Morning Cup O' Joe

Time you enjoy wasting isn't wasted time.

Personal Assistance Outsourced

I was complaining to a friend today about how I really didn’t want to deal with doing all the necessary research for the home improvements my wife and I are making. “Wouldn’t it be great if I could just pay someone to make all the phone calls and get the best estimates for all of this?”

Apparently you can now, and for cheap.

My own company invests heavily in outsourced contractors for software projects and customer support call centers, so my biased experience revolves around large scale operations. The concept of outsourcing a personal “virtual assistant” is foreign to me (no irony intended). A writer for the LA Times tested out a virtual assistance service. Her results were surprising to me. Here’s an excerpt from the article:

Once home, I did a little poking around on the Internet and, to my surprise, found dozens of options — a full-time assistant for $1,000 a week (yeah, right), a la carte services at $25 to $50 an hour and something called a virtual assistant starting at $29 a month.

Naturally, I started with the cheap one, a new outfit called Sunday ( http://www.asksunday.com). For $29 a month, the assistants at Sunday would do 30 tasks for me.

The rules were simple: Each task could take no more than 30 minutes, and each had to be something that could be accomplished, ahem, at a distance: These assistants, I learned later, are mostly in India.

Sitting on my couch at 1 a.m., I dashed off a flurry of requests via e-mail:

  • Contact all my frequent-flier airlines and inform them that I had recently changed my last name and wanted my accounts updated.
  • Schedule a teeth cleaning for sometime in the next few weeks, any time before 9 a.m.
  • Make an appointment for a haircut.
  • Find out how much an airline ticket to Las Vegas would cost on Labor Day weekend.

Within 30 minutes, there was an e-mail in my in box saying that my requests were being processed. By noon the next day, the folks at Sunday had sent a list of flight options, a confirmed dental appointment and a date for my haircut.
There was a snag on the frequent-flier accounts: The assistant found out that only I could change the name. But thoughtfully he had prepared a list of what each of seven airlines required in the way of documentation and where to send my requests.

Wow, three and a half things knocked off my list before noon. And it had cost me only $4!

Would any of you consider using a service like this?

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October 1, 2007 Posted by | News, Oddities | 2 Comments

Cell Phones as Wallets

Will cell phones replace plastic cards as the new medium for electronic funds transference? Apparently this is old hat in Japan and Korea where cellphones have special microchips that are used in RFID-like transactions to purchase goods.

What’s interesting is that in the Philippines, these transactions are being done via SMS (text messaging).

The system is particularly useful for the 8 million Filipinos — 10 percent of the country’s citizens — who work overseas and send money home, like Dennis’ mother, Anna Tiangco. Previously, she sent money via a bank wire transfer, which costs $2.50 and takes two days to clear. The cell phone method costs only 13 cents and is nearly instantaneous.

“The good thing here is, wherever my children are, they can text me and I can send money immediately,” she said in a telephone interview.

Tapping into the cash flow from overseas Filipinos — who sent home $12.7 billion last year — Globe and Smart forged partnerships with foreign mobile providers and banks, as well as with local banks and merchants, to create a network that allows users to send and receive cash internationally.

When Anna Tiangco wants to send cash home, for example, she goes to a branch of her local provider, Hong Kong CSL Ltd., where a clerk credits her cell phone with the amount she has brought with her. She then transfers the money to family members via text messages — in essence instructing her providers to deduct money from her balance to the recipients she indicates.

What if your phone is stolen? Apparently this situation is covered.

If a cell phone loaded with cash values is lost or stolen, the money can’t be tapped as long as the personal identification number isn’t revealed. Control over the funds can be restored with a replacement SIM, or Subscriber Identity Module, card from either mobile provider.

Here’s the article I took quotes from. Has anyone heard about this technology or made use of it?

October 1, 2007 Posted by | News, Science and Technology | Comments Off on Cell Phones as Wallets

Effect vs. Trick

I just received this video from Joe. Joe’s friend, Rich Ferguson, is a very talented magician/entertainer. He lives in the area so he joins us for group lunch every once in awhile. Nice guy.

In the above video, Rich explains the difference between an effect and a trick. Enjoy!

October 1, 2007 Posted by | How-To, Video | 3 Comments

Is Apple’s iPhone Firmware Lockdown a Smart Move?

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The recent iPhone v1.1.1 firmware update made a lot of iPhone hackers very unhappy. I personally believe that having an open and extensible platform that I can develop software applications for makes for huge incentive to purchase an iPhone. Granted, it’s already a cool piece of hardware, but knowing that there are a bunch of geeks out there like me who enjoy making the most of their toys, the benefit of a development community and a huge software base is unquestionably a win.

Look at all the Windows Mobile software running around. Did that hurt Windows Mobile device sales?

October 1, 2007 Posted by | Geeks and Gadgetry, Rants, Software | 3 Comments

Virtualization du Jour?

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With the progression in virtualization software, the hardware platform wars become increasingly out-dated. You’ve gotta wonder what will happen to Apple’s premium hardware prices if they decide to release Mac OS X as a stand-alone operating system. It’s already Intel-based, and it’s really a glorified Unix distro. I imagine that if given a choice, some power users would buy a similarly equipped Dell and install OS X. The premium for Apple hardware would come down, and Microsoft would start to really feel some competition.

October 1, 2007 Posted by | Linux, Mac, Software, Windows | Comments Off on Virtualization du Jour?