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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.

Tuesday
Jun102003

Milwaukee: Brats, Beer, Harleys and Wi-Fi Hotspots

How interesting! I just came across a little tidbit in our local Journal-Sentinel newspaper that the City of Milwaukee is planning to test out hosting two free Wi-Fi hotspots in two popular downtown parks. A great quote from the article:

"If you want to attract attention, and you want to be looked at by outsiders as a hip, happening place, then you need to put in some city-backed Wi-Fi,"

Pretty cool that the City of Milwaukee is applying technology access to help increase the many uses of the parks, especially by downtown workers who want to do a little surfing at lunchtime. However, there is some question as to leaving the networks up come the winter snows and cold. Further, this is only a test-run that lasts but a year. Finally, the speeds are limited to 128k, but still, for email or basic surfing that's pretty decent and limiting bandwidth is probably a wise move on the part of the City.

Looks like I'll have to do a little lunch run with the Powerbook one of these nice, warm summer days. :-)

If it works well, there's even a possibility that other Milwaukee County Parks will get Wi-Fi hotspots. Now that would be interesting. In case you didn't know, Milwaukee has an excellent county park system, established back in the 1940s and 50s. I'm always so grateful for forward thinking city planners who notched out many parks right in the city. Now, even though Milwaukee is a bustling city, it's still just only a few minutes from anywhere to a neighborhood park. I think that's something to be proud of as a Milwaukeean.

Note: If you've never heard of a Brat or Bratwurst, it's a sausage made with finely chopped, seasoned fresh pork. It is a mildly seasoned sausage, in which a person can taste more of a pork flavor. (courtesy of Johnsonville a popular Wisconsin Bratwurst maker).

Monday
Jun092003

Designing With Web Standards

DWWSThis past week I got a copy of Jeffery Zeldman's excellent book on web design, called Designing With Web Standards. This weekend, I dove heavily into the book (I'm about halfway through) and have been thoroughly enjoying the read. In fact, it's been a while since I've laughed out loud while reading a technical manual... wait come to think of it, I've never laughed while reading a technical manual!

Okay, so why did I like the book? Well, first, it's aimed right at me, a graphic and web designer, who has labored to create good looking websites for the wide array of web browsers. Many of these browsers were foisted on the public over the past few years: namely, all 3.0 browsers and in particular, Netscape 4.

I like that this book offers the individual web designer (me) a realistic way to ditch the old ways of working with tables and other hacks to achieve a nice looking design. Further, it offers an alternative approach of standards-based design by providing practical info on ways to actually build sites using XHTML 1.0 (a new, XML-based version of the HTML spec) and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) so that the same web page will appear similarly in all browsers.

Now, about the book itself...

Zeldman has a great writing style, which combines deep knowledge of his topic (XHTML, CSS and web standards) and humorous shots at other "usability gurus" like Jakob Nielsen and the companies who've been creating web design "solutions" like Microsoft FrontPage.

The book describes how concerned web designers established a group called the Web Standards Project, bugged the heck out of Netscape and Microsoft to actually create web browsers that would follow the very web standards they helped establish.

The idea was simple -- web designers should need to build only one page that would render similarly in every browser, whether IE, Netscape, a Palm, Pocket PC or mobile phones browser. The gamble to pressure these firms actually paid off, resulting in 5.0 browsers from Microsoft and Netscape (and other firms) displaying web standard specs consistently enough that web designers can actually design a page once, and have it appear pretty decently in all modern browsers.

Designing With Web Standards also shares practical information. In particular, the book offers an easy to read, how-to guide on building sites using standards like XHTML and CSS, rather than common table hacks and other time consuming and bandwidth hogging tricks of the average web designer.

The biggest advantage of this new approach is that the structure of your content gets separated from the markup of that same content. Why is this significant? well, first, it allows all browsers to read the content itself because tags to change the color or font size are not getting in the way of the browser. Further, keeping content separated can make the file size significantly smaller and quicker to load. Lastly, separating markup (or CSS stylesheets) lets the designer make global changes to an entire site with a simple change of the stylesheet item, rather than laboriously editing Every. Single. Page.

So, if you're a long time web designer, or a graphic designer just getting into web design, get this book. If involved in creating web pages in any shape or form, get this book. It presents an incredibly logical and sensible way of working that will make your web designing life much easier now and in the long run.

As for me, well, once I've completed the book I'll be coding with web standards. I might even start before I'm done with the book. We'll see. Changes will most likely start with this weblog page and then extend to all of the other web design I do, because it just makes sense to build to web standards. It's hard to argue with that.