--including that I am wrong and there are twice as many Android phones with shattered screens in folks' pockets.


Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify. Henry David Thoreau


Here in the US I've only seen ONE in two years. And my wife knows of someone who just cracked theirs. But there are many shops that will replace the glass for between $75 and $100. Maybe less. So maybe most folks just get it repaired.


I pay about £60 pa in PAYG phone charges - and I've already bought (£15) the phone, several years ago.

Why the hell should I rent?
Is it at all possible to buy a decent touchscreen, that is reasonably robust, that can be fitted onto a belt-loop/hooked case, and running "orange" so I don't have to change the number?

The trouble is there's SO MUCH STUFF "out there" that I'm put off even starting to look.....


iof you are a determined PAYG customer, I am under the impression that the snazzy-multifunction- touchscreen-ripoff-salesmen do not lurve U. ( ?? )
Why the hell should I rent?
Is it at all possible to buy a decent touchscreen, that is reasonably robust, that can be fitted onto a belt-loop/hooked case, and running "orange" so I don't have to change the number?

No need at all to rent, or to change your number. I bought an unlocked Android smartphone for cash from Carphone Warehouse and moved my old PAYG SIM into it. I still use PAYG for the phone calls, but I pay an extra £5 per month for a gigabyte of data, which is plenty unless you spend all your free time watching movies.


Anecdata here: I dropped my Nexus One onto a gravel carpark and cracked the glass. But that was definitely one of those cases where it has to fall just right to do so. It kept on working, mind, just it looked a mess. Sadly, the thing had a spontaneous reboot loop failure mode which got slowly worse and worse, from once in a blue moon to several times a day.

(Insurance paid for its replacement.)

I keep my GSII in a pocket with the screen exposed. I also keep my wallet in that pocket, but keys and coins are kept the other side.

You can also get screen protectors that will protect the glass. However, the one I got lasted three days before spontaneously peeling off.


I've had the same mobile phone number for nearly thirteen years now, over three contracts - started out with Orange, currently with O2. Changing provider while keeping the number has not been a problem.

As for "belt loops", can I suggest Krusell cases? SWMBO and myself each have an iPhone4, and the cases aren't bad - we've used them for the past few years.

After I managed to rip the case off my belt (any case would have ripped, to be fair) I've taken to keeping the phone inside a front trouser pocket, with only a stick-on screen protector - but no coins, no keys. The case makes quite a difference to the slimness, without one I hardly notice the phone...


OK, so what do the cognoscenti recommend I get?
Must be relatively cheap & reliable .....


Greg, you can change cellco and take your old phone number with you; the procedure is to ask your old phone company for a MAC (a migration access code) when you call them to close your account. Then, having gotten a new phone with a different number from a new company, you phone the new cellco and tell them your MAC. With 24 hours, your old number should be ported over and work on your new phone.

NB: whenever I buy a new model of phone I immediately buy the best damn case I can for it. Even if it's going to live in my trouser pockets. This is a habit I adopted back in the PDA era of the late 90s. A £5 or even a £50 case is a lot cheaper than a new PDA/smartphone screen.


iPhone 4 on contract (Orange). Unlimited texts/voice/bandwidth (fair use applies, whatever that means) for £27.50 a month on a business tarif.
I've got an IvySkin Quattro4 case and it's awesome. Brushed metal case with a glass cover over the iPhone screen. Works a treat, but it was pricey and I got stung when I imported it too, due the The Royal Mail breaking the law (they held the postage paid package to charge 'handling' fee!). Charged me £8 to handle my package! Gggrrrrrr!


I'm considering a JCB Tradesman - a very basic and very tough phone, costs about £50 SIM-free. It's waterprooof and floats, can handle a wide temperature range and it's apparently quite hard to break. Designed to military standards (I don't think they mean "By 11 different committees and funded by four others over a period of 20 years for seven different purposes, none of them phone-related.") If you just want a phone that's reliable, this might be the one.

Unless you're really fond of your current number, you might want to get a pay as you go SIM for it. I don't know about the relative merits of different companies except that the Virgin SIM I use seems okay. Depends on what network covers your area, I guess. An advantage of Virgin is that you only have to top up credit when you want rather than every month - I get by on a fiver every couple of months. I wasn't happy with Vodafone, but I don't know about other operators, who might have similar offers.

Otherwise you could get a prepay disposable for about a tenner including SIM from Argos, Teso, ASDA etc, or any unlocked second-hander in the high street. There's a shop called CEX near me who also deal online - I don't recommend or criticise them, merely point them out.


Sorry Greg, I missed your earlier post specifying touch screen and stating you already have a payg SIM.


Andy Wood @ 22
£27.50 A MONTH?
Are you mad?
I pay about £60-70 a YEAR for PAYG.
You've been had, methinks.

Phil @ 23/24
That's OK, because Charlie has already told me how to keep the number if changing cellco.
Though it would be easier to stick with Orange, if I could.


I got stung when I imported it too, due the The Royal Mail breaking the law (they held the postage paid package to charge 'handling' fee!).

Are you sure it was a "handling fee"? From what you've said, I suspect it was an "import agency fee", which is legally payable whenever you import VAT liable goods using a "freight forwarder" or "customs agent" to act on your behalf with HMC&E. If I'm right then you were paying RM to do the customs paperwork for you.


Further small note
[ Which probably shows how out-of-touch I might be ]
I've just realised ...
I could buy a secondhand [ Does this = "unlocked" ?? ]touchscreen phone, and then just move my SIM into the "new" one, and keep my existing cellco?

I've only has three mobies.
the first was stolen by the theiving toerags delighful children I was teaching at the time - which involved a number-change.
The second got trashed when I fell heavily onto it, and on to a hard surface.
The thhird, my current HAD a new number, which I've never used - I didn't want to wait 48 hrs, (which is what I was told @ the shop) and I wasn't aware of the procedure Charlie mentioned, and it was bureaucrstic, anyway.
All were/are simple key-pad-only devices, though my current one does have a COLOURED screen - the luxury!


Yeah, that'd be fine.

New and second-hand phones in the UK are either sold locked to one provider, in which case you'd need one for your network. Or they're sold unlocked, and those can take any SIM (*).

Most second hand places have little coloured stickers on the phones saying what networks they're locked to, but if you ask an assistant for one for your network (Orange?) they'll point them out.

(*)There are a very few phone models that need a different sized SIM, but they are rare and you can check at point of sale. Also, I'm not sure if some contract mobiles are locked to a specific SIM rather than any from the same network - I don't think so but I can't be sure.


Greg, I note that if you want a smartphone, you want data. And data via phone costs a damn sight more. I have a wired broadband contract for the house -- not the cheapest on offer, but a highly reliable one with some desirable features (static IP address, unlimited and unthrottled and unfiltered bandwidth, 2mbps outgoing -- not something you can get from Virgin: it's basically a small business package) and am paying around £22 a month.

In contrast, I have a monthly contract for a 3G data-only SIM. It gets me 10Gb/month of data, maxing out at 7.2mbps, and it costs £15. That was the best deal I could find at the time. (NB: I need to phone them up and attempt to squeeze some more data out of them -- or cut the price. I've been on that tariff for 12 months or so.)

((Reason I have it: it's an emergency fallback if the main ADSL line goes down, and it can come out of the house and go walkabout with me. It typically saves its own cost each year in avoiding hotel wifi bills, which usually run at £15/day in the UK.))

There's an interesting package from Three; an all-you-can-eat voice/text/data SIM/wireless tethering for around £24 a month. Uncapped, no lock-in, just a monthly rolling contract. If they weren't so shit at peering with carriers overseas I'd jump on that like a shot. (Alas: Three are 3G only ... and according to a friend of mine who tried, you can't use non-3G networks on international roaming with a Three SIM.)

The point is, pure voice-and-SMS 2G traffic is so cheap as to be not-quite-free here in the UK at this point in time. The infrastructure is all amortized and the real money is in wireless broadband (which they can still soak the customers for, but which demands orders of magnitude fatter pipes to the base stations).


Thanks for that info, folks ...
I'll curl up in a quiet corner and thunk about it.


The all-you-can-eat-data from Three was invaluable for me when I moved flats and the broadband transfer was cocked up. Used my phone as a modem for a month, and it was as fast as the 8mb DSL, the best you can get in this part of Wales. Don't have 3G signal everywhere in town, but it connects to older tech networks fine. Haven't been abroad to see what happens yet.



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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on October 12, 2011 1:23 PM.

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