Parking by phone

I’ve just come across the parking service RingGo.com. It’s a way of buying parking tickets by phone: when you park your car in a carpark which uses the service, you can ring the service, key in the number of the car park and how many hours’ parking you want and bingo… er … ringo: You’ve just paid for your parking.  How cool is this?

I love it when the future works. I love it that I can find out when my next bus is coming by texting the number of the bus stop to the bus company. I love it that I can use my phone for emails.  I love it when my husband texts me a photo of the view from the top of the mountain he’s climbed. I love it when people update Facebook via Twitter from their Blackberry. I love it when an online service asks you to validate your purchase by texting your pin. Oh that doesn’t happen yet.  I loved Mondex.  I even love my Oyster card, and that’s not a phrase you see very often.

Of course, the underlying databases are scary and this post could be entirely about the warnings of George Orwell, Ariel Dorfman, and  Edwin Black.

But today is cheerfulness-day, so today I’m excited about the fact that the future’s here and I paid for my parking without any of that clunky money stuff.


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10 responses to “Parking by phone

  1. I love being alive now. It seems like almost every day now I hear about ways in which creative people are finding ways of making life simpler, easier, and just generally more convenient.

    I felt for a while (let’s say between 1985 and 2005) that the presence of technology in my life and other people’s lives made things more complicated. That period has passed, now.

    Comedians used to make jokes about how it was only genius children who could successfully programme video recorders. No comedian could make that joke today, because you’d have to be brain-damaged not to be able to operate a Sky+. Indeed, one can now, without much hassle, operate your Sky+ at home while on holiday abroad using an iPhone app. The concept that this is possible I have no problem with. The concept that it is actually EASY, and also that it WORKS, reliably, boggles my mind.

    Carrying around a pocket computer (as I did in 1988) used to be the mark of the serious geek, the sort of person who would do simple things by a difficult method merely so that they could employ a bit of tech to do it. This is the pain of the early adopter.

    Now, carrying around a pocket computer doesn’t make your life more complex, or allow you spend ages doing things you would 20 years ago have done in seconds with a paper and pen. It allows you to do things in seconds that 20 years ago would have been impossible. Things, indeed, which would have seemed almost unimaginable.

    I say it more and more often these days: I love living in the future.

  2. I worry that I am getting further and further behind with all of this, mind. I have a phone which is a phone and that’s it. I only learned how to use predictive text this year. I adore the _idea_ of all this stuff, but I fear I am the person flumoxed by the Sky+ box and I don;t understand how my voicemail works. Or, in my case, doesn’t work.

    That said, I probably could figure it all out given the instructions manual and a few spare hours, but I find it hard enough to figure out what things like Facebook and my mobile and so on are for. I don’t seem to need them so in the end I don’t use them. Much. OK, so the phone is quite useful. When I remember to turn it on or charge it up. And haven;t organised everything by email (which _is_ extremely useful, how did we live without it?).

    I suppose it’s like my friend whose car broke down recently compared to me. I don;t have a car so my life is organised round not having a car so not having a car doesn;t really inconvenience me much. She, on the other hand, was thoroghly put out because her life does revolve around it.

    OK. I’m going to have to buy an iPhone.

  3. Not that’s it’s not _cool_.

  4. I’m torn between squealing delight at living in the future, SoRB, and bemused confusion that I have colleagues born in 1988 when you were wandering around with a computer in your pocket being a junior geek. I’m glad I did office work for a few years BPC (before PCs) and know what it was like when offices had ashtrays, phones didn’t have headsets, and you ran your work through a day book and a card index.

    Sol. You’re making me hyperventilate here. And you seem so … well … so wired. I mean, you have a blog and a gravatar and everything.

    Ben

  5. Ah well, I see the point of the Internet. And the whole online community thing rather fascinates me in a sort of sociolinguistics geeky kind of way. Needs must.

    Still, from my point of view technology is still insuficiently like magic. There was an add for iPhones on TV yesterday where the small print was something like ‘actual number of operations [to get the thing to perform the function you want] will be higher’. Frankly, I still find that as an occassional user of technology, there’s an awful lot of memorising of places to click, formulas to input, orders of keys to press. As someone who doesn’t really understand it, that’s just too much effort.

    What I want is to be able to say to the computer, I want these sentences there, a nice picture of a girl on a mobile here and it all done out in a pretty but legible font with some boxes for student reponses in this corner. Have it done by the time I’ve made a cup of tea, will ya. And it is.

  6. One of the reasons I’m not an early adopter, Sol, is because the reality of early versions of things is always so far removed from my vision of how I want it to be. We’ve all been spoiled by Star Trek.

  7. Robert Heinlein’s Friday actually. She gets a computer to access so much of the right info that she predicts the next outbreak of Black Death based on the relationship between the length of men’s beards and women’s hemlines. I can’t even get the Internet to track down a picture of a man shading his eyes and gazing into the distance until I’ve tried fifteen different search queries.

  8. “technology is still insuficiently like magic”

    That’s only because your definition of “magic” is constantly redefined. Right now, your definition of magic seems to be based around natural-language processing, which has been coming “real soon now” for decades. Thing is… it is coming. There are already music programs to which you can say, in natural speech, “Play some Pink Floyd”, and it will. Not “Track. Select. Search. Floyd. Two. Play.” Just “Play some Floyd.” This boggles my mind.

    Ultimately, I think some of us will not be satisfied until there is a functional implementation of the programming language DWIM. This is a language which has only one instruction: DWIM. The program then interprets the user’s requirements and performs the requisite operations at low level to achieve the desired output. It’s the ultimate high-level language. “DWIM”, incidentally, stands for “Do What I Mean”. It stands distinct from other programming languages, where the computer inconveniently – even inconsiderately, if you’re anthropomorphising today – does precisely what you SAY, with no attention paid to what you obviously MEANT.

    Again – we’re advancing on that point. If I type in “youtobe” to Google, it helpfully asks “Did you mean ‘youtube’?”. And charmingly, if I type in “Grauniad”, it doesn’t even ask, and simply returns the Guardian site as top hit.

    The only reason you think technology is insufficiently like magic is your sense of magic has been dulled by daily exposure to miracles.

    Consider just this: I have a device in my car. I will enumerate some of its features:
    1. It has a colour, touch sensitive screen displaying a user interface so simple a six-year old or a pensioner who has never read the manual can operate it correctly in a moving vehicle in the dark.
    2. It contains a complete and fairly accurate map of the entire UK & Ireland road network, expandable to cover Europe or anywhere else in the world.
    3. It is capable of instantly calculating the shortest or fastest route between two points on that map within a matter of seconds.
    4. It is capable of telling where it is on that map to an accuracy of about a metre and providing directions both on screen in a natural sounding voice.
    5. It does that by triangulating its position by comparing incoming signals from clocks orbiting the planet in space.
    6. That works because those orbiting clocks are accurate to within 1 second in five trillion.
    7. The device will run for several hours on an internal rechargeable battery with no memory effect.
    8. The whole thing cost about a day’s wages and fits in my shirt pocket.

    Sounds a lot like magic to me. And that’s just one thing, and more importantly a thing I’ve owned for several years – it’s by no means cutting edge.

  9. Years ago, I read in Wired, of a chap who was simultaneously testing a Sat Nav and mobile phone with speech enabled dialling – not sure what you call that.

    He was deeply amused when they suddenly started talking to each other.

    – In 100 yards, turn left
    – I am sorry I do not have that number in my address book
    – In half a mile turn right
    – Would you please repeat that
    – In half a mile turn right

  10. “technology is still insuficiently like magic”

    I did say it was cool.

    It’s not that I am not insuficiently appreciative of how impressive it is. I was musing only the other week on how utterly mindbogglingly improbable it is that a phone, a phone that you keep in your actual pocket, can take your photo and play your music for you and that that that in itself is now thoroughly old hat.

    But it still doesn’t make it any easier to use if you aren’t in the habit of it. I’m good at photocopiers, for example. This being the only piece of kit I actually have to get to grips with for my work or leisure time interests beyond a bit of very basic Word processing and, well, this.

    And there I was, standing in a library with the cream of today’s technology weilding youth gathered round as I adroitly finangled the display panel into giving me a resized bit of paper back to back, neatly staled and holed apropriately.

    That said, yes, I would like speach recognition because then nobody would have to put up with my inabilit… complete apathy when it comes to getting letters in the right order and inibili… complete aversion to proof reading. And DWIM would be nice too and can we apply it to my husband?

    In truth though I think Ben is right in that I’m spoiled by SciFi where, with the exception of a bit of comedy fill, nobody ever seems to spend any time swearing coulourfully because they have got stuck in the edit cycle of their mobile phone book again because they can’t remember whether it’s the green button, the select button or the big round button you need to press to actually get the bugger to make a call.

    I bet in real life, no matter how snazzy the interface, and personally I’m holding out for a microchip implanted in my inner ear* which means I don’t have to keep screwing the earphones back in every thirty seconds or risk listening to BOOMDABOOMDABOOMDABOOMDABOOMDA from someone else for the whole of my commute, that’s what will happen to me though.

    *Or where-ever would actually allow me to listen to music without troubling any real life airwaves.

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