Entries Tagged as 'Communications'

What is the RIAA up to?

The RIAA (Recording Industry of Association of America) is apparently backing off of the individual lawsuits they’ve been filing and working with major ISPs (read that as AT&T, Comcast, and Cox) supposedly with the help of New York’s Attorney General (hey, he failed in his war on Usenet child pornography, so we can only hope him as much success here) to implement new policies where by your ISP monitors your habits and slaps you on the wrist (or terminates your service).

The new “3 Strikes Plan” basically is a boom for the ISPs because even though they like to advertise “unlimited” internet service, they’d love to find ways to limit it and charge you for your use.

ISPs are looking at this as a way to test and implement system that cap your downloads, implement metered service, and just outright block you from doing things you might want to (and may in fact be perfectly legal).

My advice is start looking for an ISP that has gone on record as NOT supporting this type of activity and send a single to the “big boys” that you can choose who to spend your money with, and you will not accept limitations placed on your unlimited internet service.

Who’s a good choice — apparently Verizon has gone on record already as not supporting or participating in assisting the RIAA other than as required by law.

NOTE:  Remember, Comcast has basically told the FCC that they don’t have to disclose anything they don’t want to about their traffic shaping and filtering policies to customer, and they’ll file litigation against the FCC if they are fined.  So be warned, you may subscribe to Comcast’s 50MB service but you’ll only get what they want you to have!

Originally posted 2009-01-31 01:00:26.

Cellular Carriers and Plans

In this day and age you have a choice of a fair number of cellular carriers… actually there aren’t that many carriers in any one geographic area, but there are quite a few resellers.

Nation wide the big cellular carriers are:

  • Verizon (CDMA)
  • AT&T (GSM)
  • Sprint (CDMA)
  • T-Mobile

Regionally there are a number of others:

  • AllTel

And of course there are a number of resellers:

  • MetroPCS (limited areas, unlimited plans, resells Sprint)
  • Boost (pre-pay, resells Verizon)
  • TracPhone (pre-pay, resells Sprint)
  • Virgin Mobile (pre-pay, resells Sprint)

And a new kid on the block:

  • Helios (I believe they actually resell Sprint, but I’m not sure)

The question is always which carrier and plan is best for me?

That’s a difficult decision, let me illustrate some things to consider by characterizing the service I have and why…

I have an AllTel PDA phone (Motorola Q) because AllTel offers a very competative price on PDA service, unlimitd nights and weekends (nights start at 7pm), free in-network service (important because most of my relatives have AllTel service), and provides lots of free features (unlimited text, unlimited data, ability to tether to my laptop, no charge for roaming — you do tend to roam on Sprint, but do roam on Verizon and other carriers when there’s no AllTel or Sprint service).  And AllTel provides “MyCircle”, which is a group of number (on any network or land lines), the plan I have provides for 10 numbers.

Essentially, this service saves me a great deal of money by making most of my calls airtime free because of the nights-and-weekends, in-network, and designated airtime free numbers.

 

In addition I also have a Verizon cell phone because I have so many friends nationwide that have Verizon numbers (it saves them airtime charges, and allows me to carry an account that has a very low number of minutes).  Verizon, though, charges for just about every additional feature — so the plan always ends up costing more than you expect.  Of course I also get a 19% discount on my services (because of a Corporate Discount program I was able to take advantage of).

 

My point in going into the above, is there’s a lot of details you need to consider other than just the number of minutes… who do you call, when do you call — are there any special features that you can take advantage or — are there enhanced services you need or want — do you travel…

My advice would be “profile” how, when, and how much you use your current service, then look at all the carriers and figure out what service would cost.

For instance, if you rarely travel and don’t want to have a landline you might find that MetroPCS gives you the absolute lowest cost service…

Whereas, if you only use your cell phone very rarely, you might find that one of the pre-paid plans give you the absolute lowest cost service (the major carriers also offer pre-pay; but selecting a pre-paid plan requires you understand minute expire and charges, and most pre-pay providers offer more than one pre-pay option).

Lastly, remember that there are taxes charged to your cell phone based on where you specify your billing address and primary useage area.  Many pre-pay providers don’t charge extra for the taxes (they obviously build it into their billing model)… but other carries do.

There’s no way you’re going to avoid the federal taxes on your phone; but your cellular company might be charging you a number portability fee (consider that when comparing carriers), and the location you base your service and billing address greatly effect the local taxes (for instance, the City/County of San Francisco access an $8.00 cell phone tax per line).  You’ll often find you can save a substantial amount of money by using an alternate service / billing address.

 

Let me know if there are any glaring omissions or mistakes!

Originally posted 2008-05-12 12:53:27.

AT&T U-Verse – Internet

AT&T offers three separate services through their U-Verse branded advance communications offering.  This post will deal with high speed internet.

Essentially AT&T U-Verse internet is DSL broadband — though at much higher rates that you’re likely used to… the particulars of the speed offering depends on the package you pay for.

  • Max Turbo – Up to 24 Mbps downstream Starting at $65/month
  • Max Plus – Up to 18.0 Mbps downstream Starting at $55/month
  • Max – Up to 12.0 Mbps downstream Starting at $45/month
  • Elite – Up to 6.0 Mbps downstream Starting at $43/month
  • Pro – Up to 3.0 Mbps downstream Starting at $38/month

Upstream bandwidth increases with downstream, and is generally much more generous than AT&T’s older ADSL plans; though the pricing of the lower bandwidth U-Verse services aren’t as attractive as the older AT&T ADSL plans (particularly with the promotions you can probably still get for the older ADSL combined with voice or even “naked” DSL plans)..

Not shown on their ordering information is a 30 Mbps downstream plan to be offered later this Summer that will ahve a 5 Mbps upstream.

Remember from my earlier post — you must use the AT&T residential gateway.  The gateway is a descent piece of consumer technology, though I’m not sure it’s a very high performance internet router.

My tests of it show that it’s definitely capable of sustaining the advertised bandwidth of your connection (and you really get the bandwidth your order); however, my tests also show that the router isn’t capable of sustaining a large number of simultaneous connections without rather dramatic performance degradation.

Which mean in plan old English — if you’re going to do Peer-To-Peer file sharing, the AT&T residential gateway will not be your friend… you’re probably going to end up having to reset it every day or two to keep it running well (I’ve noted that simply shutting down the connections doesn’t seem to help — but that could be that other P2P nodes are continuing to bombard your IP address).

For most people P2P isn’t a requirement, and certainly most people won’t be doing P2P much — and if they do, they certainly understand how to discontinue P2P services and reset the connection (remember it affects voice and video when you reset) when they need high speed connectivity for something else.

My gut tells me that the equipment is operating as designed — and intended to enforce a “fair use” policy by penalizing individuals who try and do P2P (after all — unlimited really doesn’t mean as much as you want, it means as much as your provider is willing to let you have).

And my gut feeling about the router operating as designed is further re-enforced by the fact that a great deal of though has been put into the design of the software and interface for the router… it will do pretty much anything any use will need for it to do (don’t think along the lines of a Cisco router with IOS, think along the lines of a prosumer / SOHO router).

Overall, my feelings are that the AT&T U-Verse Internet is a good deal, that it performs well, and at the high speed levels (well, not at the highest — I think there you’re getting gouged) it’s a reasonably fair price, and a very solid technology.

U-Verse Internet is really all I wanted from AT&T; and it’s the one service I will keep.

Originally posted 2010-05-17 02:00:38.

Hello – Hello – Hello

In this day when it seems that most cellular communication companies are trying to bend you over and extort the maximum amount of money possible with complicated plans that likely don’t match your usage habits, there are two independent carries that just might be coming to help you.

MetroPCS and Cricket Wireless both offer reasonable cost flat rate, unlimited, voice – message – data plans.  Both carries allow you to bring existing (compatible) CDMA handsets to their network (you can pay them to unlock the phone, or you can generally do it yourself).

The catch?

Both companies have limited service areas at the moment, but both are actively expanding.

You really have to look over their plans to understand what’s offered. Both have roaming capabilities, but the cost structure is quite different (and if you travel frequently outside their service areas you might find services from another carrier are less expensive).  Both also have data services; MetroPCS never jumped on the 3G data bandwagon (they really never sold devices targeted at that market), but has started an aggressive 4G rollout in major metropolitan areas; Cricket Wireless does have 3G data services (no roaming data services currently available) but have no firm plans to move to 4G until equipment prices are more competitive.

Aside from MetroPCS and Cricket Wireless you might also look into MVNOs (Mobile Virtual Network Operator — basically they purchase and resell bandwidth from one or more wireless carriers).  Operators like Virgin Mobile (reselling Sprint in the US) or Straight Talk (reselling Verizon in the US) along with a number of smaller and regional MVNOs might fit your needs better.  Most of those (except the GSM carriers) don’t accommodate handsets they don’t sell you, but that’s an every changing landscape.

MetroPCS

Cricket Wirless

Originally posted 2010-10-04 02:00:31.

Drupal Review

I’ve was waiting for Drupal 7 to do any major work; but with Alpha 2 only barely out (as of writing this) I decided to go ahead and use Drupal 6 and cross my fingers that the upgrade would go reasonably smoothly.

Drupal 7 will be released when Drupal 7 is ready for release.

NOTE:  Drupal does not maintain any backwards compatibility; while they do support upgrading between minor and major revisions it is possible that you may be using a module that does not have [and will not have] a compatible version.

Drupal is an open source software solution; you can read about the history on their web site, as well as get a little better feel for the zen of Drupal development and developers.

Drupal is a Content Management System (CMS); and in all fairness, I would call Drupal more of a Content Management Framework or as Drupal itself call it a Content Management Platform.

Why the distinction?

Well, I think primarily to clearly delineate Drupal’s strengths from CMSs.

Drupal talks about it’s organization in terms of a “stack” (or layers) and “objects”… and glue that binds and manages these to form a web site.

Unlike some of the heavy weight CMS products on the market Drupal allows a user to build a fully custom web site through custom theming and customizing object interaction.  And you can see from the list of sites that use Drupal it’s amazing what has been done (and can fairly easily be done) with Drupal.

Now for the fine print.

Drupal isn’t easy to learn, and you’re not going to be building an incredible site with Drupal ten minutes after installing it (though it is very straight forward to install).

First, you need to wrap you head around the Drupal model, and then you have to think about your web site in terms of object relationships in a very database centric model… and it’s very likely you’re going to have to read, play, and learn (a lot).

Why put this much effort into learning a tool to build a web site?

Well, clearly if you’re building a one or two page web site you’re wasting your time.  In fact if you’re building hundreds of one or two page web sites there are much more efficient tools to use… but if you’re building a large (complex) web site, that you have a very specific user experience in mind for, and it will be dynamic (meaning content and maybe even appearance will change) then you should be interested in Drupal.

Drupal is very power; Drupal is very complex; Drupal is what Drupal does…

The real power of Drupal is that maintaining a well designed Drupal site is straight forward, making sweeping changes to a well designed Drupal site is straight forward — and all of that is largely irrelevant to the size of the site.

It’s a lot of work to learn Drupal; particularly if you’re only going to build one complex site in your life; but if you’re a consultant, or you’re going to make a career out of building (or re-building) web sites… it’s a tool you will want in your toolbox.

http://drupal.org/

Originally posted 2010-04-05 02:00:12.

Concrete5 Review

Content Management Systems (CMSs) strive to make maintaining a web site simple; they generally are focused on allowing one person or many people to effectively contribute and edit content, change the overall appearance (without needing to re-enter content), produce reports, etc.

Many CMSs have a fairly steep learning curve before a user can build and deploy or even manage a site.

Concrete5 is different.

Concrete5 makes the task of managing a small to medium size web site as easy as using a WYSIWYG editor.  I installed the software and had it running in less than ten minutes.  The administrative interface was straight forward enough that I really didn’t need to refer to any documentation at all to use the product to publish content, change content, and add pages.

Downloading themes required me to register for the Concrete5 Market Place (registration is free, and many of the downloads are free, but some of them are not).

Concrete5 core is open source, and free; some of the add-ons for Concrete5 are free, some are not.  Concrete5 actually started as a closed source, commercial CMS, which recently became an open source (and free) product.  Concrete5 software can be downloaded and installed on your web site / server, or you can run a hosted site on Concrete5.

Concrete5 includes a RSS/ATOM feed add-on (I actually wrote one that’s a great deal more flexible for use on my web site, but you get this for free with no work) which makes it easy to provide live content on your web site.  Additionally there are free Flash, Google Maps (you need a Google Maps API key to use it), YouTube, and several other free add-ons as well.

One great feature of Concrete5 is that it keeps page revisions, so it’s easy to roll back to a previous version of a page; or to just see what’s changed (I do this on web sites I author from scratch using a source control system — and many CMSs provide this ability, but not as cleanly and as simply as Concrete5).

Overall, Concrete5 is simple, and will likely handle the vast majority of user’s needs — though a two page boiler-plate web site will handle the vast majority of user’s needs, so that’s not a high mark.

Snippy remarks aside…

If you can use a WYSIWYG editor, and you understand simple drag-and-drop paradigms and you’re comfortable using a web application and moving through menus you can maintain a web site.  You might need help setting up the web site, and you likely will need help installing the software — but even those are straight forward and something you could learn in less time than it would take to do simple tasks in a more sophisticated CMS.

The short of it, Concrete5 has a very low learning curve (almost no learning curve indeed); and will allow most any user to build and maintain their own web site with [virtually] no training.

The number of add-ons available for Concrete5 is small; but it appears from reading the information on their site and several other reviews that the add-ons all work, and work together (which isn’t necessarily the case with other CMSs).  Though as I’ve already enumerated, many useful add-ons are available and free.

For users who understand CSS, HTML, PHP it’s very straight forward to build your own themes; and actually extending Concrete5 would not be a daunting task.

What I like about Concrete5…

It’s easy to install, easy to use, and provides most basic functionality that a CMS should provide — and the core is free.  It does not overly abstract core parts of a web site (no doubt that’s where it get’s it’s name).  Concrete5 has a lot of potential.

What I don’t like about Concrete5…

The web site goes out of it’s way to criticize other content management systems (and that to me is ridiculous; both Joomla and Drupal are capable of being used to build more sophisticated sites — but both of those are much harder to use to build a simple site); it doesn’t support tables prefixes (which means each instance of Concrete5 needs it’s own database, and it’s dangerous to try and share a database between Concrete5 and any other software (this is significant because some hosting plans greatly limit the number of databases you are allowed); it’s a relatively new “community” project, and thus does not have a large body of people working on it or eyes reviewing it (which means it’s more likely to have security issues than some of the more mature CMSs).

I’m neutral on the fact that parts of Concrete5 are offered free, and parts are offered at a (generally) modest price.  I agree that developers are entitled to make a living off their software, and as long as it doesn’t become a razor/razor-blade type model I’m fine with it; but success often breeds greed (like familiarity breeds contempt).

One thing to keep in mind:  always select the right tool for the job.

What Concrete5 does it does well; but decide what it is you want to do before you select the tool.

http://concrete5.org/

Originally posted 2010-04-03 02:00:42.

Windows Phone 7

Today Microsoft hosts and “open house” in New York and London.

Rumor has it that it’s to showcase “toys” for the holiday season, and it’s likely to feature the Windows Phone 7.

There’s no confirmations from Microsoft on much of anything relating to Windows Phone 7 (except that it’s coming); but indications are the launch in Europe will be on 21 October, and in the US it will be on 8 November.

Also, it appears that only GSM handsets will be shipping this year; CDMA handsets will not be available until next year.

HTC, Samsung, and LG have all received FCC approvals for their upcoming Windows Phone 7 handsets and ads featuring the HTC Mondiran (for AT&T) have been leaked onto the web.

Microsoft has tried for nearly two decades to capture the hand held device / smart phone market; and to this point in time they’ve allowed two relative new comers to corner that market (Apple first, then Google).

Now Microsoft ships 7, not long after 6.5 — and what they’re telling us is that no current Windows Phone handset will be updated; and no current software running on a Windows Phone will work… or more clearly, forget the investment you’ve made in hardware or software.

If you’re going to buy something that’s totally new and different, and only leverages the Windows name… why go with what most of the world has chosen — Android.


Originally posted 2010-10-11 02:00:36.

Microsoft Live Essentials 2011

Late last week Microsoft pushed out Microsoft Live Essentials 2011 as a “critical” update…

I don’t ever recall a new version of a piece of software being labeled as a critical update; and perhaps there was some security flaw found in the last version of Microsoft Live Essentials that Microsoft felt wasn’t fixable, or perhaps they just wanted to have people downloading an update that probably few will really want.

The only part of Live Essentials that I use is Windows Live Mail; so I can’t really speak to the rest of the pieces — but my first impression was that I’d be moving to a different email program soon, very soon.

Everything has changed, and menus you need to setup the program (it only copies some of your setting from the previous version) are buried deep, and in confusing places.

Additionally this isn’t just an email client any longer; it’s moving closer and closer to what Outlook is rather than what Outlook Express was… and to me that’s a shame.

I really can’t imagine most people have a surplus of screen real estate to comfortably accommodate all the eye candy and glitz that Microsoft has wasted time and energy into putting into Live Mail when they could have fixed some of the bugs (actually a bug that I reported during the beta over two years ago is still in even this version — I guess the kids in Redmond just don’t know how to keep a scrollable window in the same place after a change… and now rather than putting you at the top of the scroll you’re at a random location — so it looks like someone tried to hacked a “fix” in, and didn’t bother testing it… as seems to be all too true of most software these days).

My advice is don’t take the update… just continue using the version you have now until Microsoft forces you to upgrade; and if you don’t need the Hotmail/Live mail interface afforded by the Windows Live Mail program, consider one of the other free alternatives.

Originally posted 2010-10-24 02:00:38.

Apple – Double or Nothing?

Yesterday Apple announced another record quarter in sales.  In fact, iPhone sales doubled in Q4 2009 (a good holiday present for Apple).

Tomorrow Apples announces a new tablet computer (at least that’s the rumor of what they will announce).

Google has a lot of ground to catch up with Apple in the phone market, and it certainly doesn’t appear that Apple is going to just stand by and wait for them.

I guess the one thing that Apples numbers show is that there is money to be made in economic hard times if you’ve got something people want.

Originally posted 2010-01-26 01:00:44.

The Anti-Green – Postal Mail

Receiving postal mail, such as bills, statements, etc and making payments via paper check (either dropped off or mailed in) wastes an incredible amount of natural resources.

Like junk mail and advertisements you receive in the mail, your bills and statements require the use of paper and energy to produce them, energy to distribute them, and energy to properly dispose of and recycle them — plus your paper check payments require the same.

Electronic bills and statements provide you the same information in a form that is far more environmentally friendly.  The production and distribution of that information requires a fraction of the power sending out traditional paper would, and totally saves the paper.

Additionally, paying electronically further reduces the wasted paper and energy.

Most institutions offer statements and bills via electronic delivery at no cost, some even offer incentives such as statement credits or some type of bonus or reward for signing up for electronic statements; and you needed be afraid of electronic statements, you still have every protection that a paper statement would have offered to you.

As for electronic payments, there’s a number of ways in which you can do that…

You could authorize a company to automatically debit your account for the amount you owe.  There are there often used methods.  First, a company could issue an automatic draft against your checking account — that’s essentially like a paper check, though since Check21 it’s likely it would be transmitted electronically.  Second, a company could issue an ACH (Automated Clearing House) transaction against your checking (or savings) account — that’s presented to the bank generally though a purely electronic medium.  Third, a company could issue a charge against a major credit card account.

Personally, I’d be cautious about authorizing any institution to directly remove money from my checking (or savings) account; while there aren’t any real long term issues with them taking out too much, you might find that the time required to correct a mistake is quite long (and you don’t have use of the funds in question during the resolution period).  With credit cards, however, all the mechanism are in place to insure that if someone makes a mistake — you won’t be out the money (or charged any interest) while the error is being looked into and resolved.

Another (entirely different) way you could pay your bills electronically is by using a bill payment service.  Most financial institutions now offer free bill payment services and puts you totally in control.  You decide who to pay, when to pay them, and how much to pay them.  If the bank makes an error, they’re totally responsible for resolving it — and if they remove funds that you didn’t authorize, or in a way you didn’t authorize then they are responsible for the ramifications.  At worst this type of bill payment generates a paper check that’s sent out on your behalf; generally it’s totally electronic.

Another place to look for reductions in postal mail is to discourage companies to send you out anything by mail that can be delivered electronically (remember, in the United States, electronic signatures are legally recognized — faxes and physical signatures are no more binding that an “electronic” signature).  So the bottom line, companies that feel the need to interact with you in writing are simply showing you that they care little for the environment and do not wish to invest in the future.  My advice, look elsewhere and send them a clear message by terminating your relationships with them.

Finally, many people use postal mail to send pictures, greeting cards, personal letters, etc.  Sure, sometimes you’re going to have to — but have you ever considered that most people just throw those away, or put them in a shoe box at the bottom of the closet?  Consider sending what you can electronically — if they really want a picture printed, they can do that locally (for probably the same it would have cost you — and less than the postage you paid).

As I’ve said a number of times before… it doesn’t take much to make a huge difference.

Originally posted 2010-05-11 02:00:16.