Friday, 24 December 2010

For people looking to add some last-minute fun to the "here comes Christmas" time, a friend let me know about a cool video service at http://www.portablenorthpole.tv/ that lets you do some serious customization and personalization, with the end result being a personal message for the recipient from Santa himself. And, best of all, it's free!

The message topic, various phrases, recipient name, nickname and a photo can be specified by you, and it only takes a few minutes to do the whole thing. Plus, anyone can do it. The site walks you through all the steps one at a time. There's also a mobile version at the Apple App Store.

If you want to see an example of a personalized video, you can check one out here.



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Friday, 24 December 2010 11:12:19 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Thursday, 23 December 2010

Time has come for Jolly Ol' Saint Nick to pay his visits to the good little girls and boys this year. Here are a couple resources you can use with the kiddos to interact with Santa and build up some additional excitement for the Christmas event.

As always, NORAD is tracking Santa's progress throughout the Christmas delivery window. You can go with your kids to http://noradsanta.org for lots of information and links to various tracking resources. There's even a mobile version of the site (m.noradsanta.org) and a Twitter feed (twitter.com/noradsanta). Oh, and on Facebook, too at http://facebook.com/noradsanta of course. Here is the obligatory YouTube video:


But, that's not all. For those parents who might want to arrange a call from the Jolly Old Elf himself, there's an app (or two or three) for that. For those living in the Android world, here are a couple:

CALLME! Christmas - Allows you to choose a child's name and a message and receive a "phone call" (actually an app that plays the audio locally) that you can answer with your child. Lots of good options and pretty cool.

Christmas Call from Santa - This one allows you to receive up to four actual calls. In this case, any phone can be used and a real phone call comes in with a good or "don't be naughty" greeting.

And - from the BONUS department - Check out the interactive Talking Santa (free) app in the Android Market. It's a lot of fun and the kids will enjoy it.

For those without a smartphone, there's also a service on the web called Santa's Hotline that you can use to arrange calls to your child - by name - from Santa. You schedule and choose the call. Very cool.

Merry Christmas everyone!



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Android | Random Stuff
Thursday, 23 December 2010 23:07:07 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Thursday, 09 December 2010

I recently went on a trip across the country with a good friend, and ended up in the town where we grew up – Los Alamos, New Mexico. My final stop before returning to Oregon was the Four Corners area – Farmington, Durango and Shiprock. Here are a few pictures from the New Mexico portion of the trip, which a few people have asked for hi-res copies of. You can click on each one to see the full size version, and then right-click on the large version and choose to save it to your computer if you like. And since it comes up more often than not eventually, pkease note that commercial or publication use just requires asking nicely. :)

Shiprock, New Mexico

Shiprock2 Shiprock1

Front Hill Road view, Los Alamos, New Mexico

DSC00056aaa DSC00095aaa

Clines Corners, New Mexico

ClinesCornersSign

Fence, 210 North Allen

DSC00113aaa



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Photography | Random Stuff
Thursday, 09 December 2010 01:04:00 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Yesterday I wrote about how I enabled my MacBook Air to share a wireless laser printer in my home office so I could print to it using the new Air Print feature in iOS 4.2 on the iPad. That works great, but since my MacBook is only *almost* always on, I started thinking about other options. I have a first –generation (Power-PC-based) Mac Mini in my living room that basically doesn’t get used at all, but I don’t think OS x 10.6.5 is really an option for that. So, I turned my attention to the other always-on computer in my home office, the HP MediaSmart Home Server.

airprint_services I wondered to myself, has anyone come up with a way to share printers accessible from a Windows computer with AirPrint-capable iOS devices? And, sure enough, someone has already done just that. The short tutorial covers Windows workstation versions (XP, Vista and Win7), but the instructions apply to Windows Home Server and other flavors of Windows Server, as well. My Win Home Server is based on the Server 2003 OS.

I’m going to add to a couple of the original steps here, since there are a few things I did that were not included in the instructions on the original post.

First of all, you need printer drivers installed for the printer you want to share on the system. You may not have printers already installed and shared on your Windows Home Server. To do this, you can make a Remote Desktop connection to your WHS  machine, and from there follow the standard steps to set up a local printer. In my case, I downloaded the Brother printer drivers and set up the network printer and printed a test page from the WHS machine to make sure it was working properly. Next, I followed the instructions on the port referenced earlier, and then I enabled sharing on the networked printer.

The first time I connected to the printer, a little padlock icon appeared on the iPad (see beow), indicating a Windows account user name and password were required to access the shared printer. This, of course, can be controlled and changed on the Windows computer in the printer sharing security preferences:

     print_locked

After entering the account information, the printer was accessible and printing of various content (text, graphics and photos) worked flawlessly. One big difference I noticed between sharing the same printer through Windows vs. the Mac is that when connected via the Windows AirPrint share, an option for double-sided printing appeared. That option is missing when connecting to the same printer shared via the Mac. Here’s the Windows-connected printer options as seen on the iPad:

     print_windows

So, I now have my laser printer shared across all devices on my LAN, including iOS 4.2, via the Windows Home Server, no extra charge!

Related Links:

 



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Apple | Home Servers | Tech | Windows
Tuesday, 23 November 2010 11:27:43 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Monday, 22 November 2010

UPDATE: Check out my new post that describes how to enable the AirPrint support for Windows shared printers, including on Windows Home Server.

photo I was pretty excited, based on reports in the community in the past about being able to print from my iPad in the new iOS 4.2.1 operating system via my Mac computer. My WiFi laser printer in my home office is a good printer, but it certainly is not Airprint enabled. So leveraging my MacBook (which is pretty much always up and running) was to be a good option for me.

But, alas, iOS 4.2.1 is here, and OS X 10.6.5 is installed and running on my MacBook (after some troublesome issues that finally got resolved)… But it looks like Apple removed the Airprint capability from the 10.6.5 release of OS X. It was in the beta versions, but not in the version they finally released.

Lifehacker has a brief article describing how to manually enable Airprint support in 10.6.5, so you can share your non-Airprint printers with your iOS 4.2 devices via your Mac.

In a nutshell, you just do this:

  • Download a few files (which are pulled from the OS X beta)
  • Copy them to a couple of specific locations (described in the linked site, above)
  • Remove your printer from the system
  • Restart your Mac
  • and re-add your printer, and share it

IMAG0233aOf course, this is not a supported configuration and undoubtedly there is some very real reason why it was not included in 10.6.5, so your mileage may vary should you decide to try it.

For those who may not want to break open the Terminal app in OS X, someone also built a quick Mac App called Airprint Hacktivator that you can run, which will allow you to automagically install the proper files and configure the OS.

Again, your mileage may vary. But I can tell you, it worked for me! I used the Hacktivator app and didn’t even have to restart my computer. I ran it, removed the old shared printer and re-added it, and instantly my iPad “saw” it and was able to print.

So, I’m now printing from my iPad, via my MacBook Air on the WLAN, to my office laser printer. Pretty slick, and a nice feature to have. No more emailing links and copy/paste content to one of my other computers in order to print things I find or need from the iPad.

UPDATE: There's apparently also an option out there to enable the Airprint support on Windows. I may have to take a look at that one and see if it will work on my Windows Home Server, which is quite literally *always* on, as opposed to my Macbook, which *almost* always on...

If you’re interested in what else is available in iOS 4.2 for the iPad, I suggest you check out the Lifehacker review and video.



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Apple | Geek Out | Mobile | Tech
Monday, 22 November 2010 13:52:32 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Tuesday, 26 October 2010

imageToday marks the release of Office 2011 for the Mac, as described in the official release notice. And in a new feature twist, the software is also available for download to BizSpark (startup program) MSDN subscribers as of this morning. Typically Mac-based software has not been made available there, so this is a pretty cool change.

It’s available to people with membership at the following programs and levels:

  • VS Pro with MSDN Premium (Empower)
  • VS Premium with MSDN (MPN)
  • VS Pro with MSDN Premium (MPN)
  • BizSpark Admin
  • BizSpark
  • VS Ultimate with MSDN (VL)
  • VS Premium with MSDN (VL)
  • VS Premium with MSDN (Retail)
  • VS Ultimate with MSDN (Retail)
  • VS Ultimate with MSDN (MPN)

Of course, use is governed by your subscription license limitations and terms of use, so make sure you know what those are.

Why Office 2011 for the Mac?

There are a few reasons why you might be interested in Office 2011 on the Mac, but for me the number one reason is the brand new Outlook 2011. No more Entourage software, now we get the actual Outlook experience, which is enough for me to upgrade with no other changes in the suite. Add in all the other changes, and it’s a pretty slick new version.

Mac user? Are you going to get Office 2011?



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Apple | Microsoft Office | Tech
Tuesday, 26 October 2010 15:41:27 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Wednesday, 08 September 2010

I just got off the phone with Amazon, and they're sending an overnight box with a replacement Kindle 2 for the one I have. I hadn't used it for a few months, and when I recharged it and powered it up the other day, the screen had a whole section that was broken, displaying gray and garbled info.

So, with one quick call to customer support, a very brief set of troubleshooting questions they are sending a replacement. Great service, no wasted time and I'm one happy customer.

A friend's son is about to deploy with his company to Afghanistan, so my plan is to package up the new one when it arrives tomorrow and send it to them so he can take it with him when they go. I use the Kindle app on my iPad these days, so it will be cool to know that someone will be making good use of the one I'm not using.

Anyone else had Kindle display failures? Is this common at all?



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Tech
Wednesday, 08 September 2010 16:49:25 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Tuesday, 06 July 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, 06 July 2010 15:12:47 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Monday, 21 June 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, 21 June 2010 20:51:46 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Sunday, 20 June 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, 20 June 2010 20:14:29 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Saturday, 19 June 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, 19 June 2010 18:26:25 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Thursday, 17 June 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, 17 June 2010 09:49:06 (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, 16 June 2010 23:11:23 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Wednesday, 16 June 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, 16 June 2010 21:49:31 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 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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