Tuesday, 15 June 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, 15 June 2010 08:06:00 (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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Tuesday, 15 June 2010 07:18:00 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Monday, 14 June 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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Monday, 14 June 2010 18:36:38 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Saturday, 12 June 2010

There's been a bit of a stink recently around whether or not Facebook's account deletion process works the way they say it does. The number of people pontificating in the tech blogger fishbowl has been rather amazing, but I have yet to see someone actually take the time to create, delete and reactivate an account, log on via a third party tool after an account was deleted, see what happens, etc.

So, I did just that in order to find out how the Facebook account deletion and reactivation process works.

In a nutshell, it appeared to work as advertised, right up until I got to the end of my testing, at which point my account was (much to my surprise) reactivated without my explicit permission. It seems the steps one takes must be the defining factor with regard to whether or not it works the way the user expects and (I expect) the way Facebook intends for it to work. In fact, I am unable to reliably recreate the situation, as I describe below. But at least one time the Facebook system reactivated my account without my request to do so.

I'll say right now there's no signs of deception or anything on the part of Facebook. If anything, it's more likely an edge-case bug of sorts, and no harm is done.

Screen clips and description of what I did to test the process follow. I set out to do this with the purpose of documenting the steps along the way.

First of all, I created a new account (I don't want to delete my old one) under the user email ID of greg.pdx@gmail.com. You can try to add me if you want, and if I get any communications as a result I will be sure to update this post.

Next I received the confirmation email for account creation and clicked the link in the email to crete the account.

And so in a few minutes I had a new Facebook account and profile:

Next I added a couple friends and Chris Pirillo, true to form, was quick to accept the request. I then went to my iPad and started up BeeJive IM, which I use to chat on Facebook and Live Messenger at the same time.

It uses Facebook Connect to log into the Facebook chat system. I provided my credentials on the iPad, set the appropriate permissions, and was quickly logged in:

I then signed out of chat and returned to the browser on my notebook, where I visited the hard-to-find Facebook account deletion page at


and started that process.

and received the notification both on-screen and in email that my account was scheduled for deletion in 14 days (which, by the way, is a very good way to go about this on Facebook's part, but we can save that for another time).

I then logged back in and received this message:

I decided to try reactivating and deleting again, which it allowed me to do. I received email notifications as well as on on-screen confirmation. Here's the email:

Now for the important part. I then went back to my iPad and logged into Facebook Chat via BeeJive, here is what I saw:

The only option available was to reconnect. If I reauthenticate via Facebook Connect, I am presented with the below screen, asking me if I want to reactivate my account. I have to specifically tell it "yes" in order for that to happen. No emails were received notifying me I was reactivated like happened before.

But wait -- I then went back to by notebook once again and opened up my web browser, and tried to log back into Facebook. I expected to see the same screen shown directly above, but instead was surprise to see my Facebook profile page! Within seconds, an email arrived from Facebook, again welcoming me back to Facebook. The only problem is, I never clicked on the Cancel Request button to tell Facebook I wanted to cancel the deletion of my account.

What's even more interesting is the fact that when I tried to recreate the situation again, Facebook is functioning as advertised. I'm now being prompted and asked if I want to cancel deletion or deactivate the account, where before I got the unexpected welcome-back email.

Well, it's certainly strange. Perhaps there's an edge-case issue/bug here that requires some specific order of operations to trigger. All I know is it happened to me, and frankly I was pretty surprised when it did. Facebook has some of the best talent in the industry and they work amazing technical miracles every day. But, bugs do happen. Maybe there's a log somewhere in the bowels of Facebook's data centers that can show what happened here, and someone can figure it out.

Before I finish, a brief comment on the 14-day deletion window. People are screaming that if they want something deleted, it should be deleted right now. Unfortunately, in the real world bad people steal passwords, drunk friends pull stupid pranks, drink account holders make stupid decisions (and I am specifically referring to account deletion, not drunk photo and video posting). There are many, many good reasons for a deletion grace period, reasons that protect users. I am glad they have it, and I think it would be negligent not to provide that to users considering the size, scope and importance of the service provided.

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Saturday, 12 June 2010 09:53:44 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Friday, 11 June 2010

Google Voice is a great service, grown up from the acquisition of Grand Central a couple years ago. When Google acquired Gizmo 5 last year, many of us who use Google Voice and benefit from its features got excited: Maybe they were on the cusp of bringing Google Voice to the desktop.

And the masses began to rejoice.

Well, unfortunately TechCrunch is reporting today that the Google Voice desktop app, which has apparently been confirmed as being reality and in testing internally at Google, may not see the light of day. Arrington suggests the reasons for that may be religious/philosophical in nature and that the team has been directed to look at building a web app instead.

And if that's true, well then that is a very sad thing, indeed.

So, Google - Let me be the voice of just one customer who has touted the service and used it extensively... one customer who says please - please - consider the situation for your end users here. We can benefit today from a desktop client and there are many use cases where a browser doesn't make the best sense. There are several recent examples of desktop/installed software coming out of Google, and Google Voice is one place where it just makes good sense to do a desktop app. And I should also point out that by releasing a Google Voice desktop app, there's nothing preventing Google from working hard to develop a strong and powerful HTML 5 app for the future - In fact, I would hope and bet good money you're already doing just that, as well!

We really want a Google Voice desktop app, and we really want it from Google. Please, if there's any actual debate over the right's and wrong's of delivering a desktop client, reconsider your position and make some happy customers very happy. And, when a HTML 5 app becomes workable and available we'll certainly cheer about that as well because we'll use it, too.


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Friday, 11 June 2010 13:15:21 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Monday, 07 June 2010
Last week I logged onto my AT&T Wireless account and checked out my account's upgrade eligibility there. At the time the site indicated it "Could not determine your upgrade eligibility." That was a little weird.

I logged back in today and looked again. With the bid Apple announcements expected today I figured it would be good to know if AT&T planned to make me wait until two years had passed on the calendar. When I asked in a store a few weeks back they'd told me late June.

But today the AT&T site indicates I am already eligible now. (Update: Apparently I'm not the only one)

The Apple keynote where a new 4th-generation iPhone is expected to be announced starts today at 10am. I'll be getting on a plane to go to Chicago about that time, so it looks like I will have to catch up on the news when I land.

I will probably get a new iPhone, as long as they don't cost an exorbitant amount of money. My current phone is the original 3G model, has a shattered (but still fully functional) screen, and is very, very slow with some of the resource-intensive apps I run. I've looked at Android phones, and while the OS is cool the apps I use the most are not available on that platform and likely never will be.

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Apple | Mobile | Tech
Monday, 07 June 2010 07:15:47 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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