The Time Warner Cable office on 23rd St near Park Avenue in New York City has something of the atmosphere of a soviet post office. Clerks staff a row of desks, calling customers forward at a languorous pace. During my visit, the queue stretched out of the door.

No one was there because they wanted anything from the company. Like me, they were there to give something back. When I took out a cable plan some months earlier, the company had insisted that I use one of its modems. I had to pay an installation fee and wait at home for a technician to turn up late and attach a cable – a ceremony I could have performed perfectly well myself. Now the company had changed its tune. I could use my own modem if I wanted to. But if I kept the one it had thrust upon me, I would have to pay rental of $48 a year. (The one I already owned had cost $18 to buy outright.) Read more

Nadella channelling Zuckerberg (photo: Microsoft)

Executive biographies keep a low profile on most company websites. Not so at Microsoft, which has been showing off its new chief executive, Satya Nadella, on a special microsite of the kind usually used to hawk things that consumers can actually buy. This is unlikely to persuade anyone to buy a PC or a Surface tablet. What, then, is the point?

Visitors see a list of Mr Nadella’s qualifications (Education: BS, MSCS, MBA; Hobbies: poetry). A video shows the new CEO answering questions such as “Why do you think Microsoft is going to be successful?”, which gives you an idea of how useful he might be in a boardroom. The blurb strikes an aspirational tone: “Nadella wanted to complete his master’s degree and take the Microsoft job. He did both.” Read more