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.....technobabble .....for the week of December 25, 2000

.....technobabble.....whom do they think they are kidding? By "they", here, I mean the enormous companies that keep merging to former even larger companies. Every couple of months a new merger occurs, and each time, the principals involved tell everyone how great this is going to be for all concerned. The latest is the merger between AOL and Time-Warner, which the Federal Trade Comission just approved. The FTC had concerns about the merger, and so they implemented certain "safeguards" to prevent anti-competitive behavior on the part of the new monolith. As someone who generally supports free markets and frowns upon government intervention, I find myself in the perhaps strange position of being very happy for the existence of the Federal Trade Commission. I am increasingly of the opinion that without the FTC, all the big players in virtually every industry would just keep merging until consumers had absolutely no choices about anything whatsoever.....

.....but there's a bigger question here. The companies themselves call the merger "a win for consumers". Come on. Even if the FTC does ensure that this new conglomerate won't lock out other content providers or behave in a poor manner in other ways, does anyone really think that having companies merging and acquiring each other is good for the consumer? A look at the banking industry is certainly illustrative. My former home state of Massachusetts has seen a series of big-fish-swallowing-little-fish mergers on the part of the few largish banking companies that were once there many years ago. First Shawmut Bank was purchased by Fleet Bank. Then Bank of Boston merged with BayBank to form BankBoston, which was the only large bank in competition to the Fleet-Shawmut combination. Then a few years later, these two merged banks themselves merged, leaving only one large bank in Massachusetts: the new Fleet Bank. Each time a merger occurred, the executives lauded the move as the greatest thing since sliced bread. And each time the results were the same: layoffs, eroded customer service, and more bureaucracy and inflexibility. After the Fleet-BankBoston merger the numbers of unhappy (former) customers were truly astounding. Now, there are still smaller banks, and I'm not suggesting we necessarily need laws to prevent these mergers. But is this what we have to look forward to in the area of Internet access, cable, and other media? I certainly hope not. At any rate, my point was more that I find it insulting to my intelligence that the companies suggest that these moves are made for any reason other than enriching the executives and the lawyers.....

.....along the same lines, I read this past week that graphics accelerator maker 3Dfx is selling off some of its assets to former rival Nvidia and shutting down. This leaves one fewer competitor in the dynamic video card industry. At least nobody tried to tell us this would be "good for the consumer".....

.....and while we're on the subject of the consumer, thanks to Ars Technica for mentioning this CNet article on stealth toll calls. In a nutshell, there are North American area codes that look like regular long distance calls, which can result in your bill being charged outrageous amounts of money without your knowledge. Even though this looks like one of those old urban legends, it actually isn't, so I recommend reading that article and being careful about dialing numbers you aren't familiar with. Again here, I must complain: why on earth was this situation ever allowed to exist in the first place? Why don't the phone companies do something to fix it? Why should small Caribbean nations have North American area codes for their phones if they aren't going to implement basic measures to protect people from being defrauded?

.....I've received a great deal of excellent feedback on the site from the Reader Survey that I am currently conducting; if you haven't taken it yet, check it out. Since the survey is anonymous, I can't reply to comments directly, but decided that I would address popular comments here. The first one is related to the search engine. The site's search engine is one built into Microsoft FrontPage's server extensions, which I use to implement the site. It's pretty lame, I must admit, and I am looking into a replacement. Second, some people have addressed comments to the appearance of the site. This has been a difficult one to tackle for some time; many people like the simple and fast approach that I have taken with the site, and others think a bit more style is in order. Style has never been one of my strengths. :^) Also, the less energy I devote to such matters, the more I can devote to content.....

.....I mentioned last week that the PC industry isn't in the best of shape, and that's true. However, this can be great for you, the PC technology buyer. Memory prices are once again on the decline, so now is a good time to consider an upgrade if you don't have a lot of system memory.....

.....generally speaking, I am not a big Microsoft basher. I use their products extensively, because they generally work for me quite well. Still, they sometimes do things that annoy me--even if they are little things. Take for example Windows Millennium Edition, which I call Windows ME, like any standard abbreviation. Microsoft insists on refering to this product as "Windows Me". Wow, "Me"="me", isn't that clever? Well, forget it guys, I'm not going for it. You may be the most powerful software company in the world, but you still don't have enough influence to make "Windows" into a verb.....

.....well, that's a wrap for this week. Did this column suck? Rule? Practically define "bogosity"? Give me your feedback, please!

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