Tuesday, August 21, 2007


Phew. As of yesterday morning we have internet access at home again. Had it at the office as of Friday but I was given the wrong key for my new office so won't be able to get into it until later today. We've been running so many errands since we arrived in the States a week ago that it makes the last month in Fukuoka look like a vacation. Who would have thought that getting set up back home would be more trouble than getting started in a new city in a foreign country?

As the details of car-buying (Prius, thank you very much), home-owning (unpacking, re-organizing, and dealing with carpet damage and an underground water leak), child-care-arranging (what little we can afford, that is), tax-paying (yeah, we filed for an extension), and doing-without-tv-ing (yeah, I don't believe it either) are likely to bore you more than me, as I missed blogging the Canadian Open (way to go, Lorena! better luck next time, Moira and Ai-chan!), and as I have a limited amount of time to take advantage of my jet lag sleeplessness and my girls' jet lag sleepiness, I'll devote this first Mostly Harmless post composed in the States and posted on Eastern Time to some random thoughts on (re)connecting.

Let's start with cell phones. Nothing brings home the meaning of "uneven development" like realizing that your 1-yen 2-years-ago-model cell phone from Japan that is now your daughters' toy is not only $49.98 cheaper than but also better than Consumer Reports' #1 cell phone in the U.S. (as of two months ago, at least, according to the salesperson). Or that your bare bones calling plan in Japan includes in it standard features (like text messaging and emailing) that are luxury add-ons in most U.S. calling plans. Or that in one week of calling in the U.S. I had more dropped calls than in an entire year in Japan (in which I had none). Or that the reception and call quality would be so poor in the U.S. Or that I'm locked into a two-year contract here.

If anyone has any ideas why this is so, let me know in comments. My pet theory is that with most of Japan's population already using cell phones, the few companies competing there have to offer better services and prices just to keep their customers from being raided by their competitors. And that with Japan's population so concentrated in cities, it's relatively cheap and easy to put up transmission towers. Hence, even on Kyushu, which has seen serious development only in recent years, and even then mostly in its major cities, people get far more for far less than in Rust Belt NY--and not just there. If you want to offer more culturalist explanations, I'm all ears. It'll be interesting to see if more people side with the tsuma's than mine.

In any case, we went with the company that has the best coverage in Western NY rather than the one with the coolest cell phone, which is similar to the choice we made in Japan. I don't know which hurts worse--knowing what I'm missing ($20-$30 a month for starters) or realizing that it only took a year in Japan for me to go from being a cell phone Luddite to a cell phone snob.


bill benzon said...

The USofA lags in DSL sign-ups and quality of DSL service too. I think we're stoopit is what I thinik, stoopit in a robber baron kind of way.

JP Stormcrow said...

I find myself continually apologizing to my foreign colleagues on the quality of cell phone service here - as I drop calls or step out into my backyard to hear clearly (my standard gag line is that they know that I live in a 3rd world country.) I live on a hill right across the river from Pittsburgh and 2 of the biggest carriers (verizon & Cingular now AT&T cover our house for crap.) We also just went through a sag of having lost 1 phone on a 2-year 4 phone family plan .. the potential expense and hassle were incredible .. we eventually dredged up an old "discarded" phone to limp through the remaining 7 or 8 months.

When I was in Austrlia I was able make a clear call From Cape Leeuwin at the extreme southwestern tip. I was also interested that when I raised this point at an IT conference here in the States, I got pooh-poohed with "our competitive advantage is hardly tied to being able to make cell phone calls from the wilderness." Let me kindly introduce you to the rest of the iceberg, captain..

I shoud point out that it is still a somewhat mixed story, my (and others) experience in getting broadband in Aussie hotels for instance is that it is expensive and sometimes a hassle. (though once on the service is fast and relaible.)

The Constructivist said...

On broadband I couldn't make a comparison, because we were in university housing with a DSL connection the the university server in Fukuoka. But I can say that if my other-in-law had a computer that was less than, say, ten years old (hers may be older), it would have been even harder to pry me away from that air conditioned room in Chiba! I suspect her connection is 2-5x faster than ours for 1/2 to 1/3 the cost, but I have to check with the tsuma for specifics.

From Dunkirk, Pittsburgh is a major city, btw!

The Constructivist said...

Well, I took a bunch of photos of the girls' reaction to Gojochan and Sparkychan's triumphant arrival in Dunkirk. We'll see if I'm right that the only place our verizon phone may be over the au one we had in Japan is in the camera. Now if we can only figure out how to get the photos off the camera and onto our computer, so I can add the best ones to the Mostly Harmless flickr site and send the rest to Uncle Bill....

The Constructivist said...

Perhaps we should just ask slashdot!