Friday, October 07, 2011

Can I cancel my current Sprint account/plan and get a new iPhone 4S?

There's this new iPhone coming out - the iPhone 4S. Maybe you heard about it? Pretty nice device, really. I had iPhones exclusively for a few years from the time Apple came out with them - the original model and then the 3G. I never took the 3GS leap.

But a year and a half ago I fired AT&T out of frustration over continued poor service and moved over to Sprint. That meant I had to give up my iPhone, since AT&T was still the exclusive iPhone carrier. It also meant I never picked up an iPhone 4 model, other than the few times I made a call from a friend's phone. Instead I moved to an Android device, the Evo 4G (which I like, by the way).

Now, let me say up front that I'm not sure if I really want to make a change back to the iPhone right now. The Android phone actually works pretty well for me, as far as the OS and phone itself are concerned. Frankly, I rarely use the 4G capability of the Evo, mostly because of the limited and often spotty 4G WiMax service. But when it works, it works pretty well. Since I made the move away from AT&T a year and a half ago, Verizon - and starting next week Sprint - have added the iPhone to their lineups. I miss some of the capabilities and features I used to get with the iPhone, especially when it comes to app integration between the Macbook, iPad and the iPhone for my aviation-related apps, which get a lot of use between the iPad and Mac these days.

So, I decided to check and see what I'd have to shell out, should I decide I wanted to move to a new iPhone 4S on my Sprint account. The problem I foresaw was that I'm about six months away from the end of my current two-year contract. So, when logging into sprint.com the system told me I'd have to pay full price to order a new iPhone 4s today. Of course, it also informed me I could wait 176 days for upgrade eligibility, and then get $150 off the full price. The rather alarming full prices are:

  • 16GB iPhone 4S   $649.99
  • 32GB iPhone 4S   $749.99
  • 64GB iphone 4S   $849.99
  • 8GB iPhone 4 original   $549.99

Ouch.

So, I can pay full price now or $499 for a 16GB model in 6 months (more for the larger models). I would guess (but am not certain) that at that time I might be able to also sign a new 2-year contract with Sprint and get an additional $200 off, which would theoretically put me at $299 for the 16GB model with a fresh two-year Sprint contract lock-up. Or is the $150-off-list- price deal dependent on a 2-year deal as well? I will have to ask about that. Either way, I'm at least $100 more than the prices announced the other day (which require a contract)

Next I checked with Verizon, thinking maybe I could just cancel my Sprint service and go over there right away to get the subsidized price with a new two-year contract and not have to wait. Their prices were much more reasonable - and less than I'd pay at Sprint even if I waited for six more months and took the deal I already mentioned. Verizon's new account prices are: $99.00 for the original iPhone 4 and $199/$299$/399 for the new 4S models (also the same prices Sprint offer's it's new customers)

I don't really want to cancel my Sprint service: I get (truly) unlimited data and messaging on Sprint - and you don't get that on the other carriers (there tends to be a 2GB limit). I have a family plan, which allows me to share minutes between two lines, free evenings and weekend, free calls to any mobile phone, and more. Plus their service has been great for me, and when I roam it's free and it's on Verizon's network. I basically get the best of both worlds network-wise. Oh, and the monthly price is right, too. I like Sprint.

Out of curiosity, I logged back into my sprint.com account for another look, and decided to see what it would cost to add an additional line to my existing Sprint family plan and get a new iPhone that way. Maybe that would be cheaper? Ahh, what do you know - The site showed I could do just that and get the same two-year-commitment pricing as Verizon offered. Now we were getting somewhere!

But I don't need or want two phones or two numbers. So finally I called Sprint and asked the helpful support rep what would happen if I *added* a new number and additional line of service to my existing family plan account (a third line costs $19.99 a month if I add it and share the pool of minutes I'm already paying for). My real question was this: Could I then immediately cancel my original number/phone/service from the family plan?

"Sure you can do that," he said. I'ld have to pay a $90 early termination fee balance for the existing line (it's prorated from the original $200 fee (which Sprint recently increased to $350)), and they'd move my existing Sprint number to the new iPhone, too if I wanted. The Sprint rep even put me on hold and took the time to verify with management that was okay to do. Oh, and if I want they'll purchase the used Evo 4G through their buy-back program and credit me $87 for it - which would pretty much negate the $90 early termination fee. Alternatively I could sell the Evo 4G to someone else if I wanted. Either way, it's not a bad deal. And the $19.99 a month fee for the third line would go away as soon as I cancelled the original line, too.

So, based on what the Sprint rep told me it's doable - and fairly reasonable. They recover their costs through the balance of the early termination fee, and get a subscriber locked in for an additional two years (and the early-termination fee for the new phone would be $350.00). If I want, I can get an iPhone 4S without having to pay $650-$850 for the privilege. Sometimes all you have to do is ask the right questions.

Not sure yet if I'll actually decide to get an iPhone 4S. I'd have to think carefully about what I'd lose in the process, app-wise. One big red flag is that I use Google Voice exclusively for calling and text messages, and it's all Frankenstein-style-built-in on Android natively via the Google Voice app. Not so much on iPhone. Update: I picked up a Sprint iPhone and was able to pretty much fully integrate Google Voice without having to use the Google Voice app, full information here.

So that's one important trade-off to consider, along with the change Sprint made on September 9th: They now charge a $350 termination fee (the same as Verizon and AT&T) that's pro-rated depending on the number of months left on a subscriber's contract. But regardless, it's good to know that if one wants to make the move, it appears there's a reasonable way to do it.



Add/Read: Comments [3]
Android | Apple | Mobile | Tech
Friday, October 07, 2011 3:45:35 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
#  
 Saturday, October 01, 2011

A couple months ago I dropped by Micro Aerodynamics in Anacortes, Washington after putting together a big fireworks show there for Independence Day. Micro Aerodynamics makes kits of micro vortex generators that can be installed on aircraft to improve performance in a variety of areas. Under the supervision of A&P What-VGs-domechanic and IA (plus all-around-good-guy) Danny from Twin Oaks Airpark in Hillsboro, I’m installing the micro vortex generators on my airplane, N639MR, a 1975 Piper Warrior PA28-151.

What the heck are vortex generators (VGs) and why would I want them? Good question.

VGs can reduce stall speeds and improve an aircraft’s aerodynamic performance. They allow the wing to develop more lift and fly at lower airspeeds, as compared to not having VGs installed.  In turn, this can reduce takeoff speed and improve the rate of climb.  VGs also help to retain effective aileron (toll) control and enhance your rudder (yaw) authority in higher angles of attack.

As air flows over a clean, efficient wing the air "sticks" or adheres to the surface of the wing – a function called “laminar flow.” This clean, laminar flow of air over the properly-shaped wing's surface results in a high pressure zone underneath and a low pressure zone above the wing, which is how lift is produced – The wing moves toward the low pressure zone as the difference is equalized. If the air flowing over the wing surfaces (especially in the low-pressure zone on top of the wing) loses its laminar flow, wing and flight performance can suffer in the form of increased drag, loss of lift and higher fuel consumption.

NASA researchers developed micro VGs to control this flow delamination by producing miniature, controlled spirals of air, called "vortices." The spirals of air laminate well to the surface of the wing and as a result airflow over the wing is more efficient and “sticks” better across the entire surface, including at lower air speeds and higher angles of attack. The result is reduced drag and increased wing efficiency and lift (or you can think of it in terms of DSC00401less engine power being required to produce the same amount of lift). In a perfect world, the end results for the pilot are shorter take-off distances due to more efficient creation of lift, lower aerodynamic stall speeds, ability to land slower and therefore in a shorter distance, snappier and more responsive control inputs for roll, pitch and yaw at all speeds (including critically slow speeds such as in landing configuration), and in some cases even increased top cruise speeds and smoother ride due to the resulting aerodynamic improvements (in the case of especially inefficient wings).

Anyhow, I dropped about $1450 on the kit, and after discussing with my mechanic and discovering I could install them under his guidance and supervision I adopted a measure-twice-mark-once methodology and a friend joined me in the hangar to begin the process of installing the micro VGs on my airplane.

The Micro Aerodynamics kit, first of all, is incredibly complete and well put-together. It includes literally everything you need, with the exception of a couple items I needed to pick up at the local store (90% or higher concentration rubbing alcohol, and in my case some paint and blue painter’s tape, since I would be painting the VGs myself). The VG kit has all the thread, masking tape, adhesive, of course the nearly -200 aluminum VG pieces, self-adhesive patterns to stick on the wings, DSC00432abrasive pad, razor knife, a metal measuring tape – even a sharpened pencil all ready to go. I imagine the only reason I had to buy the rubbing alcohol on my own was because it’s not normally easy to ship that in the mail.

Preparation consisted first of a thorough washing of the entire aircraft to remove all the dirt, dust and bug crud, especially from the wings and tail control surfaces. Another good friend helped me with that a few days prior. On the day we started installing the kit, a lint-free cloth and some rubbing alcohol removed any final layers of crud from the areas where the VGs will be applied – The wings, stabilator (horizontal stabilizer on the tail) and the vertical stabilizer (the upward fin portion of the tail).

I shot a few “before” pictures of the airplane a jotted down some recent performance numbers to help my memory. Typical cruise speed is 117 to 120 MPH properly trimmed at about 2500 RPM and typical sustained climb with full tanks and just me in the plane is about 600-700 feet per minute on a standard-ish day. The airplane stalls with full flaps and in landing configuration (power off) at a pretty low speed – around 50 miles per hour or less. Under full power it’s hard to get it to do a full stall at all, but seems like it’s about the same speed in slow flight at altitude (3000 feet). But ultimately the test will be flying the airplane, hands on the controls and butt in the seat, and seeing how it flies.

Installation consists of following a set of provided diagrams and instructions, and carefully measuring parts of the plane, making marks where indicated, stretching black thread between points to define reference lines, and then applying a DSC00449bunch of patterns made of self-adhesive contact paper. The pattern templates have cut-outs where the VGs will go, as well as notches you line up with the thread lines and the various reference marks you made in the measurements phase.

Placement is important, and the templates make it pretty easy to get it right. In fact, the creator of the Micro VGs told me one customer, who happens to be an airplane mechanic, gave the kit to his 12 and 14 year old buys to install on his airplane (supervised of course, and with great success). Measuring twice and having a helper to provide a second set of eyes will ensure you get everything in the right place. In fact, there are many parts of this project that are much better done with two people.

We completed the full installation in two evenings over about . The first evening was spend measuring, marking with a pencil, stretching thread lines and putting the contact paper templates in place. Then the measurements had to be re-checked carefully, since the adhesive that’s used to stick the small aluminum VG pieces is basically permanent. There’s no moving them once they’re on there.

DSC00464Day two consisted of finish painting the VGs and allowing them to fully dry (I’d actually recommend doing this the day before you actually install them, though) followed by prepping the surfaces where the VGs would be glued down. Pre consists of using a Scotch Brite pad (supplied in the kit) to break the glossy paint barrier, and then wiping the surface clean using rubbing alcohol.

The adhesive in the kit comes in two parts: A small aerosol can with chemical activator that is sprayed on the surface of the airplane skin where the template cutouts are, as well as a syringe of adhesive material, which is applied one drop at a time to the bottom tab on each of the 196 VGs. Needless to say, it takes a while and is some careful, tedious work to glue nearly 200 little metal tabs.

Probably the easiest to mess up and least-forgiving part of the whole project is the process of getting  the right amount of adhesive on the bottom of each VG. It’s easy to get too much on there, and the result is glue squeezing out from underneath. When it cures, it tends to turn from clear to DSC00472a brownish color, so you don’t want that stuff left over when you’re done – It will just make your wings look cruddy. So, a package of 100 cotton swabs is also included in the kit, along with the razor knife, to allow you to clean the excess adhesive before it becomes a problem that can only be solved with a Dremel tool.

The first few VGs we applied were not pretty – I ‘ll just admit that up front. I had to scrape enough adhesive off that it took paint off the VGs, so I will be spot-painting those in the next day or two so they look proper and nice. But after applying a few, my friend and I got in the swing of things and discovered exactly how much it takes. One thing the kit doesn’t have that I think would be of huge benefit is a few practice VGs and a template and piece of aircraft sheet metal. For someone who’s never done this before, a small amount of practice could be really helpful before defacing the skin of a real airplane. But that’s just an idea, and in the end this is not rocket science.

The adhesive cures quickly, and we adopted the recommended method of applying a little at a time in stages. Activator first, then glue on a group of VGs (maybe 20 or 30 or so). Let the previous set cure and harden while you install the next set. Once cured, you just peel the contact paper templates off from around the VGs, DSC00476clean up any excess adhesive and tape and crud, and then move onto the next section. Applying all the VGs took us about three hours of solid work as a team. My friend Matt applied the glue to each VG, while I sprayed on the activator and then placed each VG on the plane in the gaps provided by the templates. On the wings the VGs go on top of the wing surface a few inches aft of the leading edge. On the tail, it’s different. The horizontal stabilizer VGs actually go underneath the wing, and on the vertical stabilizer they go just in front of the “rudder” surface, in the middle of the stabilizer structure. You need to be careful to make sure the ones you apply to the vertical surfaces don’t slide out of place due to gravity – a few of mine wanted to, so I had to make sure they stayed in the right spot until they cured, which takes only a couple minutes. Less is more when it comes to adhesive, we found. But too little and you’re also in bad shape, so really it’s all about the art of getting just the right amount on the base of each VG.

The end result is an airplane that looks pretty darn different – Those little tabs really give the old plane teeth. Next up is a final inspection and (hopefully) signoff by the shop, completion of some required FAA paperwork, and then I’ll get to test fly it, which will be fun. Until then, just have to wait!

Update: The plane was checked and given the green light on Sunday and I flew it for an hour or two. Results were great, with a number of pleasant surprises. Will post more info soon.

DSC00498   DSC00485   DSC00492



Add/Read: Comments [1]
Aviation | Random Stuff
Friday, September 30, 2011 11:52:51 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
#  
 Thursday, July 21, 2011

I've been chasing my tail lately with an older MacBook Air laptop that simply would not reliably connect to the WiFi router provided to me by my ISP, Qwest. The ZyXEL PK5000Z router is a combo DSL modem and wireless router.

The strangest part of the issue was that while non-Apple hardware would connect to the router just fine, all of my Apple devices had issues, varying in nature. The iPad would connect but the connection was flaky at best and sometimes would just hang. My MacBook Air would rarely connect to the WiFi network, and when it did connect it would almost always not be able to get any network traffic to pass. When traffic did start to move on rare occasion, it would burst and then quit. Every non-Apple device, from Windows machines to PlayStation to WiFi-enabled TV to smartphones, etc. worked fine. Just the Apple stuff failed. I was partially assuming the old MacBook Air was to blame - It's been dropped on its head a few times and has been through the ringer. It's pretty worn out.

Then today I got a brand-new model MacBook Air (more on that later perhaps). I expected it to work but when I got home, it was just more of the exact same issue. Ugh. Not good.

I tried a number of things to try to fix the problem. I turned off UPnP and set up a wireless network with no security or encryption, but the results were the same. So I called Qwest to see if someone there had any ideas. I have to admit that based on past experience, I didn't have high hopes. But, I spoke with a guy who asked me to change my router to force it to use channel 11 on the WiFi radio. I was quite surprised when - after changing the channel and forcing the router to use just that channel, the Apple computers and iPad starting working just fine.

So, if you happen to have issues getting your Apple computer, iPad or iPhone or other device to connect to the PK5000Z router, give WiFi Channel 11 a try. It might just work. The PK5000Z wireless radio setup page is probably located here, but if that link doesn't work just browser in your web browser to 192.168.0.1 and then click on Wireless Setup, and then in the left side menu click on Radio Setup. Next, the radio is set to Auto Detect for the channel default setting, Change that to Channel 11. Make sure the power setting is set to Full and scroll down to click the Apply button. That's it!



Add/Read: Comments [21]
Apple | Tech
Thursday, July 21, 2011 9:45:45 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
#  
 Monday, May 16, 2011

Note: The scholarships for 2011 have been awarded, but check back at the EAA-105 web site in future years for other opportunities.

If you're 16 to 21 years old (or 15 years old but will turn 16 this year), and if you live in the Portland area and want to learn to fly an airplane, there are a handful of $1000 scholarships available - and you should apply! They are sponsored by the George and Lillian Bogardus Memorial Trust, and will be awarded at the end of June, 2011.

Applications are open now though the local EAA chapter. Ten hours of paid-for flight training with an instructor is a pretty cool deal -- See the PDF file linked here and feel free to contact me for more info!

EAA  Chapter  105  will  be  awarding  4  scholarships each consisting of the recipients choice of either:

  • Option 1:  10  Hours  of  flight  training  in  a  Cessna 150  with  an  instructor  through  Starks Twin Oaks Airpark in Hillsboro, Oregon
  • Option 2:  $1,000  towards  aircraft  rental  for  flight training  purposes  at  Starks  Twin  Oaks or other flight school of their choice

RULES:

  • Applicant must be between the ages of 16 through 21.  The applicant may be 15, but must turn 16 in  calendar year 2011.
  • The scholarship is non‐transferrable. 
  • Option 1 must be completed by October 31, 2011.
  • Option 2 must be completed by December 31, 2011.
  • The scholarship may be utilized towards any level of flight training (beginning student through advanced ratings).
  • Children and/or grandchildren of chapter directors, Bogardus trustees, and scholarship selection panel members are not eligible.

TO APPLY:

Submit an application packet (via email in PDF format) to michelle.smith@eaa105.org by Friday, June 10, 2011.   This packet must contain:

  • Biography and contact information.
  • 1 to 2 page narrative describing applicant’s interest, experience, and future plans in aviation.
  • 3 letters of recommendation (2 must be from other than family members).
  • Parental approval and signature (if under 18 years of age)

Interviews for up to 10 selected applicants will be held on Saturday, June 25th.



Add/Read: Comments [0]
Random Stuff
Monday, May 16, 2011 5:41:14 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
#  
 Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Update: Apple has posted a Q&A page with information about the data in question, exactly what that data is, and changes they have planned.

This is, well... it's at least very interesting. Which is to say, it’s something that has to make you wonder: Even when core location tracking is not active, apparently your iOS4 device is keeping a log of everywhere it goes. Which is to say, everywhere it goes with you.

The four images here are a visualization of the info harvested from my own iPad, retrieved automatically from a iTunes backup of my iPad on my Mac (click on each of the images to view full-size). I should note that the locations are actually displayed in a less accurate fashion (visually) by the program that generates the map plots, so as to somewhat avoid any issues and abuse associated with exact location tracking. The information in the data file being analyzed is substantially more accurate and detailed.

From cell tower triangulation (it appears this is where the data comes from), you can see a cross country trip I took with a friend from New York to New Mexico, visits to the Denver/Boulder area, and of course a whole slew of travel around the Pacific northwest, where I live.

Also of interest is that I very recently (within the past two months) had my iPad replaced when the sync jack went bad, yet much of the data is from the old iPad in addition to the new one. Obviously when I restored a backup on the old one to the new one, the data was retained as part of the restore. Interesting. Also, there's location info that's recorded on mine, and in some cases I don't see the location data for areas I know I have been to. I'm not completely sure of the rhyme or reason for that.

Video of the two guys who discovered this and created the visualization program is here. They discuss how this was discovered and go into some detail about the data, where it lives and what they found. Video is via the Where 2.0 conference.

Got a 3G iPhone or iPad? You can run the "iPhone Tracker" app on your own Mac and see what your iTunes backup has sitting around on your computer. If your iTunes backups are encrypted (not a default setting) the data is still there but it's not readable.

On it's face and in isolation this is not exactly a huge deal. The location data is not being sent anywhere as far as we know. It resides on your iPad or iPhone (3G models) and on your computer where you sync to iTunes. Well, that's assuming you don't sync to someone else's computer, of course. In that case, they might have your location data available to view and play with.

And really, that's why this could be a big deal, on some level. And it's not just that the data is being collected, cataloged, stored and exists, it's that it's been there since iOS4 was released, and we didn't know because no one really noticed until now. Someone had to get curious, poke around, dig into the data and discover it by accident. Makes you wonder what other info might be hanging around in places we don't know about, eh?

Hopefully Apple will explain exactly what all the data is, why it's there and how it's used - in great detail. It can't be there for no reason, and I can think of a few cool reasons for collecting the data, but unencrypted and no notification of tracking is a little concerning to me. I'm looking forward to hearing from Apple to understand more.



Add/Read: Comments [1]
Apple | IT Security | Mobile
Wednesday, April 20, 2011 5:25:29 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
#  
 Tuesday, January 25, 2011

I’ve been a Google Voice (and before that GrandCentral) user for a few years now. It’s a terrific service that provides One Phone Number to Rule Them All, so to speak. You can associate multiple different phone accounts (land, mobile, satellite, whatever suits you) with one Google Voice number and can change them at any time. So, anyone can dial or send text messages to your Google Voice number, and you control which phones ring and when, and where your text messages go.

Today Google announced that they are offering a service for $20 that allows you to port your existing mobile phone number to Google Voice, which means you can start using GV without having to take on a whole new phone number. That’s a great thing when you want to avoid the hassles of getting people to start using a new number.

But there are a few things you should know before you make this move, so you can be sure it’s for you.

Google Voice supports most – but but not all – of the features you have on a typical mobile/smart-phone plan. Certainly you will be able to receive calls, get voice mail, and send/receive text messages (especially on Android with the awesome GV app).

There are, however, a few common mobile features that are not supported by Google Voice:

  • Multi-media Messaging Service (MMS): If you like to send video, picture or audio messages to your friends and family, Google Voice can’t do this. I regularly have to tell people trying to send me their video or picture to send it to my email or my actual cell phone number provided by the carrier (which I don’t give out – that would defeat the whole purpose of Google Voice). So, if MMS and one number if critical for you, you should wait until GV gets around to supporting this.
  • Calls to your Google Voice number are not counted as calls to a mobile number for the purpose of mobile carrier call plans. So mobile-to-mobile minutes won’t get accounted for in the same way.
  • With a couple of exceptions, calls you make from phones attached to you Google Voice account will not show up on called ID as having come from your Google Voice number. The exceptions to this are when calls are initiated through the GV web app (in which case Google’s systems dial you up on your phone then connect you to the person you’re dialing) and a few of the GV mobile apps like the ones for Android and iPhone. The Android app actually builds itself into the Android OS’ dialing system and it’s truly seamless. On the iPhone you need to dial using the Google Voice app.
  • For text messages to be sent to mobile phones and for them to appear as coming from your GV account phone number, they need to be sent through the GV service, too. This means using the Google Voice interface on Android OS (which you can set as your text messaging default, by the way), via the iPhone app, etc., or from the most useful Google Voice web app interface mentioned earlier. I use the web app all the time for text messaging from my computer browser. But it’s different, so you need to realize that.
  • Text messages sent by applications and to/from short message codes (like Skype, your bank, etc.) don’t work.

That said, Google Voice is a terrific service that lets you have one phone number that can ring and deliver messages across several other phones. I use two Google Voice numbers – one I give out as my home phone and the other is for work calls. If I am working from my home office, both numbers cause my home phone to ring, but no one actually knows the number of my home phone – they just know the GV number that I gave them. If I move or far whatever reason change hone phone or work or cell phone numbers, I don’t have to worry about telling anyone. I just change the associated numbers in my Google Voice account. If I am on vacation somewhere across the country for a few days and want calls made to my home GV number - but only from my family members - to ring a phone number at my friend’s house, but only after 8am and before 11pm, and not during the next two hours because I want to get a nap… Google Voice can do that for me, too. It’s really quite powerful and easy to set up.

You can set schedules for different phones, and having a complete history of every call, voice mail and text message available in the browser app is really very nice. If any of the phone numbers associated with the different phones you have connected to your GV account and number should change in the future, there’s no need to tell the world. The people you know can just keep dialing your GV number, and in the background you can change that number that AT&T gave you back in the day when you got your first iPhone and point it at your new Verizon number. Hey, I’m just sayin’...

More information about porting numbers and Google Voice in general can be found at:



Add/Read: Comments [1]
Android | Apple | Mobile | Tech
Tuesday, January 25, 2011 1:43:25 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
#