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Tuesday
Jun172003

Good, Cheap Coffee

Coffee StuffOne of the things I've grown fond of over the past few years is good coffee. In particular espresso. It all began on a Friday morning in the early 1990s when I stopped into a downtown bakery cafe near my office called La Boulangerie. I normally bought a dark coffee, but that day decided to try a cappuccino.

Wow! I fell in love immediately. I really loved the rich flavor of espresso blended with creamy and slightly sweet foamed milk. From that day onward I began getting cappuccinos on Fridays as a reward for making it through the week.

My love of good coffee was reinforced on my trips to Germany in the mid 90s, particularly because of Matt Henderson, who happened to have his very own Italian Gaggia espresso maker and loved to make cappuccinos for his guests.

Seeing Matt enjoying his espresso machine at home got my gears churning... what if I could make cappuccinos and lattes right at home? Hmmm. Well, I loved the idea of home-brewed espresso, but a good quality machine like a Gaggia was a bit beyond of my budget at the time. However, I stored the idea in the back of my mind.

It wasn't until 1998 that I began seeing inexpensive espresso makers appear at stores at prices I could afford ($50-100). I asked for an espresso maker for Christmas and was surprised to receive a Krups espresso maker from my little brother Pete. Woohoo!

Since then, my el-cheapo Krups espresso machine has provided me and many guests with delicious espressos, cappuccinos and lattes. I make a coffee for myself almost daily, and I've found I really enjoy brewing "fancy coffees" for guests.

Some thought the little Krups unworthy of good coffee, like Roberto, and Italian friend of mine in Germany who would supply me with Illy coffee on my trips to Europe. When I told Roberto about the Krups he politely told me "Throw it away! You need a good Italian machine for good espresso!" Well, I haven't thrown the Krups away and despite its low cost, I think it still makes a great coffee. Besides, I still don't have the budget for a "real" coffee maker.

I do enjoy "fancy coffees" when I go out, now and then, but when I see their prices I realize how inexpensively I can make the same drink at home! A cup of milk and a half ounce of high quality Illy ($11 per 8.8oz) or even less expensive Goya ($2 per 8.8oz) espresso costs maybe 50 cents. That makes a $4 latte at Starbucks a pretty hard sell!

So, why am I sharing this? Well, because I love good coffee and I know others do too. I also thought it might encourage those of you addicted to $4 lattes at Starbucks to consider a cheap $30-50 espresso machine for your home. You can save $3.50 you would have spent on a fancy Starbucks espresso drink. Besides, you might impress your friends and family with "fancy coffees" after a nice meal or just for the heck of it. :-)

Monday
Jun162003

128MB Memory Stick $20!

MemStickToday I decided to take the plunge and pick up a new, larger Memory Stick for my Clié 610 that's on its way back from St. Royea Hospital in Canada. On Friday, I came across an ad for eCost.com advertising Lexar 128MB Memory Sticks for just $20 after rebates! But alas, I was too late and the stock was sold out.

Today at lunch break I received a new email alert from eCost.com that again featured the $20 Lexar 128MB Memory Stick, so I tried again. The eCost website was slow as molasses, but eventually I was able to place my order and grab one of these Memory Sticks. Whew!

Now I'll be able to store more ebooks and keep my backups all on the same Memory Stick -- something I found difficult on the 32MB stick I have now and the 16MB internal RAM I used to have on the old 610. The Frankenstein'ed 610 will only have 8MB, which will be limiting, but with a 128MB Memory Stick, I hope to compensate somewhat.

So, if you're looking for a cheap memory Stick or SD card, or other electronic hardware, be sure to check out eCost.com!

Friday
Jun132003

Weekend Wi-Fi Tidbits

Pere Marquette ParkI thought I'd wrap up this week's postings with several Wi-Fi related tidbits I've been collecting here. These vary all over the map but do have the general theme of Wi-Fi.

First, my good friend and fellow Palm OS User Council Cohort, Michael Ashby recounts his frantic and mostly unsuccessful search for Wi-Fi hot pots at coffee houses in Nashville.

"With my day shot and my temper at the boiling point, I packed up and headed over to Bongo Java for one last test. I pulled up in front of their building and fired up my laptop and BOOM connected with no problem. ARGH! I finally had a connection and no time to use it. I had beaten my head against an invisible wall of Wi-Fi all afternoon and had nothing to show for it."

I was laughing out loud on this one because I could just see old "Mashby" getting steamier as the day wore on. I'd have loved to be trailing Mike with a video camera! The funniest sidenote is that Mashby found himself a great place today, so all is well in hi-tech Mashby-land. :-)

I too had a somewhat disappointing Wi-Fi experience at lunch today. A friend and I tried to locate the Wi-Fi access point at one of the downtown Milwaukee parks I'd mentioned on Tuesday. We first had bag lunches at Rainbow Summer (a great music series that runs at lunchtime all summer long) and then ventured to the park across the river to check on signal. From two spots in the park I found nothing, so I suspect that the Wi-Fi must not be installed or activated just yet. Bummer! Looks like I need to wait a while and try again later.

Lorenz Szabo alerted me to an excellent post on the web by Jeffery Belk on 3G Wireless vs. Wi-Fi. I just found a related article with rebuttal on Glenn Fleishman's website this evening (Glenn is a big Wi-Fi advocate). I need to scoop these both up with iSilo and read them tonight, but at first glance it looks quite good.

And to wrap it up for the evening, I came across some good primer articles if you're wondering what in the world this Wi-Fi or 3G stuff is all about. First is ZDNet Australia's Tech Guide: Wireless demystified. This one covers the basics of wireless technology and terminology in plain English. The second article is Computer World's Protecting Organizations From Prying Wi-Fi Crackers, detailing how businesses and individuals can protect their wireless networks. Good stuff.

Hey, have a great weekend everyone! :-)

Thursday
Jun122003

Microsoft Smartphone Smarting from Problems

Business 2.0 has a Matthew Maier article up called Microsoft's Smartphone Program Isn't Very, which nicely details all of the problems Microsoft has been having of late getting traction with their Smartphone 2002 platform.

One paragraph in the article mentioned T-Mobile's May 16 announcement that they would cancel their MS Smartphone release, which was "clarified" by T-Mobile and Microsoft just a day later:

T-Mobile recently announced that it would postpone plans to release a Smartphone-based device being developed by Taiwanese manufacturer HTC until the carrier could iron out some hardware and software conflicts. While incompatibilities between a phone and its operating system are not unheard of, especially with advanced devices like smartphones, the most recent crop comes at an inopportune time for Microsoft, which is desperately seeking more carriers willing to offer its products.

As I read this last night, I started to wonder if this announcement was actually a tactical political move by T-Mobile to get Microsoft's attention and "encourage" them to fix problems they may not have been intending to deal with. I really missed this back in May if so. This would certainly explain the quick "clarification" the very next day. Hmmm.

I do find it interesting that Microsoft is having such a hard time penetrating the smartphone market, but I don't expect them to be delayed too much longer. Why? Well, since they can dump oodles of cash into the Smartphone 2002 platform with no hope of profitable results whatsoever, it's pretty predictable -- this is exactly what they're already doing with Pocket PC platform.

Wednesday
Jun112003

Waiting for Number Portability

Nokia 3360Came across this helpful David Coursey article Switching cell phone carriers? Read this first! at ZDNet (via Gizmodo) and it reminded me that Mobile Phone Number Portability is set to arrive sometime in November... unless the carriers manage to delay it again.

I for one hope that number portability becomes reality, and I think many other mobile phone users probably feel the same way. Right now my wife and I are nearing the end of a long 2 year contract with Cingular that's due to expire in September. Why did we agree to a 2 year deal? I think it was a deal for two Nokia 3360 phones, but honestly, I think I was just a bit brain dead the day we made the deal. :-)

Anyway, Cingular's service is decent and we've been generally happy with them. However, their pricing plans seem a little limiting especially compared to some of the $30 per month all-you-can-eat plans with data included from carriers like Sprint. Cingular offers Internet services, but it's a slow connection and adds another $10 per month to the bill, per phone. That's doesn't even include minutes used.

As for number portability, I just want to have some kind of choice in the carrier I choose. I dislike the idea of losing our mobile phone numbers, since I have mine printed on my business cards and my wife and I would both have to dole out our new numbers to family and friends if we were to switch carriers.

I'm hoping that number portability will encourage more competition between carriers and hopefully break the stranglehold they have on wireless service. I'd love to see even more battles for lower prices and more features and more importantly, better customer service.

Unfortunately, as David Coursey points out, carriers will likely make it harder to switch services with other rules, once the biggest "hook" they have now (number portability) is settled. Right now we have a $200 per line cancellation fee with Cingular, which strongly encourages us to wait until September to even consider a switch. I can imagine these fees are going to rise and become even more restrictive in the short term.

So we'll see. In reality we're probably going to trim down to a single phone come September, so hopefully this time next year our one remaining mobile phone number will be the same, with better plan, maybe from a different carrier. That'd work for us.