Thursday, June 17, 2010

Just a quick note to say “way-to-go” to Matt Mullenweg and the whole WordPress community team on the new release of WordPress 3.0 – This is a huge release!

The merger of single- and multi-user versions is great. So cool to watch WordPress grow over time. I remember eating lunch with Matt at a Gnomedex conference back in the day. Good guy.

I plan to move to WordPress sometime in the future for this weblog, but the whole “keep the link, content and search engine indexing” thing demands some careful planning that I have not had a chance to do yet. Anyone a pro in migrating from dasBlog to WordPress and making it actually work? I love dasBlog, and it’s been really good to me, but it feels like time for a change.



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Blogging | Tech
Thursday, June 17, 2010 9:49:06 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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As I explained in my last post, I made the decision over the past few days to move away from AT&T for mobile phone service, which necessitated a change in the smart phone hardware I use since the iPhone is exclusive (for now, anyhow) to AT&T in the United States. I did some research, got some advice from people I know, read a lot of reviews, and  heard out several others who contacted me with their thoughts -- and then today I took action.

Sprint HTC EVO 4G After work, I left the office and started for home. It was a little after 5pm, and I thought to myself, I wonder if there’s a Sprint store nearby? I’d been looking at the HTC EVO 4G, a truly impressive Android-based smart phone that operates on the Sprint/Clear 4G network for data, as well as Sprint’s 3G mobile network.

Turns out there’s a store just a few blocks away, so I turned around and drove there. I had realistic expectations as I headed over: The HTC EVO 4G is sold out on the Sprint and HTC web sites, and is in very short supply/unavailable pretty much everywhere, so my hope was that the store would at least have a working demo unit that I could take a look at and test drive.

Turns out they had two working units on the shelf, and the *very* friendly and *very* helpful young lady at the store quickly and expertly walked me though the phone for a minute or so. I was pretty impressed with the fact that she immediately picked up on my experience and expertise level and tailored her very knowledgeable interaction to me. So if someone at Sprint reads this, please take this as a commendation for Meghan O. at your Tanasbourne Town Center store in Beaverton, Oregon. She deserves a customer service award, truly. No pressure, all information, and true passion about the phone and Sprint’s service. Compare that to my experiences in AT&T stores and there’s really no contest. In fact, the Sprint customer service experience reminds me a lot of the service experience in an Apple store, come to think of it. Hmmmm… Maybe Apple should think about that.

But I digress. It turns out they had three brand new, in-the-box EVO4G phones that people had reserved but not picked up, so they were available for the taking. Oh, I started to drool. Well, not really – but I think you know what I mean.

I’ll save all the gory details of why this is such a cool phone for another post, since I need to get some sleep tonight. But I want to explain here why I’ve decided to engage Sprint as my probable (operative word there, see below) new service provider.

  • First of all, I can get more for my money. For the same price I am paying AT&T each month for iPhone service and a data plan, I can get the same number of minutes, same unlimited messaging, free calls to any mobile phone on any carrier in the US, free nights and weekends, and – BONUS – the Sprint hot-spot coverage, where the EVO 4G acts as a wifi hot-spot for up to 8 devices to access the Internet.
  • I haven’t decided this yet, but I am considering dropping the 3G data service plan from AT&T on my iPad and just using the EVO 4G to provide Internet service via the hot-spot capability (and at faster speeds, I should add). The $30 a month savings pays for the hot-spot feature. I could always sign up as needed for AT&T 3G service on an ad-hoc basis at $15 a month if I need their service for some reason.
  • Sprint has a 30-day return policy, which allows you to evaluate Sprint and the hardware you choose, and return the equipment in non-damaged condition within that window for a full refund - including no charge for the service used. In effect they’re saying, “Come try us, and if you don’t like it, we will take the equipment back and make you whole again.” That’s corporate confidence, and should I find out I’m an idiot and made a bad decision (or if I decide I want to take a look at a third carrier) I have the option to get out, no questions asked. I like the try-us-on option. Good move.
  • Sprint’s early termination fees are substantially lower than the competition’s newly-published penalties: At Sprint, it’s $200 max, and after you’re about 8 months into your 24-month contract, the penalty starts to drop by $10 a month until it bottoms out at $50 -- and that’s a pretty reasonable deal.
  • No limits on data usage for the smart phone. AT&T and others are now capping their “unlimited” plans (and thank goodness, they’re re-labeling them in most cases to be more accurate in their descriptions).
  • In the store, Meghan’s customer service skills and knowledge simply won me over. She was confident in what she was saying, quick but not rushed, covered all the bases accurately and efficiently, and answered literally every question I had with answers I wanted to hear.

I’ll add a few things about the EVO 4G phone, because they just have to be said. Keep in mind, I am a bit of an iPhone and Apple fan-boy, and I made the tough decision to leave AT&T and the iPhone not because of Apple’s hardware and software, but instead because of AT&T’s poor service and quality woes.

  • This is a sharp phone. The screen is big (really big) and vibrant and it’s a solid build. It feels good in your hand.
  • The camera is great, and even gives you access to detailed configuration settings like auto or manual white balance, various recording resolutions, etc.
  • And that’s just the main camera. There’s also a second, front-facing camera working at VGA resolution for video chatting/conferencing or whatever you want to use it for (maybe you want to shoot your own passport pictures – it’s all up to you).
  • One thing the Apple iPhone doesn’t have a native app for (which is a real shame), but Android does: The Google Voice app. I downloaded and installed the GV app in about a minute and configured it to use my Google Voice account, and now the Android phone uses my GV account – natively – to place and receive calls and text messages. It’s totally borged, all wired in tightly without the need to launch a separate app for calls or anything. You go to the regular phone and messaging apps on the phone, and they knows they’re tied directly to Google Voice. That’s huge, and it’s unique to the Android platform. If you’re a Google Voice power user, Android is *definitely* for you. Find me and ask for a demo, I’ll show you what I mean.
  • The Android UI is awesome. It’s responsive, intuitive and even fun to use. I’m impressed.
  • 4G data service. I happen to live in Portland, Oregon, which is one of the early cities that got WiMax/4G from the start. The network is pretty well established here and so this means a lot in my book. Fast Internet service for a flat fee and ability to share it with other devices is hot.

There’s a lot more to love about the EVO 4G phone, but I’ll save the rest for another post. Suffice it to say, I am pleasantly surprised and quite impressed with both Sprint and the new HTC phone.

More to come later. If you have an opinion, comment away and let me know!



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Android | Apple | Mobile | Tech
Wednesday, June 16, 2010 11:11:23 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Wednesday, June 16, 2010

And to Apple: I’m sorry, but as good as you make me feel about the world of technology, I just don’t love you enough  to endure AT&T’s bad habits anymore. So, the iPhone has to go, too. And that makes IMAG0002me sad. I truly wish things were different. I almost can’t believe I’m doing this. They say if you love something, let it go free. It’s a brutal suggestion, really.

Let me start out by saying, for those who don’t know, that I’m a security and IT management professional by trade. I’ve held executive and senior management roles for both security and IT functions at a publicly-held company in the financial services space, I’ve consulted with governments and companies large and small on cyber-security issues, and these days I manage security strategy for a Fortune-500 company. So, I have some perspective and reality-based opinions about security and quality.

Let me also say - plainly and clearly - that this blog is where I voice my own opinion about things that are on my mind (as opposed to discussing work-related topics). And my mind is pretty active right now as it concentrates on my personal AT&T Wireless account and the lack of service and security quality the company has delivered over time. In other words, I have some strong opinions on the topic.

This is certainly a bit of a rant, but it’s not a knee-jerk reaction. It’s grounded in reality and reason and I have put some time and thought into my decision.

And enough is enough: I’m done with AT&T.

First AT&T’s reliability and call-handling problems were the issue, and frankly those were bad enough on their own. There are locations where I can *guarantee* calls will drop on my iPhone on the 3G network, every single time. Areas with three to five (out of five) bars of signal strength that suddenly drops the call and goes to zero, before churning around trying to reconnect and eventually coming back with a full signal once (I assume) a tower hand-off finishes. I actually have to tell people that the call will drop in a few seconds and that I will call them back in a couple minutes when the service recovers. They always want to know how I can know that. It’s sad. Coverage has gotten *worse* over the past several months in many areas where I travel, and call reliability has suffered. It’s probably worth noting that the same bad service areas affect my iPad’s 3G data access, as well. So, it’s not just my iPhone.

As if that wasn’t enough, there’s the costs associated with the AT&T service. We pay a premium for iPhone voice and data plans, and get crap for service in return. If I had a buck for every time someone tried to call me and got voice mail, while my phone was sitting in front of me with four or five bars yet never rang once, I’d be able to pay that early termination penalty AT&T requires of it’s customers. It’s bad enough that AT&T sells us this poor service, but it’s even worse that Apple isn’t more publicly vocal and more forceful about getting the problems solved. It’s been three freakin’ years already, for gosh sakes! There is absolutely no excuse.

Then a week ago comes news that AT&T’s iPad registration service was exposing email addresses and validating iPad hardware identifiers, as uncovered by a hacker group with ShootFootan unfortunate name (don’t Google it if you are not already familiar with why it’s unfortunate, just trust me on that one). I, too got the victim-list email from AT&T describing what had happened, six or seven days after the fact. It’s not the actual leak that stinks in this case, it’s the fact that such a design would make it into a Internet service in the first place.

Since then, there’s been a bit of a meta-debate about who’s responsible for what, and all of it is really just details. The fact that the information leak *could* happen in the first place is yet another indicator of why AT&T is a sloppy, careless company when it comes to the services I consume and my personal information. Shame on them. But there’s more…

Then this week comes the straw that broke my proverbial camel’s back, as AT&T’s servers fail massively under load during the iPhone 4 pre-order, and we discover that apparently the company's critical software changes didn’t get tested, and changes got made at the last minute. Oh, and as a result our personal data is being exposed – once again - due to a supposed flaw in the AT&T systems and how they access database records.

Holy cow.

Regardless of the variety of outstanding questions about the exact details and severity of the security situations, the very existence of these problems is more than just problematic.

One has to wonder, if one is being pragmatic and watching the past couple weeks’ activity: What else might they be skimping on that we don’t already know about? If I followed the same practices and didn’t test or validate security and functionality in my line of work, there’s no doubt I’d be gone in a second. Again, simply unacceptable for a huge company and it’s customers, who demand and require trust.

None of this is indicative of a company that practices good, basic security principles as a matter of course. It’s not indicative of a company that strives first for quality. And it’s not the type of company I feel like I can trust anymore.

So, I am quitting you, AT&T. I’d say it’s been nice knowing you, but that would be mostly a lie. So I’ll just walk away and let the past be the past, and focus on the future. Nine-plus years is enough. Good luck to you. I hope you will change, but it’s going to take some serious work, and I just don’t know if you can actually do it. Your track record is not good. Change is hard. Change means pain. And  in the end, most people aren’t willing to endure that process. But maybe you will, and if you do please let me know. I’d like nothing more than to be a happy customer and to write something happy and positive here. I’ll keep my iPad service going with you, since I don’t really have much of a choice and its very existence is part of what makes it possible for me to let the iPhone go. But it’s time for a new phone on a new carrier.

Maybe someday you’ll earn my business back. You might have Apple in your jaws of exclusivity, but not me. For now, you’ve lost my trust and business -- and please realize that you killed an Apple iPhone customer in the process.

And that’s really saying something.

P.S. – A quick final thought to Apple:

I love the hardware. I love the OS. I love the apps. But I can’t stand the service provider, which has failed us for too long now.

I fail to see how you can continue to do exclusive business with a company like AT&T, and I hope you’ll quickly open up options for your customers. Maybe you’re already working on it, which would be a breath of fresh air in this cramped, stuffy, smelly room. I’m sure many will suffer the pains of AT&T to get your hardware and software in your hands, and honestly this is a painful decision for me to make because your phone is something I want and need. But your corporate quality and image is directly tied – even intertwined - to AT&T in the United States, and for a company that stands tall on the ideals of doing things well rather than doing them first, your AT&T relationship is a failure of massive proportions, with quality never measuring up and ability to correct way too lacking. For what it’s worth. I want your products more than any other, but AT&T’s issues have finally crossed a line and have reached the summit of Mt. Unacceptable.

So, what do I do? Please, tell me. Do I wait patiently for a relatively short period of time for another carrier option, or do I just make the move now and use someone else’s hardware?

I am truly sorry to have to leave, Steve. Please, win me back.



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Apple | IT Security | Mobile | Tech | Things that Suck
Wednesday, June 16, 2010 9:49:31 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Dubbed Astdroid, a new project by Danny Pier hopes to raise a small amount of funding between now and July 7th to launch a smartphone running the Android operating system (specifically Danny’s Sprint EVO 4G phone) into space. He plans to use a weather balloon launch vehicle and to raise the phone to around 35,000 meters. The phone would take pictures and return to earth via parachute once the balloon pops.

It’s a cool idea, with all sorts of possible problems. But what I find most interesting and exciting is the simple idea of just trying it.

I can relate to Pier’s frustration with the idea that the next time NASA will set foot on another terrestrial body it will be Mars (not the Moon), and it will happen sometime around 2035. I’ll be 68 years old in 2035, and while I certainly plan to last that long, I would love to see something more happen before then.

If NASA isn’t going to do it (which is a mistake of huge proportions in my book), then it’s up to us to stake baby steps and push for private space exploration, in whatever forms it might take.

Pier’s plan is to run software on the Android that will collect location and image data, transmitting back the location data in real time. He wants to recover the phone when it gets back to earth, gather the data and images from the phone, and use it again to do the same thing. He plans to share the software he uses so others can also explore.

The entrepreneurial spirit is powerful. Fun, relatively simple projects like this (well, simple compared to the space shuttle, at least) are a great way to encourage others to fuel the private space race, and I hope Pier’s passion rubs off on others.

And any Android phone is orders of magnitude more powerful computer-wise than anything that flew on an Apollo mission, and even more advanced than a lot of what’s flown on many of the space shuttle missions.

I’ve contributed to his effort, and I hope you will too. An investment in imagination and passion is always worthwhile.

And honestly, this is something I’d love to try someday, myself. :)



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Geek Out | Mobile | Tech
Tuesday, June 15, 2010 8:06:00 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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Apple Store app releasedWell, Apple has released their iPhone app version of the Apple Store, available in the app store now.

I tried to reserve an iPhone 4 through it this morning, but each time I enter and submit my phone account info, the app crashes and I'm returned to my iPad's home screen.

If I had to guess, I'd say AT&T's systems might be the problem since it crashes at the time the AT&T account info is submitted, but who knows. Regardless it's not a very graceful way to handle an error. :)

You can shop for anything Apple in the app, which is actually pretty slick.

Update: Still having problems on the AT&T site (which says it’s down for a server upgrade) and the Apple site, as well as the new iPhone store app doing the reservation. Honestly, you’d think these huge companies would plan ahead for the kind of volume they get every time these releases occur? If your bank planned ahead like this, you’d never get you money. It’s really completely inexcusable, and the track record is horrid. It’s hard to feel comfortable trusting my communication services and information to companies that don’t successfully execute on the basics like availability. Yikes…



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Apple | Mobile | Tech
Tuesday, June 15, 2010 7:18:00 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Monday, June 14, 2010

Ah, dilemas...

Yesterday as I was sitting on one of my favorite chairs with my iPad in hand, I found myself browsing the latest iPhone 4 news and rumors online. After all, the new Apple smartphone will be released to the wild in a week, and pre-orders start on Tuesday (tomorrow). So I had to get my fix of the excitement.

But as I sat there for a while and hopped back and forth from the web browser to this app and that app on my iPad, it occurred to be: Maybe I don't really need an iPhone anymore. Maybe I should look at my options.

Why would I even consider this? Well - because I have the iPad.

A moment of clarity washed over me as I realized that all the functionality I rely upon on the iPhone is also available on the iPad, with few exceptions. All of my aviation software that I use for flying I have on the iPad for example, and honestly I prefer to use it there. Come to think of it, all the apps I use regularly are getting by far the most use these days on my iPad, not the iPhone.

So, what exactly am I using my iPhone for, now that the iPad is in my life? What would I lose if my iPhone disappeared for good, that I can't find on my iPad? Honestly, it's a pretty short list:

  • Phone calls -Obviously I don't make calls on the iPad, those all happen on the iPhone. And the phone's not too reliable for that purpose, I should add. But I blame AT&T for that issue.
  • Text messages - Which I also cannot do on the iPad, at least not in the native form. I use Google Voice for all my text and inbound voice calls anyhow, so I do some of that on the iPad, some on the phone.
  • Location and mapping - But, most of my GPS navigation and guidance work is now performed by the iPad (there are a couple great HD turn-by-turn apps available).
  • Facebook app - just for convenience, and because the app on the iPad is, well, the iPhone app (and what the heck's up with that anyhow?). But I also do Facebook in the Safari browser on the iPad. It's just not as portable. And Facebook is hardly a deal-breaker requirement.
  • The iPhone is there any time I need pocket-sized app services - And this typically means using apps for things like weather and finding a store or restaurant, which I think can be done from other phones pretty easily. I don't want to carry the iPad with me everywhere, so there are times when I would have to go without.
  • Photos - Again, not something you can create with the iPad since there's no camera. But honestly the camera in the iPhone 3G isn't much to speak of, and any phone I'd buy today will dramatically improve on the camera story. I might even get - *gasp* - video capability.
When I consider the (frankly) crappy call delivery and high cost of service on the AT&T network over the past few years, it's awfully tempting to consider making a move away from that carrier for my phone services, which would of course also mean moving off the iPhone. And maybe the iPad 3G makes that move possible for me. Im certain that's not what Apple or AT&T intended, but it might just be the effect.

So - What to do?

I should point out that I do have a few strong reasons to want to stay with the iPhone and get the new model. It has a great interface, common apps between devices are nice to have, and the fact of the matter is things look terrific on the iPhone display (and will look even better on the new one). I like Apple's hardware and software very much, despite the walls and restrictions they've put in place.

In the "alternatives" department, I've started looking at the Sprint EVO 4G - a big new phone with a good performance spec sheet. There have been some rumors of glass/screen de-lamination so I will have to look into that to be sure. And battery life is rumored to be a bit weak. But, having access to 4G wireless data speeds in the city and a Sprint monthly service plan that costs less than the AT&T equivalent by as much as $30 is tempting. In fact, I could add Sprint's $29.95 Internet-sharing plan to the EVO 4G and it would serve as a wireless hotspot for me and 7 of my closest friends if I wanted. And all that for almost exactly the same cost I pay AT&T today for the same service, sans the 4G speeds and hot spot.

I've also thought about the new Verizon phones. The Droid Incredible looks pretty darn sharp, although it appears one will have to wait until July for it to ship. And Verizon's network is - well, you know. It's the network!

One interesting and frustrating tidbit about both of these Android phones is that neither comes with the Froyo (v2.2) version of Android installed. I'm sure HTC will ship it for the phones before too long, but it would have been nice to see them ship with the latest OS, especially given the performance improvements made in that version.

And so, none of this brings me any closer to a final decision. None of these phones are available today, but since pre-order time is here I feel like I should be making a choice. I guess I don't have to, but I don't really want to wait for too long. This shattered screen is pretty aggravating.

It would be cool to see the Android phones in action and to see whether the Android apps look any better on the phone's screen than they do in screenshots available on the web. Frankly, iPhone apps look pretty awesome most of the time, so I am a bit of spoiled iPhone snob, I suppose. Many of the screen shots of Android apps I have seen look like something on a Commodore 64 from when I was a kid. But maybe that's not the norm. So, if anyone has an EVO 4G they'd like to show off in the Portland area please let me know. :)

What would you do, and why?



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Apple | Mobile | Tech
Monday, June 14, 2010 6:36:38 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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