The PhoneBoy Blog


Simplifying Telecom, Mobile Phones, Gadgets, and More!

PhoneBoy Speaks Ep 708: WiFi at 35,000 Feet

WiFi on airplanes could be a lot better. Uncle Walt interviews a dude from United and a dude from Gogo about this.

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PhoneBoy Speaks Ep 707: Informed Satire

Anyone who has watched The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, or Last Week Tonight knows those shows are a heck of a lot more informative than the so-called "real news" programs.

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PhoneBoy Speaks Ep 706: The Nokia Tune

Chances are you've heard the infamous ringtone from a Nokia mobile phone. For some time, I've had a page where you can download the Nokia Tune, but the former Nokia design team now part of Microsoft has released, on SoundCloud, the history of the Nokia Tune where you can hear all the variants of that classic Nokia ringtone.

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PhoneBoy Speaks Ep 705: WhatsCrypt

WhatsApp is adding end-to-end encryption to all messages sent through the service. However, it is being rolled out in phases, first to person-to-person chats using the latest version of their Android app.

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PhoneBoy Speaks Ep 704: Let's Encrypt

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, along with some organizations, are launching a free certificate authority service called Let's Encrypt. While the goal of bringing HTTPS to more websites is laudible, I don't think it will move the needle much.

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PhoneBoy Speaks Ep 703: Fly The Unfriendly Skies

Aside from a podcast where I talk about United Airlines declining service, I've also written a rather lengthy blog post, which is included bow the audio player.

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I've been flying United Airlines for three decades now. When I was a kid it was to fly between San Francisco and Kona. Now it's for business travel, which has taken me all over the globe. In all that time I've only managed Premier Gold twice--including this year--but at around 400k lifetime miles, I've given United (and Continental) quite a bit of business.

Over the years, I've noticed all US airlines--not just United--offer lower and lower levels of service. This includes removing meal service from transcontinental flights, eliminating routes, cramming more people into fewer planes (and adding "Economy Plus" seats), charging for checking bags (leading to more people carrying on too much stuff), and countless other ways of nickel and dining customers. And let's not forget the fun that TSA adds to air travel these days.

Airline status, which you get for flying lots of miles on a particular airline, used to give you something of value. It still does but the value of that status, especially at the lower levels, has decreased steadily. You have to get to a Gold level status to get anything approaching appreciation for your business. With Silver, you might not get bumped from a flight if it's full.

To add insult to injury, United is now making even those meager levels of status even harder to get by introducing an evil concept called Premier Qualifying Dollars (PQD). That means your status on United is not merely a function of the number of miles you fly on United (including on Star Alliance airlines) but a function of how much money you give United in a calendar year.

The problem is: not everything you might give United money for is even included in that Premier Qualifying Dollars. You only get credit for:

  • Flight segments on United (only base fare and carrier imposed surcharges, taxes not included)
  • Flights flown on Star Alliance partners if and only if United issues the ticket (only base fare and carrier imposed surcharges, taxes not included)
  • Paid upgrades to Economy Plus seats, which I had to ask United to credit me on at least once this year.

The following items are not included in PQD:

  • Flights on Star Alliance partners where United did not issue the ticket.
  • Luggage fees
  • Paying for extra mileage (either accelerators or $X for Y miles)
  • Onboard purchases like meals, drinks, and WiFi
  • Any other reason you might give United money (Including United Club purchases)

The end result is that you now have to fly even more to get the same status level. For example, as I write this, I have flown more than 80,000 miles on United and Star Alliance partners this year, and didn't even get credit for a couple of flights in Austrian Airlines. And yet, due to PQD, I just barely made Gold in time for a trip to South Africa where I flew 20,000+ miles, most of which was South African Airways (another Star Alliance partner). I will only see a fraction of what was spent on that ticket in terms of PQD.

For 2016, it's even worse. You'll need to spend $6,000 in PQD on United in 2015 to get Gold status. Which means I'll have to endure even more of United's declining service to achieve the same status I earned this year.

I won't even get into the whole "level of status and amount paid for a ticket determines number of miles you get for credit" thing United is planning for 2015, which means I'll likely earn even less miles as a result of flying.

Personally I think the whole PQD thing is dumb and is insulting to customers who actually do give United and Star Alliance partners their custom. At the very least, PQD should include any money given to United for any reason. This includes ticket change fees, Economy Club purchases, baggage fees, onboard purchases, and more. That way, at least, it accurately captures what you spend with United, which is the whole point of PQD, right?

While I'm hopeful someone in United will read this and either eliminate PQD or make their PQD policies more "Flier Friendly," I fear United's advertising slogan is little more than just that--a slogan.

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PhoneBoy Speaks Ep 702: Unsticking iMessage

If you've ever switched away from an iPhone, even briefly, you've probably run into an issue where people with an iPhone can't text you because it will automatically use iMessage, which isn't available on other platforms. This causes texts to never arrive to your phone. Apple finally has a tool to remove your mobile number from iMessage so you can get text messages again.

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PhoneBoy Speaks Ep 701: Not About Neutrality

This whole net neutrality debate in the US got another log thrown on the fire when President Obama told the FCC they should classify Internet Service Providers under Title II--including the mobile phone providers, who are almost unanimously against it . Meanwhile, it ignores the real problem, which the CEO of Sonic.Net elegantly points out is a complete lack of competition in the industry.

Only orthogonally related to the above, I also mention how South African mobile phone providers are giving away free data for over-the-top services to differentiate and hopefully encourage more smartphone use, which only have a 20% penetration among Africans as a whole. Of course, given the cost of most smartphones compared to what most people in Africa make, this is not a surprise.

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PhoneBoy Speaks Ep 700: Episode 700

Yup, I've recorded 700 episodes and mention a couple of podcasts that have gotten more than a few listens. That said, several of the ringtones I have on my No Agenda Ringtones page have received more downloads.

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Donations of audio processing time from Auphonic are welcome!

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PhoneBoy Speaks Ep 699: Alcohol Currency

Alcohol seems to be ever present at some work-related gatherings. It discourages those who don't drink from participating and encourages drinking from those who do. Maybe all of us could demand some non-alcoholic options at these events?

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Donations of audio processing time from Auphonic are welcome!

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Long ago, when I didn't work for Check Point Software, this site used to be a well-visited FAQ site on the Check Point firewall products. Nowadays, I sit in my virtual office and write about what I'm interested in, which includes: computers, telecom, VoIP Service, mobile phones, and many other forms of shiny gadgets.

Some other projects I'm doing include: PhoneBoy's Security Theater, where I discuss computer and network security-related topics, and PhoneBoy Speaks, a daily podcast where I discuss whatever technology and security issues are on my mind.