David Pogue has been keeping a list  OCT 18 2007

David Pogue has been keeping a list of questions that he doesn't have answers for; some of them are pretty interesting.

* Why is Wi-Fi free at cheap hotels, but $14 a night at expensive ones?
* Do P.R. people really expect anyone to believe that the standard, stilted, second-paragraph C.E.O. quote was really uttered by a human being?
* Why doesn't someone start a cellphone company that bills you only for what you use? That model works O.K. for the electricity, gas and water companies -- and people would beat a path to its door.
* Why doesn't everyone have lights that turn off automatically when the room is empty?

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There are 29 reader comments

max37 18 2007 5:37PM

Some are easy:

1) The cheap hotels need to attract certain business people. For those on the low end, the cheapest hotel is chosen and the one with free wi-fi will probably win since they need to work. Expensive hotel patrons can expense or not worry about the charge.

2) Its their job to smile while lying.

3) It can be annoying. If you're quietly reading, the sensor will turn off the light. If you're soaking in the tub, the light will go out. Its not an easy solution, so its not implemented.

Rory47 18 2007 5:47PM

What do cellphone companies charge in the USA? In Ireland and, to my knowledge, in the rest of Europe most companies bill based on usage.

Marc Hedlund50 18 2007 5:50PM

The hotel Wi-Fi question is answered in one of the most totally awesome economics papers I've ever read. I wrote about it here. (It's worth it, believe me, even if you hate econ.)

crazymonk53 18 2007 5:53PM

1) The same reason cheap hotels have HBO more often than expensive ones.

2) No, but they expect the media to treat the quote as such.

3) Contracts make more money -- the same applies to gym memberships. The price of utilities is much more regulated by the government.

4) How soon would it turn off? Would the lights in my kitchen turn off everytime I went to the living room to check the baseball score? Does that mean it would turn on when I went back in? And if so, would it turn on when my pets scampered around? I.e., because it's a harder usability problem than you think.

Matt03 18 2007 6:03PM

Pay-as-you-go cellphone plans are popular here in the UK; you pre-pay a certain amount and you just get charged what you use. The rates are quite high but it's ideal if you don't dial out that much and mainly receive incoming calls. This is one reason I think the iPhone isn't going to be quite as successful here as it has been in the States; people either use pay-as-you-go, or are on a contract with a free (but quite functional) phone.

KP11 18 2007 6:11PM

It would cost more money to implement a motion detector for every room. Plus, what if I'm watching tv, motionless? Pets scurrying around the house causing all the lights to flicker on and off throughout the night? What about the daytime? Would the detector turn off in the presence of light or a timer? How much would that cost? Lot easier to walk by and flick a wrist on the wall. Plus, newer light bulbs are very cheap and leaving the lights on occasionally is not a big deal.

Jack14 18 2007 6:14PM

As Matt says, Pay as you go cell phone plans are great here in the UK. 0-5p/min if the other party is on the same network, and free for incoming. Oh, and no need to give any ID whatsoever to get a phone or SIM or credit. Try THAT in the US!

Aaron Suggs20 18 2007 6:20PM

3) Such plans arguably exist as pre-paid cell phones. Note that pay-per-use aren't always what people prefer. Consumer ISPs and long distance phone service moved from pay-per-use to flat-rate plans.

gary Ryan50 18 2007 6:50PM

Why is Wi-Fi free at cheap hotels, but $14 a night at expensive ones?

You're confusing interesting with stupid. Come on, this is simple economics.

Lisa54 18 2007 6:54PM

Pay per use cell phones already exists in the US. I have one.

Beerzie06 18 2007 7:06PM

Why can't I order TeeVee stations through my cable provider a la carte, so that I just subscribe to the channels I want and nothing else?

Ryan27 18 2007 8:27PM

I just got back from 438 days of traveling around the world, and the United States has the worst cell phone systems I've ever seen. In most countries, you just pop in a sim card into your phone and you are up and running in seconds – no contracts or hassles. In the US, if you cancel your required 2-year contract, they steal your first born child.

Robin39 18 2007 9:39PM

The free wifi one is a very, very good question. Also, for the pay-as-you-go cell phone plan, I know for certain T-Mobile has something very much like that -- you add credit to your account, then you use that up at your convenience.

bryce18 19 200712:18AM

Don't you guys have prepaid mobile over there? I thought virgin did it.

Gobo29 19 200712:29AM

Some of his other questions are less than thoughtful and make Mr Pogue sound a bit like Andy Rooney:

"Why can’t a digital S.L.R. camera record video?"
It's a limitation of the sensor. The power consumption is simply too great.

"Wi-Fi on airplanes. What’s taking so long?"
Since several major airlines (Virgin, Lufthansa, Alaska Air, United, Korean) offer high-speed wi-fi in flight, I guess he didn't look into this too hard.

"Why don’t all hotels have check-in kiosks like airlines do?"
Because being greeted by a touchscreen kiosk in an otherwise empty lobby of a Motel 6 at midnight would be extraordinarily creepy.

"How are we going to preserve all of our digital photos and videos for future generations?"
That's not much of an 'imponderable', honestly. Perhaps in a hundred years or so it'll become impossible to read JPEGs off of a CD-ROM, but for the foreseeable future, I think your snapshots are safe.

"I’m told that they could make a shirt-pocket digital camera that takes pictures like an S.L.R., but it would cost a lot."
Sorry, Pogue, that's not true.


nick s24 19 2007 1:24AM

Because being greeted by a touchscreen kiosk in an otherwise empty lobby of a Motel 6 at midnight would be extraordinarily creepy.

Formule 1 does it, because it's offering a bed and that's about it. (Why there aren't capsule hotels at airports is a different question.) As for why PAYG isn't really PAYG in the US: the incoming call charge (which is structural) and the expiring credit balance.

Oyvind25 19 2007 2:25AM

Pay per use cell phones is everywhere in Europe.

Dino33 19 2007 2:33AM

My mobile company (bibob.dk) is charging me only for the usage (1 sec = appx. 0.002 US cent).
In my building lights are movement sensitive and go out after appx. 2-3 minutes without movement.

Belgand36 19 2007 3:36AM

"What’s the real reason you have to turn off your laptop for takeoff?"

Mythbusters covered this on an episode. Basically they're just really, really afraid that electronics might have minor problems with flight electronics and so they're just being cautious (IIRC). Take-off and landing are the two most demanding parts of the flight so they restrict them during those times.

"Why aren’t there recycling bins for bottles and cans where they’re most obviously needed, like food courts and cafeterias?"

Because most of us don't care. It bothers my girlfriend, but I don't even notice. I frankly find it interesting that a large number of public trash cans here in San Francisco have separate areas on top for recyclables. I've long thought that it would make a lot of sense to have separate areas to put recyclable goods in public trash cans since the homeless forage for them for the deposit. Why not make it easier for them to get at them, get them recycled, and keep the trash from being strewn about during the search all in one step?

"What’s the deal with Palm?"

The PDA market seems to have moved more heavily towards smartphones and Palm had a lot of trouble initially at making the transition. It could be argued that since the Palm V they haven't really made a truly great stand-alone product. Even with smartphones they lack graffiti and other notable features. A shame since I've been a Palm user for a long time and don't want to give them up.

minxlj59 19 2007 6:59AM

Why can’t a digital S.L.R. camera record video?

I think the question should be, why would you want it to? An SLR camera is generally a semi-pro or professional model, used because of its ability to change lenses. Personally, I would be irritated if my pro (thus, very expensive) Nikon digital SLR wasted resources on a video function that I don't need. Photographers are not videographers. We all have mobile phones that take video nowadays, we don't need another multi-function device.

Why aren’t there recycling bins for bottles and cans where they’re most obviously needed, like food courts and cafeterias?
Bottles and cans should be rinsed out before recycling, so the food court staff would likely have to empty the recycling bins, rinse the stuff, and then put them out for actual recycling. Or recycling centre staff get to do it. Plus, some lazy people put anything OTHER than recyclables in the bins, and the facility gets abused.

We often have recycling bins on the streets in Britain; the local ones in Newcastle-upon-Tyne seem to be sponsored by a newspaper, and have graphics on the side with interesting statistics. (There are some opposite our main rail station; sadly, on the other side of a busy road where people don't see them as easily. One for newspapers, one for glass and one for cans.)

matt23 19 200710:23AM

"And what's the Deal With Airplane Food? Right People? Are ya with me?"

Pogue should stick to reviewing gadgets, he's much better at it. Any time he tries to be funny or cheeky it just ends up being cringe-worthy.

And as anyone who's ever set foot in a Virgin MegaStore (or stood in line at a checkout counter) knows, Virgin already does Pay-As-You-Go.

And to the commenter who said the US mobile system was the worst in the world...don't we know it.

August28 19 200710:28AM

Why aren’t there recycling bins for bottles and cans where they’re most obviously needed, like food courts and cafeterias?

We do that here in Canada. And trash bins on street corners also often feature different sections for recycling paper and bottles/cans.

Tom K35 19 200711:35AM

"Why can’t a digital S.L.R. camera record video?"
It's a limitation of the sensor. The power consumption is simply too great.


Sorry, but that's incorrect. This is a limitation that predates the use of digital imaging in SLRs.

SLRs use a mirror to redirect light out of the imaging path and up into the viewfinder, allowing you to see exactly (well close to) what the lens sees, without the parallax error found in non-SLR cameras. Because the mirror is in the imaging path, light does not hit the sensor, hence you can't record video (nor do you get live previews in the LCD, either.)

There are SLR designs that use a partially reflective mirror to remove this limitation, but they lead to a dim viewfinder image and poor imaging sensitivity, so they're not common. I believe the most common use was on film cameras so that you would not have viewfinder blackout when shooting with motor drive, as in sports photography. It was always a niche application and design.

Daniel Evanson47 19 200712:47PM

The new Canon 40D and the new MarkIII allow mirror lockup live preview. It wouldn't be that hard to add video capture. I think it's more been a matter that the photographers who buy expensive SLRs are not interested in video. But as more snapshooters buy into SLRs I think it's only a matter of time before you see video on SLRs.


There are many prepaid wireless companies in the US, but there is only one that actually only charges you for what you use. NET10 10cents per min talk 5 cents txt.

jkottke06 19 2007 3:06PM

And as anyone who's ever set foot in a Virgin MegaStore (or stood in line at a checkout counter) knows, Virgin already does Pay-As-You-Go.

Perhaps Pogue's point is the default is not pay-as-you-go for most phone plans available in the US.

Leah10 20 2007 6:10PM

As for the lights that turn off when everyone leaves the room, I find them truly annoying. In my university, several of our rooms have motion sensor lights. I often sit in the dark in the grad student lounge rather than jump up and wave my arms every 2-3 minutes.

my question? Why can't people just learn to turn the lights off when they leave the room?

max27 20 200710:27PM

What’s the real reason you have to turn off your laptop for takeoff?"

Mythbusters covered this on an episode. Basically they're just really, really afraid that electronics might have minor problems with flight electronics and so they're just being cautious (IIRC). Take-off and landing are the two most demanding parts of the flight so they restrict them during those times.

The real reason is that they want you to pay attention to the safety issues. What would be more intensive during those times? The number of times people have left their laptops on in the satchel or seen people with their cellphones still on is pretty high. If there was a real danger, people woud have to check them into cargo or something. Imagine if it was true, the terrorists would just bring these intense emf devices onto the plane and create "havoc". No need to hide bombs or x-acto knives.


Mike32 21 200711:32PM

re: motion sensitive lights, my office is equipped with these, and unless you are a corpse, they don't turn off. Even tiny motions (shifting in a chair, moving a mouse, etc) reset the sensor. But spend less than 10 minutes out of your office, and the lights go off. Much less annoying than the objections above suggest.

idogcow06 22 2007 2:06PM

"The economic naturalist : in search of explanations for everyday enigmas" by Robert H Frank discusses the Wifi question and many other such questions.

Watch a talk he gave at Google here.

This thread is closed to new comments. Thanks to everyone who responded.

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