Corrections or additions?
This column was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on August 18, 1999.
All rights reserved.
Between the Lines
A reader called us the other day to register a
He had called the 900 number publicized in the U.S. 1 Singles by Phone
section (it appears on page 38 of this issue) in an attempt to deliver
a message to one of the "Women Seeking Men" ads in this
Instead of being allowed to connect directly to the electronic voice
mail box of the single advertiser that most interested this reader,
he was instead led through a complicated and time-consuming labyrinth
of voice mail instructions, message trees, and the like, and finally
ended up in a seemingly endless loop of voice mail messages, with
no rhyme or reason to the order and no reasonable expectation that
his intended advertiser would come along anytime soon.
Noting that the call had cost him $1.98 a minute, our caller suggested
that this system was nothing less than consumer fraud and that U.S.
1, as presenter of this "service," was complicit in a crime.
The truth is that we reject any advertising that we deem false or
injurious, but we also know we are not always the best judge of what’s
good or bad, or honest or dishonest. And we would rather err on the
side of the First Amendment than protect our most gullible reader
from the most obvious flim flam artist.
To that end we long ago created a category of classifieds called
the Wall Offers." You can find them in this issue on page 49:
how you can buy Hondas or sport utility vehicles for as little as
$100, or how you can make $635 a week processing mail in the comfort
of your own home — off the wall and none of these advertisers
has ever argued with that characterization.
And, in response to another reader’s complaint that 900 singles
were unnecessarily expensive (though not necessarily deceptive), we
also Singles by Mail, which runs every week on top of the Singles
by Phone section. The mail version of the singles section costs just
$1 per response, no matter how long you spend noodling over your
Still, for all that effort, we were dismayed by our caller’s
Could it be that the 900 system — an out-sourced service over
which we have no control other than to cancel it — really was
ripping our readers off?
We gave it a try. Here’s what happens when you call that 900 number.
First you are asked whether or not you are at least 18 years or age.
If not you are given three seconds to hang up without any charges.
Then you are asked to punch in your area code (so that the system,
which is nationwide) can direct you to the cluster of advertisers
who are — more or less — geographically desirable.
Then you are given several choices, and at this point — we suspect
— our complainant got impatient and didn’t spend the 30-some
required to listen to the complete menu. The first choice is to record
or add a new message; the second is to browse through all the messages
(the most expensive option of all); and the third is to leave a
for a specific person. If you press 3 you are then given another
press 1 if you want to hear the person reading their message or 2
if you just want to leave a response.
We timed our very first call and found that we were able to navigate
through the system and hear a message from a specific advertiser in
less than three minutes. We tried it again and were able to get to
a specific advertiser’s voice mail message in less than a minute.
At that point we hung up — we were just too nervous to think of
a word in response. But that was our problem, not the system’s, which,
we concluded, is on the whole fair and reasonable.
The day after our telecommunications stories were printed, Sprint
announced it would launch a PCS "neighborhood" system similar
to that being developed by World PCS on Emmons Drive. Those August
11 articles had several responses, including one from the CEO of
"Thanks for the article," wrote David Stehlin. "You
characterize Foxcom as a competitor to companies such as Bell Atlantic
when in fact they are a customer of ours. Foxcom is a manufacturer
of product, not a service provider. Other than that we appreciate
Winn Thompson of the Straube Center in Pennington (609-737-1308) also
noted that story: "I thought you might be interested to know that
the Straube Center currently offers its tenants access to a shared
full 1.5 mbs T-1 line for $100 per month for the first computer and
$25 for each additional computer. We have 14 different tenants
In the July 14 article on Sarnoff Corporation, it was incorrectly
stated that Sarnoff’s new chief financial officer, James S. Crofton,
was Sarnoff’s first. Let me correct that.
I was Sarnoff’s CFO from 1987 through 1998, when I became Senior Vice
President of Licensing and Business Operations as part of an overall
reorganization of duties and business structures within the company.
I was its Vice President of Finance when Sarnoff became a subsidiary
of SRI International in 1987, and was named Senior VP, Finance and
Business Operations, in 1997. I was also a member of the Board of
Directors of Sarnoff from 1995 until my departure from the firm in
July, and am still active on the board of Sensar, Sarnoff’s first
spinoff company. Ironically but understandably, my new position was
one of the casualties of the company’s business and revenue shortfall
and the accompanying lack of profitability, and was eliminated as
part of the downsizing.
Sarnoff managed the transition from a captively funded Fortune 50
R&D cost center in 1987 into a high-tech enterprise that was highly
successful technically for the past 12 years and profitable for the
past six years. It transitioned over that same timeframe initially
into a contract R&D business, and eventually into a commercialization
engine that is supported by contract R&D and Licensing and Royalty
income, with future value developing through its equity in
technology start ups.
I had the privilege of being part of that corporate transformation,
and look forward to its return to profitability in the future.
David J. Warnock
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