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Electronic Design

What's All This Penny Stuff, Anyhow?

A friend wrote to me to complain about a new proposal to lock out individual Internet users. It seems like the issue is costs versus access. Big companies would be able to send and receive e-mails faster and cheaper than individuals. If this plan comes closer to reality, I will complain more vigorously.

"I don't usually write to congressmen, but I do when it's important. Right now, I'm not sure this is important. Not yet," I replied to my friend.

"I would not mind paying a penny for every e-mail I send. I would even pay, reimburse, my company, NSC, a penny for every personal message I send," I continued. "In the last two months, I have sent over 1000 e-mails, and let's say half are personal. Would I change my e-mail habits if I had to pay $2.50 per month? Heck, no. I spend more than that on stamps."

I wouldn't even mind paying a penny for every search I do. I mean, every search I make takes away several seconds of my life as I wait for the results. So I don't search for things lightly.

By the way, I did find some things in a recent search that weren't there a year ago. I usually use, but I must admit, did find the lyrics to Shango's "Day After Day (It's Slippin' Away)" when Dogpile did not. "What can we do with a bushel of wet gold?" the group sang in 1969, when the song hit #57 on the national charts.

I would be delighted if all the spammers had to pay a penny per message. That might cut them back a lot. I'd vote for that. I won't approve of any volume discounts for them. And, a penny per megabyte per addressee would seem fair. Why would we protect the pigs who clutter up the airwaves? (Or, okay, wires.)

You're familiar with the idea that some people wouldn't stoop to pick up a penny. But picking up pennies, one per second, even if I had to stoop separately for each one, could pay me $36 per hour—and that's not bad wages. Furthermore, these are pennies with no tax, so each one would be worth 1.7 cents or so. So, pennies aren't trivial.

Nor is my time trivial. I could save a few pennies per day if I drive slower, but that would waste a few minutes a day. I am holding at 65 mph as a reasonable compromise. I used to drive at 68 mph, and I will again if gas gets below $2.99. But I am jealous of my time.

As for computing access, I think this proposal is dumb. Somebody will squash it, sooner or later. I already have highspeed access when I'm at work. My company pays for it. When I'm at home, I have a mediocre slow modem, but that's okay with me. Most people who aren't willing to pay for a lot of fast access get slow, cheap access. That's okay with me too. I can't see a big deal about what you pay and what you can get. I don't think that's a real problem.

I just used my left thumb on the space bar— which is contrary to good typing practice. But when your right hand is doing several other tasks, backspace and end, it may be okay.

Did you see in my column that many computer guys make @ by hitting the shift key with their left little finger and reaching over to the 2 key with their right index finger (ELECTRONIC DESIGN, Aug. 4, 2005, p. 20)? I must say, I do. I can do it the other way, but it is a forced deal.

Hey, do you know what's funny? My stupid computer has locked up (for 45 seconds) about once every 20 minutes for the last week. And I just noticed that it has stopped doing that. That sure is fine with me. I have tried a dozen tricks. I also have asked several computer experts to help. They tried, but it did no good. Now, it seems to have gotten better at a random time, and for no good reason. (Merde.)

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