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Entries in Technology (77)

Thursday
Oct302003

Mac & PDA Tidbits

Happy Thursday! For your blog-reading pleasure, I have a bunch of smaller tidbits to mention on both Mac OS X 10.3 Panther, Mac G5s and PDAs. Enjoy! :-)

First, Panther. Today, I came across a very nicely done eleven page report, called What's New in Mac OS X 10.3 Panther over at divintoosx.org. The report by Mark Pilgrim, offers a comprehensive overview of what's new in the latest OS release from Apple, complete with screen snapshots. Not only do you get concise descriptions with small mini-screenshots in context to the descriptions, you can click individual mini-screenshots to see them at 100%. This might be helpful for anyone curious about OS X Panther who lives far away from an Apple Store. Very well done Mark!

At MacDailyNews.com, I just read that Michael Hanscom, a temp worker at Microsoft got fired for taking a picture and blogging about Apple G5s on a shipping palette at Microsoft HQ. Apparently he breached 'security' measures and was let go, after someone came across his weblog post. Good to see Microsoft haven't lost their gentle touch.

Gizmodo has a post on a prototype Sharp 300 pixel per inch screen for PDAs that was mentioned at Yahoo news today. My friend Andy, who loves super hi-res screens and can actually read incredibly tiny, nearly-unreadable-to-the-human-eye typography, should be very, very happy about this news. ;-)

On a related note, my friend Lorenz alerted me to a PDAGeek blurb on Microsoft adopting 640 x 480 as a new resolution for Windows Mobile, (a.k.a Pocket PC), shortly after a new Toshiba Pocket PC was released with a new high resolution 640 x 480 screen. Pocket PC will finally have an option for higher res screens, which is good, since it will make Pocket PC fans less grumpy and will help keep PalmSource and its licensees on their toes.

Last week iSilo and iSiloX were updated to version 4.0, offering many new features, most notably, new font options. Personally, I'm still quite pleased with version 3.35 and will stick with it for a while yet, rather than do the $10 upgrade. It should be mentioned that iSilo 3.X can read the new 4.X document format, as it just ignores added file data that the new 4.X format added. So, you can still even format iSilo documents with iSiloX 4.0 and read these documents using iSilo 3.X on the Palm side.

Further, Lorenz (my handy iSilo fanatic) let me know that iSilo can read raw text files right from an SD card or Memory Stick. He says he just dumped a big pile of plain text files on the card and is able to read them with no conversion whatsoever. Might be a handy feature for anyone who has to carry loads of plain text reference documents with them.

BargainPDA has a nice "short" review of the new Sony TJ35, which is the chief competitor to palmOne's new Tungsten E (the device I'm switching to shortly). It seems like a decent device and should stack up pretty well against the TE. However, that extra $20 over the TE's price of $199, an odd front mounted Jog Dial and less generally popular Memory Stick format, might be a tipping point for someone who's not already a Sony Clie user. Heck, I'm a Clie user and I chose the TE, so it can happen. What I'd really like to see is a shot of the TJ35 next to the TE... I'm curious to see how they compare in appearance and size.

And to wrap up, palmOne and Handspring are now officially one company, and PalmSource is officially a separate entity. Weird to think that Handspring is now back as part of its originating company, Jeff Hawkins and all. But as I ponder this, it seems a very good move right now: the Treo 600 is getting excellent reviews, as are the T3 and TE. It seems like everything is aligning for palmOne at just the right time. Good to see this after the years of drought we've just come through. It should be an interesting few years ahead. :-)

Tuesday
Oct142003

Computer Tutoring for CEOs

Hal of PalmStation forwarded a great CNN story: Execs who are tech dummies seek secret training which talks about CEOs and high-level corporate executives who really know nothing about computers, but are afraid to be seen as weak by admitting it.

"You'd be surprised by what they don't know," Shaheen says. "And they're not comfortable asking the IT person in their company because then they show weakness to their staff."

Furthering the problem are secretaries and assistants who tended to handle computer work for their bosses, leading these execs toward "Executivus Obsoletus" status.

Much of the ineptitude is blamed on doting secretaries who handle e-mail and other computer chores for their bosses, computer trainers say. And executives often are too embarrassed and intimidated to attend computer classes with clerks and secretaries.

It's telling though, that this is becoming a market for computer consultants. I have experienced higher-ups being not technically savvy, though in my case I was the one doing the helping and the higher-up was happy to have me do so (not in secret).

I think it also indicates that technology is now so thoroughly infused into business, that CEOs and higher-up mukety-muks are feeling the pressure to conform to the new computer-oriented world. It would seem that a CEOs luxury of not knowing what's going on technology-wise is cutting it less and less.

However, I do feel for these CEOs, since I think coming into computers now, as a newbie non-user would be very hard. That's a bit of a knock on computer designers who've made software and hardware more complex instead of simpler and more intuitive to use.

Well, except for Apple and PalmSource anyway. :-)

Monday
Oct062003

Going Pre-Pay

8500Today, after much thought, research and discussion, my wife and I have decided to take the plunge into the world of pre-paid wireless. At lunchtime, we stopped by a local Best Buy to pick up a Virgin Mobile branded Audiovox 8500 handset and two $20 pre-pay top-up cards.

In case you're considering a similar switch, or are just the curious type, I thought it might be useful to share our thinking about mobile phones and contract vs. pre-pay plans.

We came to the realization that neither of us use a mobile phone enough to justify $20-30 per month wireless plans with many minutes and long-term contracts. For us, a mobile phone is really a convenience and safety item, rather than a necessity. A little research on the net and at local stores led us to pre-pay mobile services as a way to meet our mobile phone usage and budget quite nicely.

In reality, both of our mobile line usages combined fell well below the 100 minutes per month mark. I rarely used my phone and my wife only used hers occasionally to call with a tidbit of info or to setup a meeting with one of her friends. Safety was also a common use for our mobiles: to have a way to reserve a hotel or call for help on a trip.

As for long-distance, if wanted to use the plan Cingular included with Gail's line, we had a very limited Midwest region in which we could call freely, while anything outside that region had a roaming surcharge tacked on. My brother Steve, wisely pointed out that an inexpensive long distance calling card might actually be a better deal for instances when we did make long distance calls (not often).

We also realized that we could probably get by with a single mobile phone 99% of the time, since most of the time one of us is at home. If we really need another phone in a pinch, my folks offered to loan us theirs. And, as my friend Andy says "I got along for 30-some years with NO mobile phone whatsoever... I think I can probably manage without one now." An insightful point indeed.

I'd also mentioned that my folks picked up a Virgin Mobile phone a few weeks back. They made the change mainly for safety purposes during their recent trip to New England, and as a low-cost way to keep in touch with the family. They were very pleased with their Virgin Mobile phone on their trip, reporting that the sound quality was very good and coverage, even in somewhat rural areas was better than expected. With that last bit of positive feedback, my wife and I began seriously discussing the idea of going to pre-pay.

Our Cingular contracts expired in October, so canceling wouldn't incur any $150 per line cancellation fees (one big reason for staying with Cingular) and our old Nokia phones were showing signs of battery death, with time-reset screens appearing at every power-on. The cost of replacement batteries and the idea of jumping into another $20 per month, 1 or 2 year contract (complete with new cancellation fees) wasn't terribly attractive.

What was attractive was a Virgin Mobile phone and a no-contract plan and about $13.50 per month for service, assuming we get a $20 top-up card every 90 days and including the cost of new phone (spread over 12 months). Plus, whatever minutes we don't use in a 90 day period are rolled over when we top-up with a new $20 card for the new quarter. That's not bad!

I had considered waiting until December to switch, so we could keep our old phone number once Number Portability became law, but after some contemplation, I decided it wouldn't be worth the wait. Not that many people know our mobile number(s) and it's certainly easy in that case to just tell those who do know, what the new number is. I'd rather take the money we'd have spent on the overkill Cingular line, toward the new pre-pay service (especially since the monthly cost is less and the minutes roll over).

We really liked the Audiovox "Vox" 8500 flip phone offered by Virgin Mobile. It's quite small, which makes it great for popping into a jacket, purse or pants pocket. We also liked that the actual users' reviews we found online were quite favorable. I suppose as we use this phone we'll find the plusses and minuses, but for an occasional call it ought to work perfectly.

Today, after activating the Audiovox 8500 with Virgin Mobile, I called to cancel our last mobile line with Cingular. Ah, it felt so good to be done with all that. We've now left the realm of long contracts and pricey monthly fees. We'll see how pay as you go suits our lives and I'll be sure to report on our experiences from time to time. Hopefully this little story of our switch helps someone else considering it -- if so, we'll be very happy to have helped out. :-)

Thursday
Oct022003

Longing for Analog

Early this morning, I sat at the local cafe, reading the last few pages of William Gibson's Pattern Recognition and realized that I miss being purely analog.

What do I mean by that? Well, I'm old enough to remember the days when computers were laughable little toys, like the first ZX-81 personal computer my father built from a kit. In fact, nothing was really digital until these kinds of computers came along... in the eons of time before computers, everything an average person came in contact with was fully analog.

Anyway, today I finished my hardcover book and started thinking about the work I do and how temporary and ethereal it all seems. I do my daily work on a laptop, which contains thousands of files and many projects. It contains correspondence and websites, source graphics and documentation, music and video clips. But these things are all held together by battery power and little magnetic bits that are either on or off... marked that way on the hard disk inside. They're almost not really physical at all: just magnetic marks on a platter.

What about my work out on the web? Websites I've designed, weblog entries I've posted, emails I've sent to lists or off to other friends that might reside on a server somewhere -- they too are all suspended in a digital state of on or off, kept in place by electrons. If the power plants of the world suddenly ground to a screeching halt, and all the batteries of the world ran dry, all of my work and that of others, would disappear in a poof of electrons.

When I even think back to the days prior to computers taking the design and publishing industry by storm, at least I had physical access to my work, drawn or printed on paper. I could pick it up and hold it and show it to someone else without the need for a special 'viewer' or a network connection. If the power went out, it was easy to keep working (assuming it wasn't evening) since pens and pencils, paint, paper and t-squares required no power to operate. It was all analog.

In fact, years ago, when I worked at the design firm, I still remember feeling different than several of my younger designer colleagues. That particular day, the power failed. My co-workers all sat looking at their blank computer screens, shuffling dead mice or tinkling the keys of their unresponsive keyboards, while I moved to the drawing board and began to sketch out concepts for projects I was working on that didn't need computer input.

I had been schooled in analog design concepts and processes that used pencils, pens, charcoal, paper, paint, wax and other physical items. I learned to draw, paint and conceptualize ideas manually, without a computer, and this was a good thing. Later, the computer did come along and it was also a good thing too... power to the people and all.

However, the computer sometimes has a magnetism about it -- the idea that all problems will be solved with the powerful digital tools it offers me. I find myself being wooed by the computer when I need to solve a design problem. At times it's a real battle of internal will to break away and grab a pencil and sketchpad, but when I do break away and go analog, I am always rewarded with much better design solutions than I could have come up with, working on the computer.

I think it's a sense of freedom when I'm sketching. I feel free to do anything I want with pencil and paper, with no limitations. Meanwhile, with a computer, in the back of my mind there's this subtle pressure to try and fit within the parameters of the tool I'm using, or to fall back into a rut of old tricks you know well in a particular application.

Now don't take me for some kind of Luddite who's turning his back on computers and all things digital. I think computers are wonderful, powerful tools which have offered us all access and capabilities that we would have never imagined years ago.

No, what I am suggesting is, the computer and digital tools that it offers us should sometimes be left alone while analog processes and tools are experienced and enjoyed. Sketching on paper, reading a bound paper book, shooting a film-based camera, writing handwritten letters and so on. I'm suggesting we appreciate the digital power we have, but at the same time, celebrate the joy of analog technologies. After all, we are analog and not digital beings.

Go forth and do something analog today! :-)

Monday
Sep152003

Dad's Pre-Pay Mobile Phone Experience

Rave Mobile PhoneI've written here before about mobile phones in various ways, so I thought it would be interesting to share the story of the Virgin Mobile pre-pay phone dad just bought. My father popped by over during my lunch-break today, After looking at the details online, we headed to Best Buy to check out Virgin Mobile phones and competing services.

We found the Virgin Mobile kiosk at Best Buy and spent a few minutes comparing phones and services before dad chose the Kyocera K-7 Rave. What's funny about this all to me is, the entire Virgin Mobile line of pre-pay phones is marketed to teens and 20-somethings, yet dad is buying one and mentioned several other friends not in the target market buying Virgin Mobile phones. :-)

So, dad bought his phone and a $20 top-up card and was very pleased with the deal. He wants to have a phone for being available when he or mom are out and about, and when traveling. The price just can't be beat. We figured that a $20 card every 90 days (mandatory for keeping a current account) over a year's time came to about $6.66 per month. Figure in the initial $75 phone cost and pricing only jumps to $12.91 per month for the first year. That includes long distance, voicemail, call waiting, caller id and other features. Plus you have no contracts or bills to pay. Not bad compared to other mobile services that start at $20 per month for 1 or even 2 years.

I've actually been keeping an eye on Virgin Mobile's pre-pay phones myself, as my wife and I are nearing the end of a long contract with our current provider. We're trying to think about what to do next. We both user our mobiles sparingly, so it seems a bit crazy to spend lots of money each month for a phone we "might" use now and then. I would much prefer to pay for what we use, because we both use a mobile phone so little. Maybe we could even live with just one phone (blasphemy in the modern world!)

So, we'll see how dad's experience goes. I think it's going to be good, which means we might switch sooner than later and forgo the number portability. This is because we'd have to wait until late November before we could carry our current number(s) to Virgin Mobile. Still, the only real hassle in getting new numbers is that we'd have to alert friends and I might need to print up new business cards. Maybe it's not as big of a deal as I think.

Anyway, if you're at all like us and just need a low-cost phone that you only use sparingly, check out Virgin Mobile, or one of the many other pre-pay services out there. You might be able to save some pretty significant cash compared to a flat rate plan with minutes you seldom use and still have the mobile phone for your convenience.