Friday, July 31, 2009

Take back the goddamn beep

From the NYTimes (hat tip to one of my favoritest people, J.K.) David Pogue wants to start a movement:

Over the past week, in The New York Times and on my blog, I’ve been ranting about one particularly blatant money-grab by American cellphone carriers: the mandatory 15-second voicemail instructions.

Suppose you call my cell to leave me a message. First you hear my own voice: “Hi, it’s David Pogue. Leave a message, and I’ll get back to you”–and THEN you hear a 15-second canned carrier message.

* Sprint: “[Phone number] is not available right now. Please leave a detailed message after the tone. When you have finished recording, you may hang up, or press pound for more options.”

* Verizon: “At the tone, please record your message. When you have finished recording, you may hang up, or press 1 for more options. To leave a callback number, press 5. (Beep)”

* AT&T: “To page this person, press five now. At the tone, please record your message. When you are finished, you may hang up, or press one for more options.”

* T-Mobile: “Record your message after the tone. To send a numeric page, press five. When you are finished recording, hang up, or for delivery options, press pound.”

(You hear a similar message when you call in to hear your own messages. “You. Have. 15. Messages. To listen to your messages, press 1.” WHY ELSE WOULD I BE CALLING?)

I, the voicemailbox owner, cannot turn off this additional greeting message. You, the caller, can bypass it, but only if you know the secret keypress–and it’s different for each carrier. So you’d have to know which cellphone carrier I use, and that of every person you’ll ever call; in other words, this trick is no solution.

[UPDATE: Apple iPhone owners don't hear these instructions--Apple insisted that AT&T remove them. And Sprint already DOES let you turn off the instructions message, although it's a buried, multi-step procedure, which you can read in the comments below.]

These messages are outrageous for two reasons. First, they waste your time. Good heavens: it’s 2009. WE KNOW WHAT TO DO AT THE BEEP.

Do we really need to be told to hang up when we’re finished!? Would anyone, ever, want to “send a numeric page?” Who still carries a pager, for heaven’s sake? Or what about “leave a callback number?” We can SEE the callback number right on our phones!

Second, we’re PAYING for these messages. These little 15-second waits add up–bigtime. If Verizon’s 70 million customers leave or check messages twice a weekday, Verizon rakes in about $620 million a year. That’s your money. And your time: three hours of your time a year, just sitting there listening to the same message over and over again every year.

In 2007, I spoke at an international cellular conference in Italy. The big buzzword was ARPU–Average Revenue Per User. The seminars all had titles like, “Maximizing ARPU In a Digital Age.” And yes, several attendees (cell executives) admitted to me, point-blank, that the voicemail instructions exist primarily to make you use up airtime, thereby maximizing ARPU.

Right now, the carriers continue to enjoy their billion-dollar scam only because we’re not organized enough to do anything about it. But it doesn’t have to be this way. You don’t have to sit there, waiting to leave your message, listening to a speech recorded by a third-grade teacher on Ambien.

Let’s push back, and hard. We want those time-wasting, money-leaking messages eliminated, or at least made optional.

I asked my Twitter followers for help coming up with a war cry, a slogan, to identify this campaign. They came up with some good ones:

“Where’s the Beep?”

“Let it Beep”

“We Know. Let’s Go.”

“Lose the Wait”

“My Voicemail, My Recording”

“Hell, no, we won’t hold!”

My favorite, though, is the one that sounds like a call to action: “Take Back the Beep.”

And here’s how we’re going to do it.

We’re going to descend, en masse, on our carriers. Send them a complaint, politely but firmly. Together, we’ll send them a LOT of complaints.

If enough of us make our unhappiness known, I’ll bet they’ll change.

I’ve told each of the four major carriers that they’ll be hearing from us. They’ve told us where to send the messages:

* Verizon: Post a complaint here.

* AT&T: Send e-mail to

* Sprint: Post a complaint here.

* T-Mobile: Post a complaint here.

Three of the four carriers are just directing us to their general Web forums. Smells like a cop-out, I know.

Yet all four carriers promise that they’ll read and consider our posts. And we have two things going for us.

First, I have a feeling that the volume of complaints will be too big for them to ignore. To that end, I hope you’ll pass these instructions along, blog them, Twitter them, and spread the word. (Gizmodo, Engadget, Consumerist, and others have agreed to help out.) And I hope you’ll take the time to complain yourself. Do it now, before you forget.

Second, we’ll all be watching. I’ll be reporting on the carriers’ responses. If they ignore us, we’ll shame them. If they respond, we’ll celebrate them.

Either way, it’s time to rise up. It’s time for this crass, time-wasting money-grab to end for good.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Makes me mad

Seriously, reading stories like this drives me batshit crazy.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


"Don't ____ me, bro!"

Well, it only took two years or so.

Monday, July 20, 2009

This conspicuous absence of Dinosaur Comics must end now

Yep, I still love 'em.

I hope you enjoyed that, you guys!!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The summer of "broad, general, inclusive fitness"

To refresh your memories: when I first got back in the gym and started doing CrossFit, I felt like this. I don't feel like that anymore. I'm no longer scared, and I'm hooked.

Since May 25--my first workout day in DC--I've been tracking my workouts in Excel. Maybe a little creepy, sure, but also very revealing. The verdict: this stuff works.

The whole idea behind CrossFit is, basically, to keep your body guessing. The workouts are varied in every way: what you do, what order you do it in, at what weight, how many times, how fast. In the 55 days recorded in my spreadsheet, I've repeated the same workout exactly once. I've become comfortable with almost all of the olympic and power lifts (except these two, which I've never done). My gymnastics movements are progressing, though the pull-up still eludes me and I stick to girl-style push-ups when I have to do more than 10 at a time. I did my first double-unders. More importantly, I'm comfortable in the big boy part of the gym--the part where all the heavy things are and people grunt and there isn't a bicep curl machine in sight.

I have muscles! My legs and arms look different. Especially my calves--and perpetually small calves run in my family. I've managed to avoid hurting myself--which actually isn't hard when you practice good technique.

And the numbers just get better. That one workout I repeated? My performance improved by almost 50%! I can lift 110 lbs off the ground, I can lift 80 lbs to my shoulders and at least 70 lbs over my head. I can squat (and get up again) with 90 lbs on my back. Very soon these numbers will all be in triple digits.

You might be thinking to yourself, "who cares?" To you skeptics I say, number 1: it makes my life easier. I can lift carry-on suitcases into the bin over my head. I can walk home from the store with a gallon of milk and a gallon of juice at the same time. I can open bottles. I can run away from muggers faster. If you collapse on the floor, it's easier for me to drag your unconscious body to safety.

But above all, I actually like it. It's the only workout program I've been able to do for this long without getting bored. It keeps me interested and engaged. I like the lifts especially, and the technique involved in them, and how being efficient and using lots of muscles at the same time in particular ways can make you so much more powerful. It's really nice to see measurable improvement, to feel like the workouts are doing their jobs.

I've seen a difference not just physically, but also mentally. I push harder. I go faster. I do more. Not necessarily because I'm stronger--though I am--but because I have more confidence that, even though my mind is ready to quit, my body isn't. I can run each 400m faster than the last. I can push out another rep. I can do the workout of the day even though I'm sore from yesterday. And I hope, eventually, the mental difference I see in my workouts will translate past CrossFit to other parts of my life: I can read one more case even though I'm tired; I can write this paper today even though I feel blocked; I will pay attention in this class even though I'm bored.

People can get fit and stay fit using lots of things besides CrossFit. If you find something that works for you, that's great.* This works for me. I don't think I'll be competing in the 2010 games or anything, but I'm going to keep at it for now. And I promise, when I get that first pull-up, you'll be the first to know.

*Though please, for the love of God, don't bother putting in 45 minutes on the elliptical machine if you're going to read Us Weekly the whole time. If you can concentrate on Jon & Kate Plus 8, you're not exercising; honestly, you're probably not doing anything more strenuous than pooping.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Disagreeing with the Ethicist

I don't always agree 100% with Randy Cohen, the Ethicist columnist in the NYT. (He's no Dan Savage, after all.) Today's advice, however, was especially irksome.

"Name Withheld" drives along a pothole-filled 2-lane road everyday, and sometimes is followed by one particular tailgating douchebag driver. One day, NW waits until the last minute to swerve around one particularly big pothole; the tailgater behind him hits the pothole and gets a big enough jolt that he pulls over to check on his car. Okay behavior?

Randy says no.

I say yes. Enthusiastically, overwhelmingly, yes.

Randy says NW's "pedagogical purpose" isn't sufficient justification for intending to damage someone else's car. But there's so much wrong with that statement. First of all, the other driver's tailgating risks damage to NW's car all the time: if NW were to brake suddenly, the tailgater might well slam into his back bumper. Also, NW didn't intend to damage the other dude's car [or, anyway, nothing suggests that]. He simply stopped subsidizing the behavior of the free rider behind him by refusing to permit the tailgater to substitute someone else's judgment for his own. Such are the risks of tailgating, and the other driver can't complain when the risks of his behavior are realized. Plus, tailgating is really fucking annoying, especially on hazardous streets, and any non-violent efforts to get people to just stop already have lots of value.

Does anyone out there want to take a stab at defending the other side?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Holy health insurance, Batman!

Miracle of miracles: we have a health care reform bill.

The House bill's text here (all 1000+ pages of it).

Section-by-section summary here (shorter but not entirely helpful).

Slate's Timothy Noah approves, as does CAP's Matt Yglesias.

I haven't read it so I'll reserve my comments for later. Starting this Friday I'll have a good two months off, so it's not like I don't have time to read the damn thing.

As for what it actually looks like in the end...

Why is Frank Ricci in the room?

He has no place in Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation hearing. Get him out of there!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Who says Niagara Falls is boring?

Not when you look at it like this. (From The Daily Dish.)

Shawty, same doubt!

Late, as usual. Thanks to Navs for the many minutes of hilarity this has given me tonight.

Monday, July 13, 2009


I just noticed that the last three posts were derived from the New York Times. Sorry 'bout the lack of variety, folks. I'll try to spice it up in the future. I'm really not a stooge of the liberal elite media, I swear.

Though I'll admit to being a judgmental asshole every now and then.

Exhibit A: my not-so-secret love of The Anti-Real World DC.

Random bit of happiness

A couple days old, but this essay [and the neat little drawings that go with it] are worth a few minutes of your time.

Saturday, July 11, 2009


I think I'm starting to get weepy in my old age. This article didn't help matters much.

"A female humpback was spotted in December 2005 east of the Farallon Islands, just off the coast of San Francisco. She was entangled in a web of crab-trap lines, hundreds of yards of nylon rope that had become wrapped around her mouth, torso and tail, the weight of the traps causing her to struggle to stay afloat. A rescue team arrived within a few hours and decided that the only way to save her was to dive in and cut her loose. For an hour they cut at the lines and rope with curved knives, all the while trying to steer clear of a tail they knew could kill them with one swipe. When the whale was finally freed, the divers said, she swam around them for a time in what appeared to be joyous circles. She then came back and visited with each one of them, nudging them all gently, as if in thanks. The divers said it was the most beautiful experience they ever had. As for the diver who cut free the rope that was entangled in the whale’s mouth, her huge eye was following him the entire time, and he said that he will never be the same."

Thursday, July 9, 2009

A woman on the Court

From this upcoming weekend's NYT Magazine.

"I think back to the days when — I don’t know who it was — when I think Truman suggested the possibility of a woman as a justice. Someone said we have these conferences and men are talking to men and sometimes we loosen our ties, sometimes even take off our shoes. The notion was that they would be inhibited from doing that if women were around. I don’t know how many times I’ve kicked off my shoes. Including the time some reporter said something like, it took me a long time to get up from the bench. They worried, was I frail? To be truthful I had kicked off my shoes, and I couldn’t find my right shoe; it traveled way underneath."

Monday, July 6, 2009


Yeah, I don't have too much to say. I'm surprised I didn't bust an artery what with all the hair-pulling tension I was feeling during that final match. I'm proud of our boy Andy Roddick, though his win over Murray did lose me my ice-cream bet. Oh well. This all should make the U.S. Open quite interesting. Maybe tickets to Flushing Meadows are in order? Can't wait!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Andy Roddick

He's playing really well at Wimbledon this year (though I've got an ice cream cone riding on his losing to Andy Murray in tomorrow's semifinal). But Andy Roddick is at his very bestest after the match, in the interview room. Here, from the NYT, he talks about the pain of becoming a second-tier player:

“When you’ve seen the Rolling Stones from the front row, and then all of a sudden you’re like, you know, seven or eight rows back and there’s a really tall guy in front of you waving his hands and screaming, you can’t see much,” Roddick said then. “It’s not going to be as good as the other shows.”

So what row is he in now?

“Getting closer,” Roddick said. “I can see what Mick Jagger is wearing now.”