Tuesday, December 24, 2002

THE FUTURE BEGINS NEXT MONTH: Starting in February 2003, New Yorkers will be required to dial eleven digits to make all outgoing phone calls. (Oh -- apparently we were all supposed to have started doing this last April -- to "become accustomed to the new dialing pattern," says Verizon. Guess I didn't get the memo.)

In other words, whenever we Manhattanites want to call any number in the (212) area code from within our own (212) area code -- even if I want to make an intra-office call within the bank of phone numbers assigned to my own office! -- we'll have to pretend like we're calling long-distance and dial the (1+212) prefix first.

Verizon claims this is necessary because the ubiquity of cheap telecommunication devices has exhausted the supply of 7-digit numbers -- the implication being that they must shortly introduce so many more new area code overlays that the very concept of making a call "within" an area code has become obsolete. In other words, they're trying to get us to stop thinking in terms of area codes altogether, and simply grow to accept that 21st Century phone numbers will be ten digits long.

What's missing in this equation? (1) Available technology and (2) common sense.

(1) Why should we even be forced to continue dealing with the outmoded concept of phone NUMBERS anymore? Surely the vast telecommunications infrastructure has enough raw computing power available by now, that someone could program a "voice recognition" robot central server to respond properly when I say into the phone, in a crisp, clear voice, "Connect me with Mrs. Fruitsnoot of Springfield." (And if that's not enough unique information -- if it happens that there's more than one unique individual named Fruitsnoot in each of the various different cities named Springfield -- the server can politely prompt me for a street address or state.)

(2) Okay, we're stuck with 10-digit phone numbers for a few more years. Fine. But why-o-why-o-why must we also be forced to dial "1" first? Is there not one programmer in the entire organization who could have piped up and volunteered: "Ummm -- we could just program the system to infer that the first digit of all outgoing calls will be "1". (Obviously, certain special express-dial numbers such 911, 411 and 0 could be passed through with simple pattern recognition filters.)

Darn the luck -- those must have been the guys that Verizon pink-slipped this week. Maybe during the next tech bubble, then...?

SPACE FOOD STICKS: If ever there was a product which did NOT need to be fondly recalled, much less preserved...

Monday, December 23, 2002

HOW TO ANNOY WITH STATISTICS: New Republic editor Martin Peretz gives Al Gore a graceful send-off -- but can't resist rattling off this tiresome statistic:

With Gore out of the running, an ambitious group of Democrats have the field to themselves. None of the contenders has as much popular support as Gore--who, after all, won more votes in 2000 than any presidential candidate in U.S. history except Ronald Reagan.

Peretz actually goes on to make several valid observations, amply making the case that the American political arena is a poorer place with Al Gore no longer part of it -- but this silly statistic "...won more votes than any candidate except Reagan..." is utterly meaningless, and ought to be hastily retired, right along with all those media fabrications about Gore's having "invented" the Internet and whatnot.

How so? The size of the American electorate increases every year. Therefore, any Presidential candidate who either narrowly wins or narrowly loses an election, in any given year, is bound to have amassed more votes than very nearly any candidate in any previous close election.

That Ronald Reagan's 1984 landslide vote (from among a smaller pool of voters) exceeded Gore's narrow "win/loss" 16 years later is a testament only to the failure of Walter Mondale to fashion himself into a remotely electable centrist candidate -- not of Gore's (or even Reagan's) inherent populism.

For Gore to have claimed serious bragging rights in 2000, the important statistic would have been: What percentage of the electorate cast their vote for Gore?

And unfortunately, that number -- 48% -- puts him in league with a great many more losers than winners.

Sunday, December 22, 2002

WHO IS ATRIOS? Charles Kuffner is taking a poll: "It's time we settled this question once and for all," says Kuff.

As the results of the poll are binding, Mind Over What Matters will abide by the decision of the majority.

Atrios has no comment.