I think everyone knows the feeling when you get your phone bill, open the envelope or check the online bill, and think ‘wtf?’. Somehow no matter what phone contract you get, the figures seem to escalate even though these days most phone plans include too many free minutes for most people with a life to be able to spend on the phone. I finally did some investigating and found that the culprit for every instance of my overcharge are the 0870 starting numbers. 0870 numbers are not only more expensive than normal 01/02/03 starting numbers, but are also never a part of your ‘free minutes’ package. ‘Yes, please call us at our customer service number/information line, but we’ll charge the hell out of you if you dare’ type of customer approach.
So here’s a neat little site called SayNoto0870. You can type in the 0870 starting phone number or the name of the business you’re trying to contact and it will give you a cheaper rate phone number alternative. Voila! The site is open source and already listing numerous UK businesses. Check it out!
So here’s a neat piece of online software called Babbel. I’ve been experimenting with it over the past few days and continue to be impressed with its capabilities. I’ve been forced into learning languages labour since the age of 6 and apart from humans, this is the first thing that’s actually somewhat fun to use in language learning. Back in the my days of learning German I used to sit in front of my cubic computer screen staring at the white ugly windows and typing in the endless Polish-German translations.
Babbel is a free service that includes German, Italian, French, Spanish and English. That’s not terribly much choice, they are still very young and there are more languages on their way. So roughly the learning curve looks like this: first you listen to the new words or expressions, then you have to recognise what is being said, then study word order within the expression and finally learn how to write it. Along with all the words and expressions go vivid images that you can select and rate as you please. Babbel also encourages interaction between learners and native speakers of the languages they’re learning through short text checking and study help. It also shows you other members doing similar things to you and thus encourages both interaction and keeping up the work. Babbel is said to be working on tutorials for all their languages – for now those are available only in Spanish, but I’m a true believer that they’ll be delivering some interesting solutions pretty soon.
Online microlending co-ops are still few and far between, but so far they seem to be another successful symptom of the Internet’s potential for empowering individuals. The most prominent representative of microlending are the London-based Zopa and the San Francisco-based Prosper. Prosper has so far facilitated $178,000,000 funded loans and has 830,000 members. Borrowers get low-cost loans and lenders get good returns, all without the involvement of banks. All the loans are spread out over groups of lenders rather than the equasions being 1-1 relationship situations. This makes it safer for lenders to get their money and easier for borrowers to get their loan applications picked up. On both Zopa and Prosper all applications are subject to interest rate auctions between lenders and those who can offer lowest interest get the deals. Borrowers and lenders enter into legally binding contracts upon reaching a deal. All in all, for smaller scale loans, this is a smarter and fairer way to go about lending and borrowing money than giving more of it to the rotten banks.
BigThink is a new platform of an intellectual exchange of ideas worldwide. At first glance it seems like a YouTube, except instead of random clips and music, it’s filled with interviews with experts in all kinds of scientific and humanistic areas. If this idea sprawls like intended, it may become a very interesting source of opinions and information for all curious. The discussions vary from cloning to agriculture, so you’re pretty much bound to find something for yourself. Except for providing information and opinion the site actually aims to include the opinions its members hold. You’re free to create new ideas to discuss, rate the ideas of others and contribute to the general feeling on how ideas stand.