Saturday, July 09, 2011

My Swiss Army Knife Has No Corkscrew


In my early college days I had a moped. It was a silver thing with pedals and a 49cc engine that burned a gas/oil mixture. While the machine could technically be pedaled, it was hefty enough that I'd pretty much pedal to get it going, pop the clutch and fire it up. It would buzz to life like slightly pissed off metal bee hive and if I had a long, downhill run I could maybe reach speeds of 30 miles per hour. I was never asked to join the Hells Angels.

While I had a lot of fun with the moped, I ultimately sold it. I suppose many people would view the moped as underpowered and trade up for a true motorcycle or a car, but my issues with the machine were not that I found it lacking, but that I found it to be too much. Too much noise, too much weight, too much hassle. I had to buy gas for the machine & insure and license it. The bicycle was simpler and more suited to my nature.

My nature, however, is certainly not minimalist. I like gadgets and stuff. I like looking at cars and listening to Car Talk. But I know that I'm much happier not owning such complex machines. I've managed my life in such a way that I don't need to own or operate an automobile and I'm quite happy on that road less traveled by. Your mileage may vary.

While I value versatility, there's often some tipping point that triggers something in me that says "Too much!" In the case of the Swiss Army Knife, it's the corkscrew. I don't drink wine. I don't foresee the need to open Chardonnay under fire. It's not just that I don't need the corkscrew, its presence on the knife bothered me. So I hunted around and found the Swiss Army Knife I like, the one that has the stuff I really use, the one without a corkscrew. (Actually those clever Swiss make many different knives, many without corkscrews.)

The digital equivalent of the Swiss Army Knife is the Smart Phone and the main thing that bugs me about the phones, the corkscrew that sticks in my craw, so to speak, is the phone plan. Fred and Carrie skewer this perfectly in Portlandia:



The whole "we're going to lock you into a cell provider for 2 years and charge you when you go over this limit" thing was far more than I was willing to deal but I found a way to bypass that. Like my knife without a corkscrew, I have a phone without a plan. I surf the web. I check my email. I send texts. I update Twitter. I play MP3s. I watch movies. I listen to podcasts. I navigate by GPS. I take pictures. Heck I even make calls now and then. But I pay zero per month. Zip. Zilch. Nada. It works for me but it may not work for you. Your mileage may vary.

I bought my phone at Target but you can get the same phone from Amazon for less than $150 these days. It's an Android LG Optimus V. If you want you can turn on the cell functions for $25 per month but if, like me, you live in a WiFi rich environment, you really don't need to. I have Wifi at home. I have Wifi at work. I have Wifi at the coffee shop and the library. Heck, we have it at some of the parks here in King County.

Yes, I'm not always connected. I'm OK with that. Incoming calls go to Google Voice. I use Fring for outgoing calls. All my texts go thru Text Plus. And as soon as soon as I intersect with one of those zillion Wifi spots, my phone grabs everything it needs in terms of connectivity.

I thought I'd turn on a month to month phone plan if I needed it and it turns out I don't need it. I don't need a motor on my bike or a corkscrew on my knife. And I don't need monthly service on my phone.

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA

35 comments:

Joe said...

Your SAK looks like the Fieldmaster. It's my favorite because I never needed the corkscrew either and the phillips bit is useful at times. I carried the Super Tinker for years, which is basically the knife you have but without the saw layer.

todd said...

rumor is that iphone will be available on a prepaid-calling basis, for a non-subsidized hardware price. i'll be all over it. i bet i have used about 120 minutes total talk time in 4 years. i don't want to do the math on what the contract has cost in that period.

zipcar works the same way: pay as you go

Johann Rissik said...

Sounds like that 49cc motor was a good "gas to noise converter"?
@ year phone contracts are a licence to print money. Pay as you go is the way to go, particularly if you have all the WiFi you do. Alas, southern Africa is not quite there yet.

a progressive crank said...

Trouble is, I wouldn't call it a phone. Sure you can talk on it, sometimes, in some places, but not anywhere at any time. It's a networked appliance that relies on other people's network bandwidth, be it King County, random coffee shops, or whomever. But it doesn't do the one thing people expect a phone to do: make and receive calls anywhere. There isn't enough public WiFi for me to use something like that effectively so a cell data plan is pretty much a necessity.

If you gave something like this to someone who uses a phone like most of us do — without thinking about if it's going to work — and logged how often they were unable to use it, it might be informative.

This is an inversion of many people's complaints about modern gadget, that they are too often encrusted with other features that interfere with it's primary purpose. To contrast that with a phone that doesn't make or receive calls is a curious idea.

bitflung said...

i've got a phone just for my dog- yes, really. it's a nokia with a gps function, long lasting battery, and it's small and light. when we travel, we strap the phone to our dog before letting her off leash. this gives us thre things:

1. if she gets lost, we can send the phone a text message and get back a map showing her location

2. if she runs off and someone else finds her, there is an internationally functional phone right on her with only to number in the phone book (mine and my wife's)

3. sometimes it's fun to turn on the gps logger and have a record of how far off she runs, how fast, where to; that sort of thing.

for all this, the phone needs a sim card; but i would never pay a monthly fee just so my dog had a phone...

we use truphone. prepaid, doesn't expire as fast as local prepaid services, gives us voice, sms, and data everywhere in the world without screwing us with crazy roaming fees - in short it's everything a sim card really should be.

we also use it when travelling -all incoming calls are already routed through google voice, so i just set my cell # to be the truphone account, charge the card up with $20 or so, and go internationally with confidence. we just spent a week in canada with truphone; sure we didnt make many calls, but having the sim gave us connectivity while driving so we could find and our way using maps easily and look up hotels, vets, resteraunsts, etc - and yes, occasionally call them to make reservations. overall we spent $16USD in 7 days of travel, the truphone sim wont cost me another cent until the next time i explicitly choose to use it.

(i dont work for them; i'm a real customer; i honestly think this is the best cell service for anyone trying to rid themselves of the monthly fees without making it impossible to use the phone's online features when out of wifi range; it works in any unlocked GSM phone)

Kent Peterson said...

a progressive crank,

I agree and I wish there was a term for "a phone that's not a phone". Previous to the LG I had an Archos Android media player that I used similarly & I got tired of explaining that it wasn't a phone. BTW, with Google Voice, people calling me always get a message & can leave voicemail.

Dr Codfish said...

I know what you mean! I worked my way up to a swiss army knife that had a little 49cc gas engine. It was just too much.

Anonymous said...

I'm with you on the no-corkscrew thing. I sport the Spartan model. Thank you again for your advice on the grips. Can't wait to get 'em! Cheers! Line

Anonymous said...

There's a lot of bad stuff in this post, but I would just highlight one:
What kind of person doesn't drink wine? And if it doesn't, who would want to listen his/her opinion on anything?

that's all...

Cecil "Zeke" Yount said...

Ironically, whilst camping this weekend, a visitor arrived with a bottle of a fine corked wine. He asked for a corkscrew and the Ranger, who was also at our site at that very moment, reached into his olive green pocket and pulled out a Swiss Army knife WITH CORKSCREW! You just never can tell when a particular need will make itself known!

- Zeke

Phil R. said...

I like what your saying about the phones. I never have bought a phone yet. But my wife has used the prepaid phones for years. I suggested that she just use her Ipod to facetime through wifi.

lap57 said...

Different points of view here. When I arrived in France in 2007 for a two week bike tour the first thing I bought was a Swiss army knife because I needed a corkscrew. It opened may bottles during our two weeks of touring.

Phones are a pain I have a smart phone but it's huge energy appetite makes me question it's worth on tour.

dexey said...

My SAK has a corkscrew and I wish it was a cross head screwdriver instead but, otoh, the blade locks and although that is illegal here it makes the knife safer to use.
I wouldn't want to be without my iPhone or iPad

Anonymous said...

I currently use a prepaid, because I don't need phone service nearly enough to justify monthly fees of any kind. This article has convinced me to go buy an Android-based phone for extras. We already pay plenty for WiFi connectivity just about everywhere (if you don't think you pay for it at that coffee shop, think again). Might as well make better use of that paid service. Eventually cell towers will be nothing BUT WiFi access points, but we have a long way to go politically and economically first....

Anonymous said...

I actually bought my swiss army knife with a corkscrew because it had a corkscrew and a locking knife blade. To each his own, but when I was traveling through Europe (where I bought the knife) I drank a lot of wine, and the corkscrew really came in handy.

Mungalup said...

In the Swiss army the officers knives have a cork screw, the lower ranks don't.

Bryan Ball said...

I have one technically called the "Camper" but I prefer to call it the "Alcoholic" because it's mostly just two blades, a corkscrew and a bottle opener.

Anonymous said...

So how do you set up the phone without activation?

Dad said...

Kent, Thanks for the idea. My son bought one of these. Texting is working great, as is google voice into voicemail but when trying to call out using google voice over WIFI, we're getting an error message that says 'phone not activated'. Any suggestions?

Thanks,

Kent Peterson said...

Without "Activating" the phone, the phone doesn't get a number, but Google Voice will have a number. That's the number I give people as my voice number. I haven't been able to make outgoing calls with Google voice on the phone, but I use an app called Fring for outgoing calls and it works great. Talking to other Fring users is free and using FringOut. Rates to US land lines are about 1 cent per minute. I've spent 18 cents on calls since I've had my phone. The only weird thing is a very cryptic number shows up on the caller ID of whomever I'm calling.

I use an app called TextPlus to send and receive texts and it assigned me a "text only" phone number.

You don't need to activate the phone to have the app store work or to load or buy apps. All the functions I've described are done via free apps.

Miss Peaches said...

Isn't it the genius of Swiss Army Knives that they come in different sizes and versions?! For wine lovers with corkscrew, for adventurers with a compass and for ladies a more delicate version with a nailfile... I'm just waiting for the SAK with a fondue kit included... :-)

Ground Round Jim said...

Any updates? Have you experienced a significant lag btwn texts sent to you and your reception of them due to spotty coverage?

fyi TextPlus has free phone calls now.

Ground Round Jim said...

One more: does the app notify you when a new text arrives? The reviews seem to lead things like this out.

Kent Peterson said...

Ground Round Jim,

Text+ does notify me when new texts come in. I really don't text much, more of my communication is via email & twitter, but one of my buddies and I trade texts often & text plus works great for that.

I was just talking with another friend today who got his LG & uses it like I do, without a plan & he's really enjoying it. Like me, he uses the "phone" primarily as in internet appliance.

Ground Round Jim said...

Thanks, Kent, that was my intent too. Since you're the one who showed me the light, if you put up the Amazon linky poo on your site I'll buy one here. My wife will be thrilled to learn I'm in the club.

Kent Peterson said...

Ground Round Jim (or anybody)

Clicking the linked text in the blog post for the LG Optimus V leads you to the Amazon page for the phone & Amazon knows via a cookie that you came from me. Alternately clicking the Amazon links on the right side of my blog set the cookie as well.

Anything you buy from Amazon within 24 hours of clicking the link won't cost you more, but a percent of your purchase (usually about 6%) goes to me as a referral fee. Amazon links pay for most of my snack budget & the snacks & coffee fuel the bike rides where I get ideas for blog posts.

So now you know where blog posts come from.

Thanks for your support!

Kent Peterson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ground Round Jim said...

Kent, you haven't seen your AMZN 6% from me yet because I have this ?:
Supposing you did not have a Kindle or LG; would you get the Kindle 3G/WiFi instead? Only minuses I can see is case durability and size.
Did a mock up - think the Kindle will fit in a jersey pocket.

Kent Peterson said...

Ground Round Jim,

Actually Christine & I upgraded our Kindles to the latest 3g+Wifi Kindle Keyboard units this Christmas. (Our old Kindles got passed on to our sons).

Web browsing on the Kindles is OK for static stuff and mostly text based things (email & twitter) but the slow update of e-ink makes some stuff a no-go.

The LG still winds up being super handy as a camera, an MP3 player & my most commonly used email & twitter device. And at night I read Kindle books on it because of the backlight.

So, both devices are very handy & worth it for me. I take both the LG and the Kindle when we travel.

Christine on the other hand, is perfectly happy with just her Kindle.

BTW, the web browsing is more restricted on the touch screen Kindles. The least tied-down ones are the Kindle Keyboard machines.

Ground Round Jim said...

Hey, I thought I posted a comment that maybe got deleted because you're irritated with all these questions, but I swear you will get at least one 6% cut!

Hypothetical: would you use the Kindle Keyboard 3G as a low-brown GPS out in the boonies.

Feel free to kill this if necessary.

Kent Peterson said...

Ground Round Jim,

As far as I know, I haven't killed any annoying comments. I've lost one or two through fumble fingers hitting the wrong key, however.

As far as I know, GPS on a K3 is a no-go. I'd love to be wrong on that. There was some crude stuff buried in the K1s (google around for it) but in the current hardware it's gone. See this thread for example:

http://www.reddit.com/r/kindle/comments/nvwwa/kindle_keyboard_3g_does_it_have_gps_example_for/

I get a lot of value from the synergy of my 3 main devices: The planless LG, my Kindle 3 and the Samsung netbook I got used for $100 that runs EasyPeasy Linux.

Ground Round Jim said...

Sorry, I meant running Google Maps through the 3G network, but I can see that it would be less than useful to find dirt roads, etc.

Anyway, the check'll be in the mail once I figure out my array.

Caroline said...

Um, OK, this is genius. I've been struggling with this very same problem for over a year now, going back and forth between cell with TMobile and a landline with Century Link. Can you believe a landline costs more than a basic mobile line?! I hardly make calls and don't need data, so it's very frustrating to pay $30+/mo for pretty much nothing. But I have a WIFI phone. Not sure the WIFI is strong enough to do all the stuff you're doing, but dang, I might have to take the plunge, get that app, and start trying it. Thanks for writing this up!!

Glenn said...

Awesome Kent. Where I am, in the burbs of Vancouver, Canada, my WiFi options are kind of there, but not quite as good as yours. Our cell phone plans are archaic (read: total rip off), but I managed to find a basic smart phone without a plan, pay as you go for $100/yr and $ carry over if you don't use them. I tried to rely on WiFi for about 6 months, but without access at work, and not the most convenient access elsewhere, I jumped at the opportunity to get a small data plan that takes $10/mo off the $100 I'm not really using for voice calls, so it works out to be a monthly charge for data, but a per minute charge for voice. I ditched my home phone and use google voice (San Francisco number on the call display) but can't get a google phone number in Canada. Dell Voice is now filling that void, but with more limited free calling options. I'm always curious to know new ways to keep those costs down, so really enjoyed the post. Thanks.

researching knives said...

@todd- zipcar is coming to my home town - I am so excited because I have been "car free" for 1 year now but the only problem is when I go to visit my family.