Ask Me Now

Janice Stillman, Editor of The Old Farmer’s Almanac, passed along a clipping from the Wall Street Journal when we were visiting Yankee earlier in the month, and I had a chance to sit down and read it yesterday. It was one of Walt Mossberg’s columns and it talked about

Of course I had to try it out. I did. It’s neato.

Here’s how it works: you go to and register. It’s free, and all you need to hand over is your name, ZIP code, country and your mobile phone number (it’s a mobile phone-based service, so it’s not much good without this).

Once you’re registered, you then simply call (585) 419-0412 from your mobile phone and, when prompted, you speak a question that you want to have answered.

Wait a few minutes — anywhere from 2 to 5 in my tests — and the answer comes back to you as an SMS text message.

Here are the tests we ran last night:

  • What is the population of Prince Edward Island? The population of Prince Edward Island is 137,800. People from Prince Edward Island are called Prince Edward Islanders (or colloquially just Islanders).
  • How many toes does an African elephant have? The African elephant has only four toes on the front feet and three on the back.
  • What is the average length of needles on a blue spruce tree? The Blue Spruce tree growing to 25-30 m tall and the leaves are needle-like 15-30 mm long.
  • What years did the television program Melrose Place run? No answer provided.

For the last question, about Melrose Place, I got back a text message saying that my question couldn’t be answered.

Because How Rogers ‘Email to Text’ Just Plain Sucks, using with a Rogers Wireless phone is somewhat inconvenient, as answers are actually send by email to the mobile phone which, under Rogers “helpful” system, requires sending back an SMS reply to Rogers confirming that you actually want to read the email.

Still, though, the system seems to work pretty well and in situations where quick factual answers to quick factual questions are required away from the Internet, I can see it being useful. If nothing else, it’s a reason for mobile phones to be banned from trivia Sundays this winter at Cedars.

How does this work? Mossberg’s column explains that questions are sent to the Philippines where real people listen to them and then use the Internet and other data sources to look up the answers.


oliver's picture
oliver on October 28, 2005 - 14:50 Permalink

Finally a use for all those people in the Philippines.

,hf's picture
,hf on December 7, 2006 - 18:54 Permalink

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