Pogues’ Imponderables: pondered

David Pogue ponders a few things about the world. I decide to answer them. Wish me luck.

* Why is Wi-Fi free at cheap hotels, but $14 a night at expensive ones?

That’s an easy one. At the core it’s price discrimination, or the art of making people pay the maximum of what people are willing to pay. The way it works is that rich people at expensive hotels have more than enough cash (and value their time online highly) to buy WiFi for their room. At cheap hotels you have crummy cheap people who aren’t willing to pay one penny extra for WiFi, but for whom it’s still a feature which’ll make them choose the WiFi-hotel over the Non-WiFi-hotel.

* What happens to software programs when their publishers go out of business?

Some customers cling on to them but in the end everyone switches over to something newer and worse.

* Would the record companies sell more music online if it weren’t copy-protected?

They’d sell more because it’d ‘work everywhere’. Which is to say that if they’d sell mp3’s then yes, and if they sold (hypothetical) mp7’s (which would only play on one line of hypothetical devices), then it’d lessen that effect considerably, until the other device manufacturers caught up.

* Do cellphones cause brain cancer?

In scientific studies only the people who believed it would be bad for them had (anywhere near significant) negative effects. Pretty much a negative placebo effect.

* What’s the real reason you have to turn off your laptop for take-off?

It ads confusion in an emergency and stewardesses are sadistic little creatures who want you to experience the displeasure of taking off in all its glory. Muhahahahaha.

* Why can’t a digital S.L.R. camera record video?

Because they’d have to reconjig’re it to do so which would cost time and money. Given that the people who are in the market for a digital S.L.R. camera wouldn’t be happy with a stuck-on-video mode if they really wanted video and that the rest of the people wouldn’t want video anyway, makes that they’d have a hard time earning their investment back.

* Wi-Fi on airplanes. What’s taking so long?

Airlines didn’t believe that Wi-Fi would be a major enough selling point to give them an edge in attracting customers up till now. I don’t think they were wrong, and I also imagine that 3G mobile tech (woo! internet!) on a plane would make many more people happier in the coming years.

* Who are the morons who respond to junk-mail offers, thereby keeping spammers in business?

Two groups: The nice naive people with time on their hands and the morons who watch and order from Tell-Sell.

* I’m told that they could make a shirt-pocket digital camera that takes pictures like an S.L.R., but it would cost a lot. So why don’t they make one for people who can afford it?

Because the people who can afford it can be flogged a digital S.L.R. AND a shirt-pocket digital camera at the moment.

* How come there are still no viruses for Mac OS X? If it has 6 percent of the market, shouldn’t it have 6 percent of the viruses?

Aside from the fact that we don’t know if 6 % is big enough for it to be profitable, it’s the same reason Apache has 50.48% of the web-server market (down from 70% a year or two ago) and still doesn’t get the most viruses or hackings. (Hint: It’s a Microsoft product that does!)

* Do shareware programmers pay taxes on all those $20 contributions?

Most would as either they’d be honest or it’d represent a sizeable chunk of income.

* How are we going to preserve all of our digital photos and videos for future generations?

On YouTube.

* Why are there no federal rebates or tax credits for solar power?

Because at this point there’s no tech on the market that’s efficient enough and/or you don’t live in Germany.

* Why do you have to take tape camcorders out of your carry-on at airport security, but not the tapeless kind? Couldn’t you hide a bomb equally well in either one? (Actually, I have about 500 more logic questions about the rules at airport security, but I have a feeling they’ll remain answerless for a very long time.)

Because That’s How the Rules Are.

* Laptops, cameras and cellphones have improved by a thousand percent in the last ten years. Why not their batteries?

There has been groundbreaking work with alternative methods (i.e. other than Lithium-Ion) like sugar and fuel-cells. From the mouth of an HP researcher: (paraphrased) “Lithium-Ion tech is at its end, we don’t believe it can be improved much more.”

* SmartDisplay, Spot Watch, U.M.P.C., Zune… when will Microsoft realize that it’s not a hardware company?

Not until it finds another high-margin wonder to complement (and replace) windows/office cash-flows.

* Why don’t public sinks have foot pedals?

They do in (our) trains. It’s most likely more expensive to install.

* Why don’t all hotels have check-in kiosks like airlines do?

In the high-end, there’s no way the level of expected service could be achieved and at the low-end it’s handy to have human eyes, ears and noses to sniff out potential trouble-makers.

* Five billion dollars a year spent on ringtones? What the?

I know. It’s like people want to show the world they have an individual taste. Who knew?

* How come cellphone signal-strength bars are so often wrong?

If you’re in a part of the world where it Just Works Everywhere, you stop looking at them.

* Do P.R. people really expect anyone to believe that the standard, stilted, second-paragraph C.E.O. quote was really uttered by a human being?

Do P.R. people know from their training that the standard, stilted, second-paragraph C.E.O. quote will have the desired effect?

* Why aren’t there recycling bins for bottles and cans where they’re most obviously needed, like food courts and cafeterias?

Because that’d mean that the food courts and cafeterias would have to deal with that recycling for you instead of just throwing everything in the dumpster.

* Why doesn’t someone start a cellphone company that bills you only for what you use? That model works O.K. for the electricity, gas and water companies —and people would beat a path to its door.

We have that. I can get a nice normal mobile (cell-phone) for 35 euro, without giving up any personal information, with 10-15 euros of phone-credit to start me off included, free voicemail and never-deprecating phone-credit.

Still, most people have a plan because it’s cheaper.

* Why doesn’t everyone have lights that turn off automatically when the room is empty?

In Korea you can turn the lights on and off with your mobile. WAY COOLER.

* What’s the deal with Palm?

They didn’t have a clue (anymore). People left, structures got reconjig’red and stuff just kept trudging along. There are new people at the top now, who might actually know what they’re doing, so don’t give up hope!

* Why are so many people rude on the Internet?

I present you with John Gabriel’s Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory, as recorded by Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik.

Phew, that’s a lot of questions answered. Hope that satisfies you Pogue! If you think you have better ones, or are simply deeply awed by my insights, don’t forget to speak up!