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Entries from September 1, 2003 - September 30, 2003

Wednesday
Sep172003

Tapwave Zodiac Officially Launched

ZodiacToday, Tapwave has launched two new gaming-oriented Zodiac machines for pre-order today. Both machines feature 200Mhz processors, dual SD slots, an analog controller, D-pad controller, 480 x 320 hi-res+ screen and a bunch of apps and games. The Zodiac 2 features 128MB RAM and a charcoal colored case while the Zodiac 1 has 32MB RAM and a slate colored case. More Zodiac details.

I want to focus on the design of the Zodiac, which I've mentioned before, reminds me quite a bit of the old Apple Newton Message Pad 2000/2100. This is partly due to Zodiac's specs (dual SD slots, horizontal screen format and screen resolution) and partly due to the Zodiac's darker slate/charcoal cases (old Newtons were dark gray).

Actually, Shaun McGill at PDANews24 disagrees with me on the look of the Zodiac, preferring Sony and Palm devices' appearance. I think the Zodiac is a very nice looking machine, which I would be very comfortable with in client meetings.

Here's a comment I sent to Sammual at PalmAddict earlier in the week:

Regarding the Zodiac, yeah, much like an Apple Newton for sure, in some ways. I did hold one of these babies back in May and I can report it's very, very nice. Tapwave did a nice job on the industrial design. I think it looks very professional. I suppose that's something open to opinion, but I would not at all be ashamed to carry a Zodiac into a business meeting with an important client. It is very slim and the rounded edges are very nice after so many hard edged squared off devices we've already seen so far. I like that someone is venturing into something different, which I suppose Sony could be credited for on the NR/NX and now UX devices for other reasons.

I should add that when I had a close-up of the Zodiac back in May, it was in a darkened room and this was several months back, so details are fading. Still, I do know that I and everyone else in the room were very impressed with the hardware and the Zodiac's performance as a game machine. I really felt that Tapwave were aiming to do things correctly with their first device -- I think they're pulling this off very well so far.

Palm Infocenter, Bargain PDA and Brighthand also have more detailed coverage on the Zodiac launch. For discussion, check out the Tapwave Users Yahoo Group, Brighthand Tapwave Forums and Palm Infocenter's Tapwave Forum.

Tuesday
Sep162003

Howdy Caribou Coffee!

Caribou CoffeeIt all started when one fine day, Giuseppi's, an Italian restaurant in our neighborhood, posted a liquidation sale sign. Giuseppi's restaurant had been on the corner of Bluemound and Highway 100 for ages, and I was a little concerned about what might replace it. Last thing we needed around here was a cheesy strip mall.

I watched and waited, until one day, a sign went up with a rendering of a new shopping center. Giuseppi's decided to rebuild on the same spot and anchor the group of shops with a compact version of their former restaurant! They had also secured a Qdoba Mexican restaurant and a Caribou Coffee shop as their other tenants. Yeah!

I'd been to Caribou in Minneapolis downtown and at the airport and loved their coffee and great design sense. In fact, I now realize I'd been to Caribou way back in the 90's -- long before visiting my first Starbucks. So, you could say I was pretty happy to get this news. :-)

As the months passed, I watched the building being built. The design of the structure (I hesitate to call this a strip mall because it's so classy) looked quite nice, with cherry wood trim, high ceilings and full glass windows at the front of each store. On one end of the building there was an odd little bit jutting out, which would become Caribou Coffee.

Fast forward to Tuesday, September 16th (today). This was the first day Caribou was open to the public, and to celebrate, free coffee of the day was being offered to anyone who stopped by between 11am and 1pm. Being one to not turn down good coffee (especially for free), Gail and I brought Nathan over to Caribou, to pay a little visit. There was a good amount of traffic into Caribou, though I suppose free coffee will do that. Still, the shop is located in a great location and should do well.

I'm quite pleased that Caribou has come to our neighborhood, because it will offer me a nice place to work if I need a change of pace and It's just only a 5 minute walk away. Caribou's interior looks like an Alaskan lodge, with wood everywhere, comfortable chairs tucked into the corners of the shop. There was even a fireplace burning near the entrance. All in all, a slightly different (and nicer) atmosphere than the average, much more sterile Starbucks. I really like that it feels comfy and inviting.

By the way, Caribou makes it pretty clear they're going after Starbucks, which is good to see. One sign in the store suggested that their coffee is always fresher (21 days old max) and below the headline, sat two bags of coffee -- a Caribou bag on the left and next to it a green coffee bag with circular logo covered by a paper bag with eye holes. It was pretty clear this represented ol' Starbucks.

The coffee was very good -- not bitter or over-roasted. I'll have to try their espresso shots another day. I've heard good reports from other coffee-loving friends who love Caribou's coffee, and I must agree, they were on the money.

Now I just need to convince the store manager to install free WiFi with Internet access, and I'll be set -- the perfect office away from the office, just 5 minutes away. Dyn-o-mite! :-)

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.

Friday
Sep122003

MS Smartphone a Future SMS Spam Threat?

MS SmartphoneThe other day, it hit me. After an informal chat with several friends, I realized that at some point in the future, MS's new Smartphone platform has a good chance of to becoming the equivalent of Outlook to SMS inboxes. Let me explain.

Consider this: Microsoft is pushing their new "Smartphone" platform, which offers users combined PDA and phone functions. Okay, so this is nothing new -- the Handspring Treo and other devices have offered integrated features for quite a while now. The problem lies not in the features or capabilities of a communicator or smartphone, but in its strength of security.

I think this could be a big problem for the Smartphone platform. When you consider Microsoft's track record when it comes to security, particularly when you consider Microsoft's security record when it comes to Outlook, I'm already worried. If you're saying "No Mike, it's not going to happen" then just count the number of "Re: Thank you!" and other SoBig messages (with 100k attachments) that have clogged your inbox lately.

Now envision thousands of MS Smartphone users with hundreds of contacts in each of their Pocket Outlook address books -- one of which might be your own phone's SMS address. It would only take one hacker to develop a virus that attacks the Smartphone OS or Pocket Outlook to send virus laden emails or SMS messages to every contact in its address book. Unfortunately, I can easily imagine this scenario occurring.

Once this happens, how exactly would one clear their SMS inbox that's full of spam messages sent by your friendly MS Smartphone user? As far as I know SMS gateways are controlled by phone carriers. That means making phone calls to customer service and trying to explain the situation so that your SMS inbox could be cleared.

Next problem is, how do you stop SMS spam from from continuing? Can a carrier provide new SMS addresses to customers? I know my SMS inbox is tied to my mobile number. And once the MS Smartphone user gets your new SMS address, how long until the next virus spams you? Or would you simply shut down your inbox for good?

What's worse, you may have to pay for SMS spam you receive! In fact, pay $0.10 per received and sent SMS message on my carrier's network. SMS spam messages could really add up quick.

I was surprised to learn from my friend Andy in London that commercial SMS spam is actually quite a problem in Europe, because SMS and text messaging are so popular. From what I understand, companies get your SMS address when you sign up for contests, then send off promotional SMS messages once they know you're out there. Apparently, some users get so much commercial SMS spam that they practically stop checking their SMS inboxes or switch phone carriers.

So how long do you think it will be before we see SoBig-like viruses attacking SMS inboxes via MS Smartphones? I dunno, but I'd guess it could very well happen.

Now, I don't know if a hacker could feasibly develop a virus to attack MS Smartphones. I don't know if the MS Smarphone platform has an underlying scripting language like Visual Basic or if it has security holes like Outlook. But then again, just a few years ago, nobody really considered this a problem with Outlook, did they?

Hmmmm...

Wednesday
Sep102003

InfoWorld Chief Tech Officer Goes Mac OS X

Chad Dickerson, CTO InfoworldYesterday, news of InfoWorld's CTO Chad Dickerson switching to OS X at home, mentioned in Moving to a Mac seemed to be everywhere on the Mac news sites I visit daily. It was a great morale booster to see someone who does Windows and Linux for a living, giving Mac OS X a shot. It seems he likes the new system so much, he's sticking with it -- at home anyway.

A good quote:

Now, you might ask: What does this really have to do with enterprise IT? The answer is simple: I used the Mac running OS X to replace a PC client and Linux server; the level of functionality was raised; and I did more with less. All the GNU and Unix tools I’ve used for years were right there in OS X: ps (process status), rsync, top, SSH (secure shell), Apache, Samba, and various Unix shells. I was able to access Windows file systems, and I easily shared Mac files to the Windows machine on my network via Samba, the open source file-sharing stalwart. I hardly struggled even for a second.

Welcome to the club, Chad!

I remember a while ago, reading comments somewhere on the net about Unix and Linux admins and users buying iMacs with OS X for their moms. They did this specifically for their own visits to their homesteads. The moms loved the look of the iMac and the nice GUI in OS X, while the Unix/Linux admins really loved that they could drop into the terminal and login to their remote box and do some admin stuff or check email in pine or, whatever.

I'm glad for that option. I use the terminal only if must (kind of like eating squash), but hey to each their own. I'm just glad that Mac OS X users have the option of going GUI or command line at will.