My 36 Hours Without A Phone… Or, “Fear And Loathing In An Airport”

The white screen of death

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. While attending the Web Content Management show in Chicago where Percussion was a sponsor, my phone suddenly died.  It may have been dropped slightly (you should never say that to the warranty people BTW) it definitely had NOT been submerged in water, it just didn’t work any longer.

A solid stream of swears followed.

The good news is that I had my laptop up and connected so I first went to the ATT support center. I was able to kick off an instant chat with a support tech who, after trying a few things, confirmed my prognosis.

More swears.

I stepped out of the sessions and had a number of protracted discussions with ATT service teams, but in the end, a new phone will be delivered to my house “in either one or two business days.”


Don’t get me wrong, I am not one of those people who stare at their phone all day long. I learned some time ago that if you are always answering emails, people will come to expect that you will always answer emails. But that doesn’t mean I don’t check frequently. I am less apt to check Facebook or Twitter but when killing time at the airport, I am bound to rather than booting up my laptop.

I mean, I knew that I could SURVIVE, but I wasn’t sure I could you know, survive. 

So, to borrow a style popularized by “The Sports Guy” on ESPN here is my running diary of my time without a phone. All times are approximate.


9:30am: Phone stops working

9:31: Substantial swearing as I ponder my day with no phone, still hopeful that perhaps Support will “know a trick.”

9:39: Email my wife. Let her know my flight number and expected time of arrival and that I wouldn’t be texting her when I landed.

9:40: Email my work colleagues letting them know I was phone-less. I think they laughed a little.  One of them wasn’t sure how a phone could “crap out.” I declined to explain.

9:50 Wife replies asking me to let her know if the flight was delayed or if I miss it. I must have considered this for a solid 10 minutes. How exactly would I do that? Borrow a phone maybe? Then I remembered something called a pay phone. A Pay Phone?!!  Thankfully my wife who is infinitely smarter about these things signed onto to iChat and told me to IM her from my computer. Brilliant. Good thing she is thinking for the both of us

11:45am: Reality sets in, I am not going to have a phone.

1:00 New conference buddies show back up after lunch with Starbucks. I Tweeted that I was bummed to have missed the party. I got this devastating reply via Twitter:

@somethingwitty: “@ajdun this coffee tastes like … Heaven. And while we were there some random stranger was offering to fix BBs for free! Crazy. Missed out”

1:01: Unfollow @somethingwitty. Might have been a record for the shortest following of someone. At least she lived up to her Twitter name.

1:30: Come to grips with the fact that I don’t have a phone. Pull the battery, put it in my bag and try to forget I even have one.

1:31: Think deep thoughts about what it will be like to not have a phone. Take to Facebook to try and quell nerves.

1:33: Think that nerves seems pretty stupid, consider why I am edgy. Decide it’s too difficult to ponder, try to focus myself to the speakers.

4:45: Get on train from downtown Chicago to Airport (seemed like a better idea when the taxi driver laughed at me when I told him I wanted to go to the airport. He was right) Stare longingly at everyone on their phones. I somehow feel naked. A friend likened it to being in one of those dreams where you are in a city square naked.. not sure I would go that far, but definitely like I am missing something. Like my arm.

5:30 Wonder what I would do if the flight was in fact cancelled, or delayed… would that mean I would have to queue with everyone else? Shudder!

6:30: Sit in the airport, staring longingly at everyone’s iPhone

6:45: Realize I wont have to worry about shutting off my phone to fly.

10:30: Land in Boston, look around for my phone to text home that I landed safe and sound…uhhh.. crap.


6:00 am Phew, survived day one, new phone should be here today, steel myself for a day of no phone.

9:30: Yep, got the email that said phone would be delivered That was $14.95 well spent!

10:30 Share story with my CFO, explained how I avoided having to ask for the company to buy me a new phone. She was, well, appreciative. Something in her tone made it clear that I wouldn’t have gotten very far with THAT request!

12:15: Sitting in one meeting, worried I was missing another one. Verry unsettling.

6:00 Try to IM my wife to organize kid sport pick up/drop off. Don’t hear back. (Did it occur to me to use my desk phone to call her? Nope, not even for a second!)

6:30: Show up at the track to quizzical stares from the family wondering why I came. Oh right, because I didn’t have a phone to know that I didn’t have to.

7:30: New Phone is plugged in, time to settle in for the Bruins and Red Sox games.

10:30 Red Sox Win, Red Sox WIN!

11:00 Bruins win, Bruins WIN

11:30 Phone appears to be mostly operational.

So, I wish I could say that I enjoyed being phone-less for awhile. Or that I realized how liberating it was to be disconnected for 36 hours. Or that I discovered how connected to email I was and that the world wouldn’t stop without me online.


In the end, It was just too unsettling. Not so much not having email specifically, but not being able to communicate on the go.  It really is remarkable how much has changed over the last 10 years. Now, the idea of being phone-less isn’t liberating at all, it’s is just terrifying.


A Washcloth, AND An Iron?

Frequent readers of this blog may recall a rant this past year about travelling in Europe and not having a washcloth or an iron.

Over the last year, it has become my barometer to determine if the hotel is serious about international travelers. Have either a washcloth or an iron and you are at least realizing that people from America might be coming to visit you.

At risk of sounding like a crass American who likes things his way, it was with great pleasure to arrive at the lovely Westbury Mayfair hotel in London and find BOTH a washcloth AND an Iron in the room.  And I appreciated the speed that they got the room ready since I showed up several hours before check-in.

Now I just need to remember what I am supposed to tip people around here!




Is “Some Form of American” Really a New Language?

I overheard the following in the parking lot after dropping off my kids at school this morning.

One woman was telling a few others about what her son, who was clearly in the military, was currently up to. She said: “he is taking language studies classes. I don’t really want to know what language he is learning, I just hope it’s some form of American.”


I mean seriously. WHAT?!!

I have written before about the fact that you can’t “speak European” as it relates to marketing in Europe. Just because it’s sort of a governing unit around the EU, languages that have been around for millenniums don’t just go away as a result.  But the this was a new one for me.

Just what does “Some form of American” even mean?! I live in Boston, is our remarkable ability to forget to use the letter “R” a dialect of American? (BTW, we don’t use turn signals either, but that is a different post!)  Is there a new language being created in the south that we northerners need to learn? My kids are fortunate to go to a school that is represented by a true “salad bowl” of cultures from Indian, to Chinese, to Hispanic, to Greek, to Italian and on and on.  Are their classmates native tongues now some form of American too?

I really was stunned, and in fact, I still am.

In this day and age when companies routinely translate their products into 100 plus languages, when Facebook supports countless languages across its 500+million users, when Google Translate can instantly make pages in 60+ languages readable, and when you can tweet what you had for breakfast in 6 languages today, probably 100 by tomorrow, do we really need to figure out how to speak American too?

For me, I take this as a reminder that I have been blessed to live and work in a global world. I have had the chance to experience many different cultures first-hand and learned to understand how cultural nuance plays a significant role in both communication and in understanding.  Not everyone is so lucky.


Machine Translation Meets Augmented Reality

As with many of you, my Facebook and Twitter friend feeds are littered with overlapping circles of contacts. Some I know well, have worked with in the past, and are great friends personally. Others I have met only once or twice.  Though as a rule I have none of my current work colleagues as Facebook friends. (Sadly, I had to unfriend someone recently as we started working together again, but we both agreed it was better that way.)  Occasionally two circles overlap directly (the time one FB friend was tagged in a photo from another FB friend that I didn’t think knew each other), or sometimes the circles overlap around topics. That is what happened this week.

My former translation services colleagues were buzzing about a new App for iPhone called Word Lens that allegedly allows you to point your phone at a street sign for example and receive an instant translation of what it says. Wow! For anyone who has traveled in a foreign country, what a truly amazing, and useful app. If only it worked (more on that in a moment).

At the same time, folks I met sort of tangentially in life who are closely tracking the rise of Augmented Reality were quick to point out that this was one of the first truly relevant AR Apps that they had seen. For those who are not familiar, AR is a movement to overlay useful information about things you might be looking at through your phone. For example you are walking through Hyde Park in London, come to the “Physical Energy statue,” point your phone at it and using maps and global positioning, on screen details about the statue come up like that it was sculpted in 1904 by GF Watts.

If the hype is true, these kind of Apps will be amazingly helpful for travelers. I say “if,” Apps plural, and “will be” because Word Lens wasn’t the first App to the party, and hopefully isn’t the best.  This article on MSNBC suggests that the translation is pretty bad with some pretty funny examples.  And in the comments (I love the reading the comments!) another firm called LinguaSys touts their App as being way better. Is that just sour grapes and poor marketing? I am not sure, the market will surely decide.

There are bound to be others firms as well, I haven’t done an exhaustive search on the subject. Here are a few obvious firms who could jump into this, and may have already:

>Google themselves could easily ramp this up using the fairly robust Google Translate service.  (pretty good for gisting by the way)

>IBM has spent a lifetime on Machine Translation, seems like they could easily over engineer something faster than you can say “Smarter Planet!”.

>What about Wikipedia? Where are they on mobile?  Couldn’t they crowdsource the top 1000 or so most common street signs/words by language and then write an App that queries that pool?

>The translations agencies could easily get in on this as well.  Lionbridge for one has a massive database of previously translated terms numbering in the billions, seems like they could roll an app out pretty easily.

The list is long I imagine. But on this one I am siding with my Augmented Reality connections. As someone who has stared at the signs in foreign countries in baffled and slightly panicked amusement THIS is a good idea.

Let’s hope it gets real.

Photostream: Alleys Around the World

I admit it, I like taking pictures of alleys.

My wife chuckled at me a few years ago when she noticed my habit when we are off on a trip together.  But I can’t help it. I find it fascinating to consider the possibilities of what is “just over there.” I also marvel at the way perspective shifts as you look down the street from the one you are on. And yes we do often wander off the beaten path to explore, but sometimes it’s more interesting to keep it unknown, a mystery.

As part of my work I have the good fortune to travel to some pretty interesting places. While not as well travelled as many people I know, I consider myself lucky to have been to places like Jerusalem, Agra (home of the Taj Mahal), Dublin, Prague, Munich, Göteborg, the UK and others, as well as fascinating cities right here in the US.

On those trips I started packing a small point and shoot camera, and I also upgraded the storage on my Blackberry. I have taken hundreds of pictures over the past two years as a result. Some of them are pretty good, and some of them pretty much suck (which I try to delete). But I am most struck by those Alleys, Gates and other vistas that I have captured.

So rather than post a photo stream of mediocre pictures of places that are well chronicled by other, more accomplished  photographers, I posted a set on Flickr of just those Alleys.  For now they are essentially the raw photos. As I get more time I will edit some of them for impact, weed out some of the marginal ones, and add to it as I travel to new and interesting places.

I hope you enjoy the stream!