Entries Tagged as 'Communications'

Netbook

I purchased a MSI Wind U100 a couple weeks ago for an “on-the-go” computer.

At $299 plus $99 for a 2.5″ SATA2 500GB Seagate hard drive and $15 for an additional 1GB of DDR2 it’s a fairly economical solution to use to browse the web on the go, send/receive email, mapping, GPS, music and videos, contacts, date book, etc.

I looked at all the options, but I choose this one because I wanted 2GB of memory (most of them come with only 512MB built in so you can only have 1.5GB total and a couple only allow 1GB total).

The Atom N270 processor is by no means a top performer, but it does a fairly good job and mine is running Vista Home Premium with no issues at all (it ships with Windows XP Home).

The only thing I dislike about it is the fact that the keyboard is so small; but if you want a small notebook you’re going to have to live with a small keyboard!

No one computer is right for everyone, so you’ll have to decide what’s right for your particular needs, what your intended use is, and your budget.  There are actually models of netbooks you can purchase with an AT&T wireless modem installed for $99 (of course you have a two year contract your saddled with).

Bigger than a PDA, but far more flexible!

Originally posted 2008-12-27 12:00:21.

Media Com – Followup

I got an email notifying me of my first (and last) Media Com statement about two weeks ago, only problem, I couldn’t access my bill online without the PIN printed on my first statement… a bit of a flaw in their system (nice of them to switch me to paperless billing before they sent the first statement).

And, of course, I’d already gone through customer service and been told that they will not provide me with the PIN over the phone (nor is it printed on anything they had given me to date)… so I had to ask that they send me a paper copy of my final statement.

The statement arrived on Saturday, and it had a balance (nice how their 30-day guarantee guarantees nothing but to waste your time). 

No only did the bill not have a zero balance (they had refunded my payment to my credit card), but it didn’t have the $20 credit for a missed appointment — so by any measure the bill was WRONG.

I called up customer service bright and early Monday morning, and actually spoke to a billing representative who seemed moderately bright… as she went through the bill she found more and more issues and from the tone of her voice was almost as disgusted as I was after reading the notes and looking over the bill.

Apparently the individual who closed the account noted the money back guarantee, but didn’t do anything about it.  The supervisor who refunded my credit card didn’t process the money back guarantee either, and that’s why the system re-billed me.  The system billed me for more family cable than it should have (on the first bill Media Com indicates you have to give them a seven day notice of disconnect, technically I told them when they failed to provide me reasonable speed internet that I was disconnecting — but even using seven days from when I turned in the equipment the system billed me for over two weeks).

You’d think that companies would build into their billing systems rules that enforced their policies… and who knows, maybe they do build in rules to enforce their billing polices and sending out fraudulent statements is the way they choose to do business.

Original Post

Originally posted 2009-08-15 01:00:59.

Air Time Free

If you have a flat rate cellular voice plan, you may not be interested in this article; but for most of us who simply don’t have cost effective options for flat rate plans this might help cut down on cellular bills.

Most cellular telephone companies off the ability to add one or more telephone numbers to your cell plan that will not be charged air time for inbound or outbound calls.  It goes by various names, A-List, Friends & Family, My Favs, My Circle, etc.

Unfortunately, all of them limit the number of telephone numbers you can designate as air time free to a fairly modest number.

But… by using Google Voice, you might find that one air time free number is really all you need to greatly reduce your monthly cellular expenses.

You can go to Google and read a fair amount about Google Voice, they’re adding new features all the time so I won’t even try and cover all of them; just a few that might be of help to you (by the way, the “Call Me” widget on my web site uses Google Voice, and it’s no cost to the caller or me).

So how exactly can you use Google Voice — or really what will be covered in this post is how I use Google Voice.

First, I setup a Google Voice account a few months ago, mainly to be able to give out a telephone number that I wouldn’t be bothered answering when I didn’t want to, and still be able to get voice mail (at my convenience).  Mainly I wanted to do this because I’m going to disconnect my home phone (AT&T offers “naked” DSL here, and since all my home phone does is provide telemarketers with a number to call I really don’t see a reason to ever answer it).

The Google Voice line worked great for receiving messages; I got them in my email inbox, and more times than not the voice to text transcription wasn’t very useful, but I could just click the link and listen to the message as well.

Second, I added my Google Voice number to my Verizon “Friend’s & Family” (what AllTel used to call “My Circle”) so that it would be air time free.  Partially because there would be times when I wanted to actually route my Google Voice number to a phone so I could answer it (say when I was expecting a call), but mostly so that I could use Google Voice for outbound calls to people who were not going to be air time free.

So to use Google Voice for air time free outbound calling you need to log onto the Google Voice web site (there’s a mobile version of it as well, so if you have an unlimited data plan you don’t even need to be near a computer to make use of it) and simply instruct it to make a call.  What happens is Google Voice calls you, then calls the number you instruct it to call and conferences you together.

To make all this air time free, you need to setup Google Voice to present you Google Voice call on inbound calls (that’s the number you specified as air time free with your cellular provider).  This, unfortunately, means that you don’t know who’s calling, but there are some Google Voice features that help there too (I’ll let you go through all the features yourself).

For outbound calls you could setup Google Voice to present your actual telephone number, but it makes more sense to have your Google Voice number presented (especially for toll free calls, remember that they always get your telephone number).

Now you might not care whether or not you get charged air time for a quick call to your doctor’s office to confirm an appointment, but when you’re going to be on the line with customer service for half an hour (or more) you might want to think about the extra step of using Google Voice.

Now let me make it perfectly clear.  I don’t trust Google with my personal and confidential information, so I would never have any sensitive data go through a Google Voice call; but hey, when it’s something like a customer service call people I don’t really trust with my information already have it.

You can request an invite to Google Voice, it’ll probably take ten days to two weeks before you get it.  I’d recommend setting up a Google Mail account as well (you can forward the message from the Google Mail account or you can directly access the Google Mail account with POP3/IMAP4) to go along with Google Voice.  In fact, even if you don’t expect to use Google Voice much, I’d say go ahead and setup an account now.

Also, Google Voice will be adding VoIP (SIP) service (they purchased Gizmo5) soon.

Originally posted 2010-02-10 01:00:49.

Web Servers

For several years I’ve used a combination of Microsoft IIS and Apache, which fits in with my belief that you choose the best tool for the job (and rarely does one tool work best across the board).

About a month ago I “needed” to do some maintenance on my personal web server, and I started to notice the number of things that had been installed on it… like two versions of Microsoft SQL Server (why a Microsoft product felt the need to install the compact edition when I already had the full blown edition is beyond me).

As I started to peel  away layer upon layer of unnecessary software I realized that my dependency on IIS was one very simple ASP dot Net script I’d written for a client of mine and adapted for my own use (you could also say I’d written it for my use and adapted it for them).

I started thinking, and realized it would take me about ten minutes to re-write that script in PHP and in doing that I could totally eliminate my personal dependency on IIS and somewhat simplify my life.

In about half an hour (I had to test the script and there was more to uninstall) I had a very clean machine with about 8GB more of disk space, and no IIS… and the exact same functionality (well — I would argue increased functionality since there was far less software that I would have to update and maintain on the machine).

Sure, there are cases where ASP dot Net is a good solution (though honestly I absolutely cannot stand it or the development environment, it seems to me like an environment targeted at mediocre programmers who have no understanding of what they’re doing and an incredible opportunity for security flaws and bugs)… but many times PHP works far better, and for very complex solutions a JSP (Java Servlet / JavaServer Pages) solution would likely work better.

My advice, think through what your (technical) requirements are and consider the options before locking into proprietary solutions.

Originally posted 2010-03-24 02:00:33.

LTE Android

We now know about the first round of LTE/4G Android handsets from the big players…

Motorola will supply Verizon with the Droid Bionic and the Droid X 2; and will supply AT&T with the Atrix (which doesn’t get Droid branding).  Of these phones, the Atrix is by far the winner; apparently Verizon chose to have the handset neutered on their network.

HTC will supply Verizon with the Thunderbold, but Verizon delayed the release — rumor has it in order to prevent iPhone 4 adopters from potentially returning their handsets during their “no worries” return period for what may well be a far superior phone.

Samsung will supply Verizon with the SCH-i502, and not many details about that; and MetroPCS with the Indulge (already available).

LG will supply MetroPCS with the Optimus M (already available), and a similar phone for Verizon.

The really interesting thing about all of this is that none of these phones are slated to ship with Android 2.3.x (Gingerbread) — they’ll all ship with Android 2.2 (Froyo); and there are rumors that we might see 2.4 (Ice-cream sandwich) rather than 2.3 as the next update.

Google has confirmed that 2.4 will be merge of Honeycomb 3.0 (designed for tablets) with Gingerbread 2.3 (designed for phones).

Word is to expect the next version of Android in April… so we should be sorting out the rumors in the next few weeks.

NOTE1:  Keep in mind that handsets for Verizon and MetroPCS are CDMA/LTE; and those for AT&T are GSM/LTE… it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibilities to see a CDMA/GSM/LTE worldphone soon.

NOTE2: Verizon LTE is 700Mhz (the old analog TV spectrum in the US), MetroPCS LTE as well as Leap (aka Cricket Communications) LTE is 1.7Ghz AWS (Advanced Wireless Spectrum — which is also used in Mexico) — so the handsets are not compatible unless specifically designed to support both radio frequencies.  European LTE is 2.5-2.69GHz, but there is push to clear the 700MHz spectrum for LTE there as well.

NOTE3: Sprint uses 2.5MHz WiMax technology (utilizing the Clear data network); Europe also has sectioned off 2.5MHz for WiMax.

Originally posted 2011-02-23 02:00:11.

Can you hear me now?

Verizon Wireless might have made the phrase “can you hear me now” famous, but it’s iPhone 4 users who are probably using it most right now.

Steve Jobs made a big deal in the iPhone 4 announcement about the improved reception because of the antenna that rimmed around the steel frame — what he didn’t disclose (or know) is that if you touch the rim of the phone while making a call audio drops out, or the call completely drops.

While Apple isn’t denying the problem, a company issued statement said:

Gripping the phone will result in some attenuation of its antenna performance. This is a fact of life for every wireless phone.

Really?

I don’t have any problem with audio cutting out when I grip my smart phone — and I’ve never had any problem when I gripped any cell phone I’ve had (most of the phones I’ve had in the last decade have had metal cases as well — so I don’t think that’s a reasonable excuse).

Once again, the iPhone is just a toy; obviously the designers of it didn’t even bother testing the performance of using it as a phone.

Maybe Apple will get more than bad publicity on this — perhaps iPhone 4 users might file a class action law suit — after all, a cell phone you can’t hold while you use it — give me a break.

And of course, Job’s statement on the problems shows exactly what kind of company Apple is:

Well don’t do that.

Originally posted 2010-07-02 02:00:51.

For the good of the many…

BART shutdown power to cellular antennas in and around BART stations in order to prevent individuals from using social media to organize a protest.

BART said basically it weighed the rights and freedoms all American expect against the potential threat to public safety.

How many times have autocrats and dictators used a similar statement to defend their actions in the past.

Freedom has costs associated with it; and unfortunately the right to protest is a fundamental tenant of American society… suppressing that right, even if there is a perceived threat of something possibly going wrong, does harm to all of us.

Since 9/11 this country has been headed down a dangerous road — essential freedoms have been compromised, and now public entities are taking action without any judicial review that severely impact public freedoms.

I say it’s time this stops before we find that “we” didn’t win the Cold War, we simply became the enemy.


Cell Service Shutdown Raises Free Speech Questions by Carrie Johnson NPR.org

Originally posted 2011-08-16 02:00:36.

Verizon Wireless – II

To be perfectly clear I do have one phone on Verizon Wireless; it’s a converted AllTel account.

Why would I have an account with a company that I can’t in good faith recommend???

There are a number of reasons:

  • Many of the people I know used AllTel or Verizon; so there’s no airtime charges to make/receive calls to/from them.
  • Coverage on Verizon is better than any other carrier, particularly if you travel (drive) though extremely rural / undeveloped parts of the county (mountains, desert, etc).
  • The service quality on Verizon tends to be good; though I’ve found outside major cities it’s no where near as reliable.
  • The price, while higher in a head-to-head comparison, can actually work out substantially less when you consider all the possible air-time free benefits.
  • Data coverage is good, and I can dongle my laptop at no additional cost (that’s a left over from AllTel — Verizon charges extra for that service).

Personally I hate cellular companies… and consider the only good bargin to be the Sprint flat rate voice/data plan… except that it’s on the Sprint network which is probably one of the worst networks (and most unethical companies) you will find.  I would have copied the details, but the Sprint web site section on plan details is off line for maintenance (they want prospective customers to get used to how poor their service offering is I guess).

Originally posted 2009-08-09 01:00:16.

Federal Express is a SPAMmer

Yesterday evening I received an Unsolicited Commercial Email (UCE, aka SPAM) from Federal Express in violation of the California Professions and Business Code Section 17538.45.

Apparently Federal Express has taken to harvesting email addresses used in requesting tracking services and subscribing them to their marketing mailings lists without obtaining the permission of the owner of the email address (California law prohibits OPT-OUT policies, and requires that advertisers use OPT-IN methods).

Not only have I send a demand to Federal Expresses marketing campaign company and Federal Express demanding immediate payment of the fifty dollar fine specified by California Law; but I will no longer do business with Federal Express PERIOD.  That means I do not ship via FedEx, and I do not accept packages via FedEx, which means I don’t deal with vendors that use FedEx.

Originally posted 2009-02-19 01:00:25.

Email Readers

I’m going to focus on Microsoft Email Readers… if you want to use Thunderbird it’s fine; but since Microsoft current has FOUR different email programs for the PC (they also have Entourage for the Mac — but that doesn’t run on any flavor of Windows).

  • Outlook
  • Outlook Express
  • Windows Mail
  • Windows Live Mail

Outlook – comes in Office, and it’s a _very_ heavy weight email program.  If all you want to do is read email, this probably isn’t the program for you.  If you want to manager your calendar and your contact as well as email in one program, this would be a good choice.

Personally I tend to only use Outlook to maintain my address book and calendar; mainly because it’s what sync’s my cell phones.  I’ve always found it an horrendously complex email program — and then it trys and hides many of the things in email I want to use!

Outlook Express – I used this with Windows XP, and felt it was an adequate email program.  I actually handled IMAP better than any other client around at the time.  Both Thunderbird and iMail (on the Mac) had issues with very large IMAP stores.

If all you want to do is manage your email, it’s a good choice if you’re running on XP (or an older Windows).

Windows Mail – With Vista Microsoft quietly introduced a new email program.  Well, actually it’s pretty much the same email program as Outlook Express, with only a few improvements.

Again, if all you want to do is manage your email, it’s a good choice if you’re runnin gon Vista.

Windows Live Mail – Microsoft has also been working on developing a new email reader, and they’ve bundled it with their Live services.  You can download it for free (even if you don’t use Live).

This is a very feature full email program.  It will do IMAP and POP3 (so you can use it with your ISP or with GMail)… fully supports SSL & TLS, supports accessing Live Mail directly (that would be MSN, HotMail, and Live).  It will function as a NNTP (that’s News) reader, and as an RSS (that’s Really Simple Syndication) reader.

It stores contacts each in individual XML files (.contacts)… can import accounts from other Microsoft email programs.

It really has a number of nice features, and it’s a reasonably stable program; however, it’s more like a first generation release, so it does have some minor annoyances.

At the moment I’m trying to use Windows Live Mail on all my computers… just because that’s where we’re headed, and it works fairly well (and I do have some old MSN / HotMail / Live accounts it gives me direct access to).

One word of caution… if you decide to try out Windows Live Mail; only install the Live components you need (you can go back and add more later), and watch for the options where it wants to change your system defaults.

Originally posted 2008-05-11 22:12:43.