Tuesday, July 06, 2010

As many know, I shoot public fireworks displays now and then for Western Display Fireworks, a company located right here in Oregon. That means I’m typically off at some big show each July 4th in either Washington or Oregon, the two states where I am a card carrying pyrotechnics display operator. This year I was with my fine crew in Anacortes, Washington – a town located between Seattle and the Canadian border. We fired the show out over Hidalgo Bay, and it was a good time. The people of Anacortes are terrific, and the show went off without a hitch. For a while earlier in the day the winds were pretty bad, but Mother Nature cooperated and they died off before the show started.

Below is a video of the show as well as a couple setup videos. You can see more video of the setup process at http://qik.com/greghughespdx as well if you like, and once I can get the show video from the other camera downloaded (it was giving me fits last night when I tried) I will post that, as well.

Enjoy.

Anacortes July 4th Fireworks - 2010 from Greg Hughes on Vimeo.

Loading shells

Wiring up the show



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Fireworks | Random Stuff
Tuesday, July 06, 2010 3:12:47 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Monday, June 21, 2010

I've recently run across a number of great resources while researching my Sprint EVO 4G phone, which runs the Android operating system and is quite tweakable.

One of the top resources I've found is called Good and EVO, a blog that answers in patient detail lots and lots of great questions. Anyone who has the device and doesn't know where to start but wants to learn about the phone and how to make it really work should read through all the articles on the site. It's very well-written and contains a wealth of information and links. Check it out at http://www.goodandevo.net/.

Another excellent - and more technical - resource is the xda-developers Android Development forum for the EVO 4G phone. Uber-geeks will rejoice in all the slang and tech jargon being slung around the walls of these rooms. Of particular interest for people getting started hacking on the EVO is "rooting" the device and installing customer ROMs (images of the operating system packages). Check out the EVO Helpful/Popular Threads topic for links to the basics, and check out the broader forum for lots and lots more. The forum can be found at http://forum.xda-developers.com/forumdisplay.php?f=653.

Other good resources to list?



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Android | Mobile | Tech
Monday, June 21, 2010 8:51:46 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Sunday, June 20, 2010

Facebook is huge. It serves hundred of billions (literally) of pages a month, and 1.2 million photos every second. Wow. It's generally considered the world's largest web site. I'm waiting for an episode of Build it Bigger to air talking about Facebook, but I doubt they'll do it. Software scaling is hard to show in TV (but data center pictures are exciting to some, I suppose).

Operating software, databases and infrastructure at Facebook scale is a massive and complicated undertaking, and they actually do a lot of it on open-source software.

Pingdom takes a look at how Facebook does it, and describes some of the open-source technology the company leverages, in an interesting article called The Software Behind Facebook. It's worth reading.



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Random Stuff | Tech
Sunday, June 20, 2010 8:14:29 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Saturday, June 19, 2010

The other day I decided I'd had enough pain in my relationship with AT&T and that I was going to make a move. I looked at my various options, and landed on Sprint and the EVO 4G Android-based smart phone. I've spent a few days with the new service and device, and I thought I would write up some early thoughts and opinions.

First of all, let's get this part out of the way: I already miss using the iPhone. Now, the Android phone is cool and there are a lot of good things to say about it. But the iPhone is what I'm used to, and from size to form to OS usability to - well - fit and finish, so to speak... The iPhone is great, and hard to leave.

Sprint's mobile service

As expected, Sprint's service is a little patchier in certain spots around the Portland area than AT&T, while in other areas Sprint provide substantially better coverage. Neither carrier truly blankets the entire area effectively. At my house, located in a fairly remote and rural area about an hour northwest of the city, service by both carriers is equally spotty.

But one thing about the Sprint service that stands out over AT&T's is the call delivery stability. Calls go through, the phone rings when someone is calling, and I have yet to experience a dropped call even once. Even in areas with one or two bars of signal strength showing on the phone I can reliably place and receive calls. Try that with an iPhone on AT&T (even in strong signal strength areas) and one is bound for overall abject failure disappointment.

The EVO 4G phone

The phone is pretty darned slick, and Android is a very cool operating system. It's a tough adjustment from the iPhone to this device in some ways. But overall, color me quite impressed. The display is nice, and even though it's a little larger than I might like it is good hardware with a quality fit and finish.

Battery life is somewhat frustrating, and Sprint even hands out a half sheet of paper when you buy the phone printed with recommendations on how to configure your phone to prevent battery drain. The usual suspects apply (turn off GPS and 4G when not in use, turn down screen brightness, etc.) but I think we all recognize that they wouldn't be handing out the sheet if battery consumption wasn't an issue for customers. That said, my experience so far is that battery life is fairly reasonable if you follow the recommendations. I just wish it wasn't necessary, and I'm hopeful someone builds something like a 3000 mAh battery that will fit in the same slot as the provided 1500 mAh battery. There's a little extra room inside that back compartment, so if it's practical to build a bigger battery to fit, hopefully someone will come through. I know I'd buy it.

There are some good apps out there, but not the same quality as I can find for the iPhone in the areas I care about the most. And I am having problems with some apps crashing and force-quitting that are more than just a little frustrating.

The ability to customize and run widgets, etc. on the phone's "desktop" screens is super cool, and the Google Voice app builds itself into the OS in such an elegant, Borg-like manner that it just makes sense for GV people. There are a couple glitches in the app, but hopefully those get improved upon over time.

In a nutshell...

I miss the iPhone a bit. The EVO is a great phone, don't get me wrong.

I don't miss AT&T at all, at least not yet. My calls on Sprint go through the first time and they don't drop. Data connectivity is reliable and performs well. I can't say that about AT&T.

Thinking out loud about the service issues on AT&T's network...

I'm no cell phone service expert. Far from it. But one thing I've wondered over the past few days is whether the issues on the AT&T network are solely carrier problems, or if some small part of the blame might be Apple's. Is it possible the methods of connecting to and communicating on the network being implemented by Apple aren't optimal? I wonder because for the past year I've carried my iPhone with me for personal use, while at the same time carrying a Blackberry - also on AT&T's network - for business purposes. Frequently the Blackberry performs better in any given location than the iPhone. But not always. There are times when both devices just fall off the back of the truck as far as network connectivity and reliability (for both voice and data) is concerned, Yet I can say based on that year's worth of experience that when I've needed to make a call and ensure the best chance of staying connected and not getting dropped, I've used the Blackberry with noticeably greater reliability.

The amateur radio geek in me in me can think of a few possible reasons for the difference between the performance differences between my iPhone and the Blackberry in the same locations at the same time:

  • They connect and communicate differently - Obviously the engineers at the different phone manufacturers don't get together in the same room and write radio code, so I suppose it's possible RIM's people are better at this than Apple's folks.
  • They're using different cell towers/radios/bands/frequencies - Since these are multi-band transceivers, one has to remember that they may not be operating on the exact same infrastructure equipment at any given point in time. In that case, performance would likely be different.
  • The Blackberry seems to hand-off to EDGE sooner than the iPhone, and it stays connected to the network at least a little more reliably.
At any rate, it's hard for me to know what I will think of the EVO and Sprint in another week. I have this 30-day period to decide if it's right for me, and if it doesn't work out I can decide to try something else, or even go back to AT&T if it turns out I was wrong in my decision. But that doesn't sound like something I want to do at this point.



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Android | Apple | Mobile | Tech
Saturday, June 19, 2010 6:26:25 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 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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