A New Can Of Worms
11 June 2003
The Cult of Intelligence

Too Smart To Be So Dumb is Joel Engel's account of the cult of intelligence in this country. I would only add in reading this that the people who believed that Bill Clinton was the most intelligent President ever were usually urban liberals, or the suburban kind that liked to talk left and live right. It's more than just the Ivy Leaguers who behave that way.

10 June 2003
Trotsky and the Bush Administration

Now the Bush Administration is the intellectual handmaiden of Trotsky... First Strauss, now Trotsky. I guess Bush is no longer stupid, now he and his advisors are evil...Oh well, thus is the price of victory...after victory...after victory...
Everything You Didn't Want to Know About Cell Phones

In a note to his sister, a good friend offers a primer on mobile phones to his sister. I thought it was pretty good, so I am sharing:

Back in the late 70’s, Ameritech was messing around with the idea of “radio telephones”. Nothing too cosmic about that, after all, you remember using walkie-talkies when we were kids, right? OK, great. You could only listen while the other person talked, and then you had to push a button when it was your turn to talk. Same concept with CB radio’s, you press a button to talk (and everybody with a CB hears you) and then the other person talks. Everybody with a CB – you, too (‘cause you have one) - hears everything they say. It was possible to have a “wireless” conversation, but it wasn’t too private and it was kind of awkward because you could only talk after the other person got done (non-duplex conversation).

Back to Ameritech. So these engineers in Chicago have this great idea: what if you made a really FANCY radio that you could talk and listen at the same time! Wow, a wireless conversation just like on a telephone. How did they do it? Easy, just use 2 radios. One to always listen on - and the other to always talk on. Only problem was the person you wanted to talk to had to have 2 radios, too. That really wasn’t the only problem. You see, they could imitate a telephone conversation (duplex conversation) by having each person use two radios, but the radios were about the size of a shoebox AND other people with their radio’s on the same channel (frequency) could still hear them. Useful? Yes. Private? Nope. Cool looking? No fucking way!

Enter Motorola. The Motorola engineers have a few beers with the Ameritech engineers, people get friendly, clothes come off, things get crazy. Next thing you know, the Motorola guys are busy shrinking radios into things that kinda’ look like phones. Then some body does acid and figures out that if you put each little pair of phones on their own channel, the conversations are suddenly private. How cool is this! Not very cool – actually - as they discovered when they finally came down. If each pair of phones had to have their own channel, and there a 8 million people in Chicago, well, you do the math.

So then they figured hey, what if we only used about a thousand channels for every antenna we build, made the channels really low power (3 watts, so that they’d only cover a few blocks), and then put antennas that use the same channels far away from each other? All of a sudden, you’ve “doubled” the number of people who could use these fancy radios. But who wants to only be able to use a phone for a few blocks? Ooh, I know – nobody!

But how about if you put the antennae closer together, but made every other antenna use opposite channels? Think of a checkerboard. Red channels are bordered by black channels. People on the red channels can’t hear the people on the black channels, and vice-versa. If you’re driving, and you move from a red to a black, you’re fancy radio would then switch channels as needed. It would go from a red “cell” to a black “cell”.


Flash forward to 2003.

Shit don’t work like that no more. Because of microprocessors (little itty bitty computers), most phones share the same channels. It’s just that the computers divide the time that each phone uses a channel. If you ain’t using the channel to talk, might as well let somebody else use it. This means that multiple people can use the same channel. I guess that’s why they call it: Time Division Multiple Access (TDMA).

Meanwhile, back at the Bat Cave…

No, Seriously. The Europeans were looking at our “cell phones” and making strange facial expressions; as Europeans will. They knew it was a cool concept, but the figured they could do it better (with the Germans being in Europe and all, what’d you expect). Besides, whereas the US had wired phone service (dial tone) to over 85% of Americans, the Europeans, by 1980, still had almost half of the population without wired telephones (but for fuck’s sake, you deal with the communists, the French, and the Alps and let me know how you fare out).

They did do it better. Because it was about 10 times cheaper to put up an antenna rather than laying wire in the ground, the Europeans were putting towers up faster than a 15 year old gets zits! Pretty soon, just about everybody in Europe had a “mobile” phone (the Nazi’s call them “handy’s”). The system developed in Europe became known as Global System for Mobility (GSM). Most of the world uses GSM, and naturally, it doesn’t work with what we use in America. Oh sure, we’ve got CDMA (along with Japan), but that doesn’t work with GSM either. So, what to do, what to do…

You can fight, as we (AT&T, Cell One, Cingular – TDMA carriers) have tried for the past 10 years. You can try something different (Sprint PCS, Verizon, US Cellular – CDMA carriers), or you can just join the rest of the globe.

This is what AT&T FINALLY realized in late 2001. AT&T - without letting its customers know that it bet on the worst of 3 competing technologies – is transitioning all of its markets to – you guessed – GSM! They can use all the hype they want - “M-Life”, “Next Generation Phone”, “World Service”, whatever – it’s still just the same service that our friends across the Atlantic have been using for years.

I know, I know, you’re saying “but my phone still works”. And it will, just like Cingular customer’s phones still work – for a while. I predict AT&T will roll-out a flashy M-Life ad campaign by next Super Bowl; followed by letters to every customer that says “we think you’ll just love our new next generation phones”, followed by (maybe in late 2004) letters that say “you’ll switch – whether you like it or not!”

What does all of this bullshit (and super long email) mean for you and BUL #165? Not a lot, I’ve just been pulling-your-leg. No, really, you might as well make the change now. Why? Well, you’re gonna’ have to, eventually and you need a phone that works in Croatia (Europe), anyway.

Here’s what you want to make sure of. Caution: there are features that come with the network and features that come with the handset. Don’t confuse the two. And, for the love of God, quit calling it a cell phone – it’s a mobile phone!

Handset Features: (Every GSM phone you look at will come with a lot of bells and whistles; this is the stuff you NEED)

-must be 900MHz and 1900MHz (1.9GHz) capable (and be able to search for the right network)

-must be able to send and receive SMS/e-mail/text messages (keypad input is best, “T9” input kinda’ sucks)


-must come with a SIM chip

-must include Lithium Ion (LiIon) or Lithium Polymer Battery

-Bluetooth enabled would be nice, but not necessary

-Polyphonic ring tones are nice, too, but you’ve lived without them for this long; you’ll survive

Network Features: (this is the stuff included with your rate plan)

-must include FREE incoming SMS/e-mail/text messages

-no additional charges for international service (they can’t charge you $1.69/minute in Europe AND a monthly charge)

-don’t let them tell you they can charge you a monthly fee for international service – NO other GSM carrier does this!

-no long-distance charges for calls from the US to numbers in the US, PR, USVI

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