Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Something appears to have changed today with Google reader. I was looking at the screen and something felt, well, different. But I couldn't place it. Then I realized - the "Labs" label seems to be gone. Wow, that was quiet. And there I thought it has already moved up and out.


And it looks like the Google Reader blog explains it. Well, kind of explains it. No more "Labs." Nice job.


I use Google reader almost exclusively now. To be honest, it took more than a year to grow on me, and only when I got to a point where I wanted to be able to access it from anywhere did it really get interesting.

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RSS Stuff | Tech
Tuesday, September 18, 2007 12:18:22 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
 Monday, September 17, 2007

As I mentioned the other day, my iPhone dropped in a partially-broken fall (bobbled with one hand but not caught) from about the height of my knees or slightly above down to the ground, and dented the case so the button that switches off the display and power and provides reboot capabilities, etc. no longer works. The plastic is jammed and prevented from moving by the tiny piece of bent metal case.

I'll be taking it to the Apple Store this afternoon to see what - if anything - they are willing to do for me. Their service coverage specifically says they won't cover damage due to accident or neglect, so I will cross my fingers (it was such a short drop), but not hold my breath. The non-warranty repair costs they quote are high enough to make me consider just buying a replacement phone. Of course we would have to see what AT&T has to say about that, as well. We'll see.

UPDATE: After dropping the Apple Store and setting up an appointment, I waited for my time to come up and then spent a total of about five minutes with one of the service employees there. I briefly explained what had happened, he showed it to the service manager, and they immediately arranged for a replacement. Wow. I'm floored. So much so I started looking at more products in the store and seriously considering them.

At any rate, on the Boy Genius Report site I just saw this gray anodized replacement cover for about $47.00. Hmm. It's interesting to me when I think about taking the thing apart and fixing it myself, since the one thing that worries me the most about doing that is the lack of a suitable replacement metal case part.

iphone back1 iphone back2

In the pictures it's apparent that there's no metal supporting pieces in there, it's just the metal case skin, and from this article (great detail and pictures there) it looks like there's a lot of glue to dissolve in the process of moving parts, but it's entirely possible. Plus a black case would be, well, cool. Heh.

Hmm, a decent disassembly tutorial video too. Heh. Use at your own risk. I like the lowered and faster-paced voice for the disclaimer at the beginning. Classic.

I won't undertake a tear-down-and-rebuild yet. Apple Store gets got the first shot, and won hands-down. But it's interesting to see what the community is doing and what the self-service, warranty-breaking, hardware-hacking options are.

black housing black housing2 black replacement case for iphone

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Geek Out | Mobile | Tech
Monday, September 17, 2007 9:52:09 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
 Sunday, September 16, 2007

I was trying to figure out why my clock was not getting properly synchronized with the default Network Time Protocol (NTP) server this evening because I noticed my home router (which also has NTP sync enabled) was a couple minutes ahead of my laptop.

UPDATE: I've made a very quick-and-dirty screencast (typing errors, 'umms' and all) showing how to change the Time Server settings in Windows, which you can view in your browser by clicking here. I incorporated a couple readers' thoughts from the comments into the video, as well.

Since I am running Vista, I went to the Change Date and Time settings dialog for the clock, then I clicked on the Internet Time tab, and noted that "time.windows.com" was selected as the NTP host to sync with. The only problem is, it looks like that host is not working. In fact, if I tried to select that host and do an update the system dialog would hang until it timed out:


So, I changed the NTP host to "ntp1.dlink.com" (same one my DLink router uses) and saved it, and instantly the time was updated on the Windows machine.


I went with the DLink time server after messing with a few of the other NTP host options (the NIST ones) available in the configuration list, some of which worked at the time and some of which didn't work too well or at all.

Anyone else having problems successfully connecting via NTP at time.windows.com? It will be interesting to see if this problem still exists tomorrow or not. At least one other person I just checked with has the exact same issues as of the time of this writing. Bummer that the default Windows Vista time service is not highly available (or at least appears not to be, so let me know if I am wrong here). Seems like it should be. Time sync issues across an ASP.net web farm for example can wreak havoc with an app, and try getting a domain controller's time out of sync with member servers. It can be a whole lot of not-fun. Of course, perhaps relying on time.windows.com is not the best way to ensure stability when you really should be running your own enterprise time services keyed to GPS or atomic clock, but you get the point.

For what it's worth, here is how to synchronize Windows Vista with an Internet time server, as cannibalized from Windows Help:

    You can synchronize your computer clock with an Internet time server. This means that the clock on your computer is updated to match the clock on the time server, which can help ensure that the clock on your computer is accurate. Your clock is typically updated once a week and needs to be connected to the Internet for the synchronization to occur.

    1. Open the Date and Time dialog.

    2. Click the Internet Time tab, and then click Change settings. If you are prompted for an administrator password or confirmation, type the password or provide confirmation.

    3. Click Automatically synchronize with an Internet time server, select a listed time server or enter the name of the one you want to use, and then click OK. Test the connection using the button provided.

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Sunday, September 16, 2007 10:31:30 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)

Now, I'm really not sure how this contextual ad ended up in my Google Mail interface, but I thought it was pretty funny:

(click the image to view full size if you like)

I'm trying to figure out exactly which one of my friends has the hot mom. Hmmm. Anyone know? Heh. Hey, everyone needs to find an unhappily married woman, eh? Makes me wonder just how many clicks that one gets.

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Humor | Random Stuff
Sunday, September 16, 2007 7:50:36 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
 Friday, September 14, 2007

This is pretty funny. Note: Some rough language and typical juvenile video game sexual stuff (NSFW). About the same stuff you experience any time you play on Live really, but hey the warning is there in case. Enjoy.

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Humor | Random Stuff
Friday, September 14, 2007 1:22:23 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)

I was interviewed yesterday for a Business Week article that appears today, discussing the value of mobile-phone-based GPS services and why they're becoming so popular. The article is well-written and covers the bases in a couple quick pages. It's kind of funny to be interviewed as a consumer - Most of my interview experience has been as a security expert, so this was fun.

I'm a power mobile user in a very practical sense. I travel a lot, and very frequently to places I have never been before. As a result, I am always having to find my way to new locations in unfamiliar lands. So, over the past couple years, GPS-enabled technology  has become my friend.

I started my GPS navigation experience a few years back with a laptop and a serial USB add-on that you stuck on your dash, powered separately via lighter socket, etc. eventually I updated to a USB GPS device that worked similarly. The software I used (Delorme's Street Atlas USA, a couple different versions) was very cool and you could actually speak to it and it would take your commands and talk back to you. I could say, "Computer, where am I?" and it would reply with something like, "You are heading north on US Highway 30 at 61 miles per hour. You are in Columbia County, Or-ee-gohn." It never really pronounced Oregon correctly, but hey that's the text-to-speech technology of a few years ago. The hardware and software has all been substantially upgraded since then and works even better. But I can't lug a laptop around in the car to do simple navigation (although I did just that on a trip all over southern California once), plus there's a whole class of information I use today that you just don't have access to on the laptop in the car.

I also got my 4-wheeler ATV with GPS capability onboard. I pretty much never use it, but on occasion it's been useful to mark waypoints at intersections on logging roads I'm cruising (oh wait, I never do that) so I can know which turns to take on the way back. There's no map capability, but an arrow points at your next waypoint and the display tells you how far away it is. Pretty useful.

Eventually I decided I needed something more usable, which at the time meant picking up a stand-alone in-car GPS device - the Magellan Roadmate 760. It was a great unit. I'd decided prior to that not to get an in-dash unit (and I am glad I did, since I never travel distances in my own car, see further down). It served me well, but as I traveled more and more I found it to be too large and clunky to stuff in a backpack and run through airports and in rental cars. So I gave it to a friend of mine who used it until it crapped out.

My next device was smaller Magellan unit, on sale at Costco, and included real-time traffic information over the air and the ability to suggest alternate routes, which is very cool. It's a great device (and my friend who had the 760 is using it now), but again it's one more thing to carry around. I found myself printing out paper driving directions or copy/pasting/emailing the Google Maps directions to myself before I left for a trip, instead of packing and carrying the GPS unit. Again, I have enough junk to carry around, and even the compact model meant too much stuff.

When I got my Blackberry 8800 with GPS built into the unit and the TeleNav service, I had found the perfect navigation device for my needs. Some people argue that paying ten bucks a month for the service is not something they'd be willing to do, and that Google Maps on the Blackberry is awesome, but I disagree (strongly). Google Maps is cool, but it's far from a useful and safe navigation system. You have to type, keyboard navigate, and read tiny print. Plus, it doesn't have anywhere near the information provided through the TeleNav service.

I wrote about my experiences with the Blackberry and TeleNav in the past. You might want to read those entries for some early perspective:

In those entries I explained a few of the real differentiators of the service. Here's a summary of what I get from the TeleNav service that makes it so perfect:

  • Maps are always up-to-date with the latest available data and can be downloaded as needed. With a standalone device you have to download map updates, which you must pay for, and in the real world the GPS device makers rarely make updates available.
  • The annual cost (since I already have the Blackberry and its cost is already easily justified for its various other uses) is about $120.00, which means after about three years you'll spend as much as you would on a mid-tier stand-alone GPS device - One that doesn't have live traffic updates and where the maps are only as accurate as the day the manufacturer loaded them on the device (meaning always out of date).
  • I always have my phone with me, and in turn I always have my GPS device with me.
  • No extra cords or brackets or suction cups or anything to haul around.
  • Small, tiny, compact, and works great.
  • Because it's on a data-enabled phone, the service provides all sorts of useful real-time capabilities in its directories and interfaces.
    • I can enter an address, search for a class of business, or type in a name of a business or place, and it will find the closest matches to my location, let me call them and route me to them. Better than Google Maps does, by far.
    • Advanced directory services like search for the closest gas station, or search for the lowest gas prices near me. Let me tell you, when you're in a hurry to get to an airport and don't want to pay the $8 a gallon the rental company charges to fill the stupid car for you, that $9.95 a month starts to sounds really inexpensive. And it is, after all, about the savings of time and money, not just the direct cost of the service.
    • I get real-time traffic and re-routing, which has proven useful a few times, as well as turn by turn directions spoken out loud with a clear visual view of the immediate situation, so I can glance and see what's next. Google Maps does only a rudimentary version of this, which requires finding the right keys to click, reading a lot of information on the screen rather than looking at the road, and a map scrolling feature that frequently fails. Simple fact: It's a lot safer and usability is better with the TeleNav interface and capabilities. Google maps is cool if you want to know where you are and maybe your passenger is telling you where to turn next. Otherwise it's just not up to par with the services and software available out there today.

I like the TeleNav so much I actually pulled the SIM card out of my iPhone the other day while I was up in Seattle and put it into the Blackberry 8800 so I could use the TeleNav GPS service to find my way around (and interestingly it worked swapping the card). I brought the Blackberry with me just in case I needed it for specifically that. Yeah, I know - back to carrying two devices. Well, at least they're small ones.

Now, if TeleNav could be installed and work on the iPhone, we'd be screaming! We can only hope.

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Mobile | Tech
Friday, September 14, 2007 12:52:46 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)