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Smart Phones

If you’re looking for a smart phone, you’ve got lots of great choices now.

Whether you’re interested in an Android based phone, a Windows Mobile 6.5 based phone, or holding out for a Windows Mobile 7 based phone you really want to take a look at HTC.

I believe HTC phones are available on all the major US carries, and most all the smaller regional carriers (your selection might vary).  Internationally you can purchase an unlocked GSM version — and several of the HTC handsets are multi-band, multi-format.

HTC innovated the smart phone interface; and the worlds most popular smart phone (the Apple iPhone) appears to have “leveraged” off the work HTC did years before.  What, you thought Apple created that gesture based user interface all by themselves?

HTC built the first Android based phone; HTC released the first Windows Mobile 6.5 phone (and supplied upgrades for a number of Windows Mobile 6.0 phones); and it looks like HTC will release the first Windows 7 phone (there are already rumors).

Other than the Motorola Droid (which HTC already had shipped a similar phone) HTC phones are the “hot ticket”.

I have an older HTC phone — the 6850, aka Touch Pro — and I love it.  It’s been upgraded to Windows Mobile 6.5 and works well.

A smart phone provides me with the ability to keep my contacts synchronized (without having to attach my phone to my computer), get quick answers on to questions on the Internet, be alerted to email (or read and send email for that matter), use mapping software (or act as a full blown GPS since I have Garmin loaded as well), check fuel prices, check the weather, and tether my laptop when I can’t get a free WiFi signal.  I guess I could use my phone for a multimedia player (video and audio); but that’s not a requirement for me (but you could — and I’ve played with streaming audio and video to my phone, so I wouldn’t be limited by the 8GB flash card I added to it).

Today smart phones are a viable solution for people who want more than just voice communications in their pocket, and don’t want to carry multiple devices.  Over a decade ago my friends and I “dreamed” of a convergence device that would give us PDA, data, and cellular all in one — today that dream is a reality.

Deep Throat

I watched a documentary called Inside Deep Throat — and I found it far more interesting than I think I ever found the movie.

The documentary talks about the changes occurring on the sexual landscape of America… while the sixties might have been referred to as the sexual revolution, it was really the early seventies where the battle of sexual expression was waged.

The movie was a landmark in many respects — but it’s success really had little to do with the quality of the movie, but rather the legal battles it caused — even though a presidential (appointed by Richard M Nixon) commission had already recommended that laws controlling pornography be repealed since they were largely unenforceable and that pornography caused no real risk to adults.

Watergate was only one of Nixon’s lies.

Sure the movie broke a great deal of new ground in film in general and porno specifically… but what it really broke was political and social stigma.

The trial in New York City (Judge Tyler ruled the file “obscene”) and an article in The New York Times catapulted the movie to the most profitable movie ever — $600 million US for a movie that originally cost only $25,000 to make.

The movie was eventually outlawed in 23 states; and the FBI harassed the director, producer, financiers, and theater owners.

Nixon’s four appointed Supreme Court Justices gave censorship a leg up; initially the feminist movement and the “protect our children” radicals supported the ban on expressive file; but steadily community standards changed possibly because of the VCR (and later DVD) and individuals began to demand their freedom of expression.

In most part of the country today individuals are free to choose; but believe me, there are still backward places that attempt to legislate morality — oppression controlled by the radical Christian right.


Below is a summary of court cases revolving around obscenity.

1957 Roth v. US – the Supreme Court defined obscene material is that which lacks any “redeeming social importance.”  The Supreme court combined the cases wof Roth v. US and Alberts v. California.

1964 Jacobellis v. Ohio – the Supreme Court reverses a state obscenity ruling, but issues four separate opinions laying the ground work for confusions.

1966 Memoirs v. Massachusetts – the Supreme Court attempts to better define the ruling in Roth v. US.  A work had to be proved by censors to: 1) appeal to prurient interest, 2) be patently offensive, and 3) have no redeeming social value.

1973 Miller v. California – the Supreme Court reinforces that obscenity was not protect by the First Amendment and established the Miller test but acknowledged “the inherent dangers of undertaking to regulate any form of expression,” and said that “State statutes designed to regulate obscene materials must be carefully limited.” 1) whether the average person, applying contemporary community standards (not national standards, as some prior tests required), would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest; 2) whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct or excretory functions specifically defined by applicable state law; and 3) “whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.”

1973 Paris Adult Theatre I v. Slaton – the Supreme Court upheld a state court’s injunction against the showing of obscene films in a movie theatre restricted to consenting adults; however, the Court differentiated the case from 1969 Stanley v. Georgia.

1990 FW/PBS v. City of Dallas – the Supreme Court ruled the city ordinance attempting to regulate “expressive businesses” as unconstitutional.

1999 Free Speech Coalition v. Reno – the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against section 2556(8) of the Child Pornography Prevention Act (CPPA)  stating 1) the statue is not content-neutral and aims to curb specific expression; 2) the statute was not in line with Supreme Court decisions which have held that states can only criminalize child pornography when the laws “limit the offense to works that visually depict explicit sexual conduct by children below a specified age” – something the CPPA failed to do; 3) no demonstrated link to harm to real children has been demonstrated; and 4) the language is too vague and over-broad, allowing for arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement.

Pro Microsoft

Many people who don’t know me very well always assume I’m a fan of Microsoft because I used to work there… interestingly enough they don’t think of me as a fan of Oracle, Novell, or AT&T (even though the same logic would apply).  [It’s true that I would never work for a company that I didn’t “like” but that doesn’t mean working for a company makes me blind.]

People who know me know I’m not a fan of much of anything for superficial reasons… in general I like what I like based on concrete reasons — and just because I felt something was good yesterday, doesn’t mean I’ll feel it good tomorrow.

As I’ve said many times; choose the right tool for the job, and don’t get wrapped up in some emotional attachment to a company (that goes doubly for you Apple bigots out there).

There used to be a joke that “no one ever got fired for choosing IBM” — I think to some extent people consider Microsoft a safe choice in a small to medium size company; maybe, but you only have your job as long as your company is in business.

Google Voice(mail)

I’ve already made a few posts that tell you how you can use Google Voice to make and receive unlimited free calls (provided your carrier allows you to specify at least one telephone number that’s air-time free), but here’s a way you can use an unlimited data plan to reduce your air-time fees for retrieving voice mail and totally eliminate any carrier charges for “visual voice mail”.

Verizon charges nothing for “Basic Voice Mail” per month; but they will charge you air time each and every time you call your own voice mail (evening and weekends are air time free on some plans, but you cannot put your own number in the air-time free call list [current called “Friends & Family”, it used to be called “My Circle” before the AllTel acquisition).

Verizon charges $1.99 for “Premium Voice Mail” .  You can read up on the features they’ll rape you for.

Verizon charges $2.99 for “Visual Voice Mail”.  Again you can read up on the features they’ll rape you for.

Or… you can just setup your Google Voice account to be your voice mail — and then you’ll essentially get all the feature Verizon would love to charge you extra for; plus be able to call your voice mail for free (assuming you have put your Google Voice number in your “Friend & Famly” list) or just read the SMS and/or email message that contains the voice mail transcription or play the voice mail over your unlimited data connection.

There are actually instructions on Google Voice for setting up Google Voice mail as your primary voice mail on your carrier (they will tell you for most any carrier), so this doesn’t only work for Verizon, this will work for pretty much any carrier…

Why throw money away?

While I might have reservations about letting Google have access to more and more of my information, I sort of lump them in the category that the people you don’t want to have access to your information had it before you did…

Anyway, Google Voice mail (and Google Voice) will work with any cellular phone (and actually you can use this strategy with landlines as well).

Usability Summary

I think I can sum up the real problem with Linux or any open source system where there’s no real usability mandate…

Developers make arbitrary decisions that suit their needs without any regard to how others will view their decisions or even figure out how to use what they do… the real difference between Windows and OS-X and Linux is that two of those are the cooperative efforts of “experts” who try very hard to address the needs of a target audience who wouldn’t be capable of writing their own operating system.

And, of course, with something like Linux it’s geometrically worse than most open source software since any given Linux is the culmination of hundreds of separate open source modules put together in a completely arbitrary fashion.

It really is funny that what I’ve been describing as a lack of cohesiveness is layered; and I suspect no matter what the intentions of a single developer to try and wrap it inside a nice pretty shell that gives a forward facing pretense of a system that was planned and targeted for productivity, the ugly truth of how much a patch work it is will show through… and we can look back on early versions of Windows and MacOS and see just that… it’s really only been within the last five or six years that those systems have risen to the point that they are in fact fairly cohesive, and designed to be tools for people to solve problems with; not projects for people to build for the sole purpose of developing a life of their own.

Without some unifying direction, the only Linux I can see suceeding is Android; and that my friends is likely to become a collection of closed source tools running on top of an open source kernel.  Trust me, you haven’t seen an evil empire until Google gets on your desktop, phone, settop box, etc…

Linux on the desktop

I’ve been experimenting with Linux as a server for several months now; and I have to say for the price it’s a clear winner over Microsoft Windows Server 2008.

Other than desktop search, Linux has been a clear winner across the board.  Network file sharing, application services, etc all seem to work, and work well.  Plus with the webmin GUI for managing the server, it’s extremely easy — easier in fact that figuring out where to go to do the task at hand in Windows Server 2008.

With my success using Linux as a server, I have decided (once again) to investigate Linux as a desktop replacement for Windows… after all, how much does one normally do with a desktop?

I experimented briefly with Ubuntu on a laptop when I was cloning the drive in it, but I didn’t put it through exhaustive paces (I was quite impressed that Ubuntu auto-magically installed drivers for all the hardware in the notebook; though that feat was no better than Windows 7).

I need to go over my requirements a few more times before I start the test, but what I believe is important is:

  • Hardware support; including multiple displays, scanners, web cams, etc
  • Office (which OpenOffice will work the same as it has been on Windows)
  • Financial Management (I guess I’ll have to move over to MoneyDance; it’s not free, but it’s fairly well thought out)
  • Media Playback (VLC runs on Linux just like Windows, plus there are a number of media players I’ll take a look at)
  • DVD RIPping (my last try to do that on Linux wasn’t very successful)
  • Video transcoding (I think HandBrake is broken on the current version of Ubuntu — so that might take a little work)

I’ll also evaluate it for ease of use and customization…

The evaluation will be done on an Intel DG45ID motherboard (G45 chipset)with an Intel Core2 E7200 with 4GB DDR2, multiple SATA2 hard drives, SATA DVD-RW, and I’ll test with both a nVidia 9500 and the Intel GMAC controller (X4500HD) running both a 32-bit and 64-bit Ubuntu 10.04LTS distribution.

Let the fun begin!

Verizon Wireless

Like most cellular communication companies, Verizon Wireless leaves it up to the consumer to find their billing errors.

Last month I called Verizon Wireless right after the AllTel/Verizon merge was complete; and I told the representative that at the end of the call I would have ONE Verizon account; and that that would be achieved either by combining my two numbers (one previously Verizon, one previously AllTel) into a single account without making any changes to the plans OR terminating the old Verizon account.

Originally Verizon had required all AllTel customer to convert to a Verizon account to make ANY changes to their account, but they softened that policy when they found it was just as easy (and cheaper) for many AllTel customers to switch to another cellular provider than switch their plans to a current Verizon offering (I for instance would have to pay more for what I have and would lose six of my eleven “My Circle” number [that’s the numbers I can call airtime free regardless of the network they’re on] and would have to pay for text messaging and data dongle use [Internet access for my laptop]).

The customer service representative was certain he could combine the accounts, because they’d been told they could; however, after several tries (and munging the information on both accounts) he was unable to combine the accounts and “terminated” the service on my old Verizon phone.

Well, I just received the bill for the service — and interestingly enough I was billed an entire month… not just a few days.  Why?  Well simple, they didn’t terminate the account, they suspended it in order to let it age out to the end of the billing period — of course I had no service from Verizon… well, unless you consider billing a service.

How horrible unethical (and illegal)…

Needless to say I just got off the phone with a Verizon representative and gave him two options — put through a bill adjustment, or I’d file a charge back with my credit card company (don’t think there would have been much of a problem with that).  I’m not sure how he arrived at the “adjustment” figure — but then again, I don’t have an advanced degree in cellular telephone billing mathematics… I seem to be getting about half my billed amount back rather than three quarters — but when they generate another bill I’ll review what they’ve done.

The thing I really hate about having to put so much time and energy into “fixing” problems that companies like this cause (and I believe it’s intentional since they know most people won’t put any effort into fixing these fraudulent charges) is that it costs time (which is money).  So the question is, why isn’t there a law that requires companies to PAY consumers for their time when a consumer invests their time to resolve an issue that a company has caused through no fault of the consumer at say two times what the consumer normally is paid (or at least two times minimum wage).  And, of course, these companies should have to pay 21% interest on any excess charges they’ve made.

File System Fragmentation

All file systems suffer from fragmentation.

Let me rephrase that more clearly in case you didn’t quite get it the first time.

ALL FILE SYSTEMS SUFFER FROM FRAGMENTATION <PERIOD>.

It doesn’t matter what file system you use one your computer, if you delete and write files it will become fragmented over time.  Some older file systems (like say FAT and FAT32) had major performance issues as the file system began to fragment, more modern file systems do not suffer as much performance lose from fragmentation, but still suffer.

If you want to argue that your writable file system doesn’t fragment, you haven’t a clue what you’re talking about, so read up on how your file system really works and how block devices work to understand why you just can’t have a file system that doesn’t fragment files or free space or both.

What can you do about fragmentation?

Well, you might not really need to do anything, modern disk drives are fast; and on a computer that’s doing many things at once the fragmentation may not have much of any impact on your performance, but after awhile you’re probably going to want to defragment your files.

The act of copying a file will generally defragment it; most modern file systems will attempt to allocate contiguous space for a file if it can (files that grow over time cannot be allocated contiguous, but they can be defragmented at their current size).

On many operating systems you can actually get programs that are designed to defragment your file system.

How often should you defragment your file system?

Well, I generally recommend you do it right after installing and updating your computer; and then any time you make major changes (large software installation, large update, etc).  But that you not do it automatically or an a routine schedule — there’s not enough benefit to that.

You can also analyze your disk (again using software) to determine how fragmented it is… and then defragment when it reaches some point that you believe represents a performance decrease.

Also, try and keep your disk clean, delete your browser cache, temporary files, duplicate files, and clutter — the less “junk” you have on your disk, the less need there will be for defragmenting.

Managing On-line Orders

When I really ran my own business I used to keep receiving logs for anything I ordered, it was a nice way to track everything, but when you don’t generate purchase ordered and all the additional supporting paper work it would be a lot of trouble…

What I do now is use the task list in Outlook (you could use any task list).

Essentially when I want to order something I create a task entry; when I order it I update the task entry; when I get the shipping information I update the task entry and update the “end” date and put in the tracking number (if I have one).

It’s a really convenient place to gather all the information together in one place for an order so that you can quickly refer to when it was placed, where it was placed, when it’s due, how it was shipped, etc and it really doesn’t take much more time to copy the information over from a web site or email into the task (then you can file the email away and only refer to it if you have a problem that needs to be resolved).

Once you have the item, confirmed it’s what you ordered and isn’t defective — just delete the task and  free up room for your next order.

It works as well for mail and phone orders; just you generally don’t get a lot of updated information.  If you want to keep the task information for your records, just copy and paste it into an email and send it to yourself — you consider using OneNote.

What taxpayers want

There is a good read on CNN.com by Lou Zickar entitled What taxpayers want (yes, I leveraged the title), it’s very well written and compelling; but I think it fails to be totally upfront and honest about the problem and is overtly politically spun.

You see, taxpayers also happen to be the electorate… so what they want they express by voting in each election and determining who goes to Washington (as well as their local and state seats of government) to make decisions — and since by-far-and-large voters have sent the same people back to Washington in some cases for nearly 60 years, taxpayers need look no further than the nearest mirror to see where the problem is.

If you vote for the same person election after election who has contributed to the problems, then you are getting exactly what you’ve ask for, and thus what you must want… if you want change, start at the ballot box.

But, realistically — I don’t see this happening.

America has become the home of the content, and the land of entitlement… entitlement which starts at the top and stretch to the very roots of society; and no one is willing to give up their “special” dispensations, but expect everyone else to do so.

Change is easy, and every individual is a part of it — all you have to do is send a real message to your elected officials, send them all home (for good).


What taxpayers want by Lou Sickar on CNN.com