tech 

2015.03.18Lenovo's Out; Dell is In

About six months ago I bought a laptop to replace my aging desktop unit. I loved my Dell PC -- but it's from the Windows Vista era and its hard drive has been failing. Its behavior had become so erratic -- primarily due to a power imbalance, which was corrected perhaps too late for the machine -- that I had to find something fast to move files onto and still be able to perform simple tasks.

The laptop is a Lenovo IdeaPad. Intel i7 processor, 500GB SSD, touch screen... the works. But my fingers and this keyboard are never going to be friends. I think there are two problems: the keys are very low and they're covered in a hard plastic materia similar to the sleek metallic black interior of the case.

I've reached my breaking point. I've tried everything -- including trimming my nails back to nothing before getting on the laptop. Nothing. I can type all day every day on my work laptop without a problem, but I have to correct nearly every decently-sized word I type on the Lenovo. It's GOT TO GO.

My work laptop is an HP Folio EliteBook and I love it. It's not as powerful as the Lenovo, but it's a Windows 7 Enterprise workhorse and I've never had a problem with it. Sadly, I haven't fallen in love with a consumer market analog for the Folio -- at least, not anything with an i5 or i7 processor (you should see their new Split X2. Wow!).

What stole my heart, though, is the new Dell Inspiron 13. Intel i7 processor, 1TB SSD. Touch display. And a standard, not glossy, not sunken, plain ol' keyboard. 3 USB ports, an HDMI port. Simple.



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2013.09.16My Love/Hate Relationship with EasilyDo

I was thrilled when I first found EasilyDo, a productivity app for the iPhone platform. You can do some pretty crazy stuff with it -- not only does it mind your calendar, but it tracks packages, creates address book contacts and clears duplicates, tracks birthdays and RSVP requests from Facebook, events, invitations, and reservation confirmations that arrive in your email, and even texts when you leave your current location. Highway commute? EasilyDo will estimate your drive time for you before you leave for work!

Pretty sweet, right??

The features I liked the most were advance warning of Facebook friends' birthdays (You simply tell EasilyDo what you want to post and at what time, it EasilyDo will post it on your behalf! Brilliant!) and the feature which will text a specific message when you leave a location -- it's great for letting Laurel know I'm on my way home from work without me having to call!

Then the love soured, and EasilyDo became IncrediblyAnnoying for this one reason: I track multiple calendars on my phone -- my calendar, my wife's calendar, a shared calendar with our daughter's events, a separate calendar for recurring bills... you get the idea. My wife's calendar is awful, because her schedule changes almost every day. Because EasilyDo simply hooked into everything your phone was tracking, I received notifications throughout the day of when she was scheduled for breaks and meetings and so forth -- things I really really didn't need to be alerted about. And by "need", I mean "want."

But then, last night, something magical happened -- an update! An update which allows you to specify which calendars you want EasilyDo to track!!! MIRACULOUS!!! Now EasilyDo and I are besties again!

Links:
EasilyDo.com



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2013.08.16Firefox killed my blink tags!

And just recently, too.

I was just perusing some of my site content when something caught my eye: the "spoiler alert" I placed in a post about a movie. "I should have put blink tags around that," I thought. Then I noticed that I HAD.

Frantic to get to the bottom of this mystery, Google confirmed my fears: Firefox killed off the blink tag with its latest browser release (version 23).

Sebastian Anthony writes:

"Blink, of course, will be remembered as the tag that was once the brazen champion of everything that GeoCities stood for, much like the Statue of Liberty and the USA. As the web matured, though, and GeoCities went out of vogue, so did the blink tag (and its similarly distasteful cousin, <marquee>). Unless you intentionally go out and look for it, you probably haven’t seen blinking text in years --"
HEY! Blink was FUN! And not in the Comic Sans "No, really, I'm fun!" kind of way!!
"— and if you have, it was probably provided by an animated GIF, CSS, or JavaScript, rather than the actual HTML tag. Blink has already been removed from WebKit (and thus Chrome and Safari), and it was never supported by Internet Explorer. Ironically enough, Google’s new Blink rendering engine doesn’t support blink, which means that the new version of Opera (which uses Blink instead of Presto) also lacks support. With Firefox 23 retiring support for blink, major browser support is finally at an end, and thus we enter a new epoch."
For reasons I don't entirely understand, a line from "The Lorax" popped into my head.


I speak for the <blink>
All good things must come to an end. I have used the blink tag as a fun way to highlight particular content on my site -- I use it as a reward of sorts for those viewing the site through browsers other than Internet Explorer. Shame it had to go. Consider perusing Anthony's article to learn about the origin of the tag.

Links:
"Firefox 23 finally kills the blink tag, removes ability to turn off JavaScript, introduces new logo" (ExtremeTech)


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2013.03.06e-Tech'phile Dysfunction

A really strange thing just happened. I thought I'd kill a little time over lunch by browsing the local Best Buy. Usually I find things to slobber over and add to a mental "wish list". Today? Nothing. I walked nearly all through the place -- except for the home appliances section, of course -- and got NOTHIN'.

Curious, especially considering I can't get enough of the local Harley shop lately.



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2013.01.10New Java Vulnerability; Better Disable It

A 0-day vulnerability has been discovered in Java which can allow a user to execute arbitrary code on a vulnerable computer system. The vulerability is being actively exploited.

US-CERT advises computer users either disable or uninstall Java until a patched version is released that addresses the vulnerability.

Links:
"New Java vulnerability is being exploited in the wild, disabling Java is currently your only option", thenextweb.com

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2013.01.08Follow-Up: Citizen Eco-Drive Proximity

I've been wearing the Proximity for a couple of days now, and thought I'd offer some initial thoughts on its maiden voyage.

Before I begin, I'd like to clarify that I'm most interested in the technology "draw" for this timepiece. Given that it's a Citizen Eco-Drive, it's already a fantastic and quality item. I own a few of their Eco-Drive offerings, and I LOVE the idea that they're solar-powered. Earth- friendly technology is always welcome at my house!

But I choose to evaluate on its defining characteristics: the Bluetooth connection to my iPhone and the associated abilities: time sync and notifications.

I should also preface my evaluations by saying that I work in a wireless- rich environment -- I sit at a computer all day long with a Bluetooth- connected pointing device, and with Bluetooth-connected headphones in my ears.

Given all of that, I'm prepared to say: Meh.

I think the concept is genius but the execution falls short. First, the connection between the watch and my phone seems to drop somewhat often -- and while the phone is within a foot of the watch, I might add. Actually, the most reliable notification I receive from the watch is when the phone notifies me that it's lost the link.

Secondly, as a notification medium, the watch seems only marginally useful to me. I don't get a lot of calls (though I imagine I'd be thankful for the notification if, say, I left my phone at my desk), and I don't really want notifications when I get new e-mails anyway (and by the way, that part's rather wonky). My wife texts me a lot -- I'm constantly having to apologize to her for not having seen her notes -- -- how about a notification for that? (The answer, I'm sure, would likely be they'd love to, but Apple won't give them access to the messaging API.) Citizen ought to consider offering an Android-capable version -- I'd bet it'd be very popular.

Now, to be fair, I did mention that I'm in a pretty electronically busy environment. So I'm curious to see how well it does maintaining its connection when I'm in a more signal-free environment. Also, I notice that the connection will drop every six hours as a means of conserving battery life on both the phone and on the watch. But that should mean that, over the course of a standard eight-hour workday, I should have to reconnect it once, right?

So be sure to "watch" for another report.

Links:
Citizen Eco-Drive Proximity Watch (Citizen Watch Co., LTD)
Proximity FAQ (PDF) (Citizen Watch Co., LTD)

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2012.12.30Return to Kindle: A Defining Moment

Number two on my list of things I'm grateful for on the Kindle, which are absent on the B&N Nook: the ability to touch a word and read its definition in a small pop-up.

One of the ways I challenge myself is to read material written at a higher level; I adore the ability to learn new words at a touch. I'd forgotten how important that is to me.

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2012.12.28Text-to-Speech on the Kindle Fire HD

The Kindle Fire HD's TTS capabilities are a bit of a mixed bag -- the voice is richer (a female voice -- by default, at least -- instead of the male voice on the older unit), but it appears to operate free of the headphone jack despite having headphones plugged in.

Also -- and this is important -- when using TTS, you'll see a "play" button beside a slider. THE SLIDER IS YOUR POSITION IN THE BOOK, NOT A VOLUME CONTROL. If you touch that slider you'll have to find your way back to where you were!!

Links to Amazon.com:
'Amazon.com Help: Reading on Kindle Fire HD 7"'

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2012.12.27The Kindle Fire HD

The transition is complete -- I got what I really wanted for Christmas -- the new Amazon Kindle Fire HD.

I'd forgotten how nice it is to have a dictionary at the ready -- it's really nice to be able to have a word's definition at one's fingertip (in this Kindle version, one just taps the word).

I'm excited about using its TTS capabilities. TTS was an experimental feature in the original kindle; I'm hoping for a far richer and more natural experience from the Fire. By the way, one enables TTS from within a book by tapping on the screen, then selecting "Settings" from the menu (on my 7" unit, the menu appears at the top in portrait mode), choosing "More Options", then "Text-to-Speech").

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2012.12.26"Do I Dare Buy My Mother an e-Reader?" Follow-Up

So much for the Paperwhite 3G (see "Do I Dare Buy My Mother an e-Reader?", 11/23/2012).

She now owns a Kindle Fire HD, with a big 8.9" screen. She's so upset about feeling technologically behind that I was kind of forced to go with this option -- despite the phone calls I'm sure to receive.

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2012.12.10Citizen Eco-Drive Proximity (UPDATED)

My wife made me go shopping for my Christmas gift this past weekend.

So the watch I'm going to have to make myself live with is a sporty Citizen Eco-Drive Proximity. Get this:
Introducing Proximity, a perpetual calendar chronograph with Bluetooth®4.0 low energy powered by Eco-Drive technology. Convenient key features include Time/Date Sync, iPhone® Search, Call & Email Alert, Calendar Event Notification and 10-Meter Sync. Also includes second time zone, 12/24 hour time, power reserve, the strap is leather with a nylon backing, 45mm case & 100M WR.
(See link below.)

Let's review:
  • It syncs its time with my phone. That means pretty much never having to change the time on my watch when I fly into a different time zone or switch from standard to DST
  • The WATCH will alert me whenever I get a new email, call, or a calendar event notification. I've had times where my wife was trying to contact me and I couldn't feel my phone vibrate because it was inside a pocket in loose-fitting trousers. Sounds dumb, but that's happened twice and my wife worked herself into hysterics because she couldn't reach me.
  • The WATCH will also alert me if I leave my phone someplace and walk away. Say you're in a movie theater and your phone slips from your pocket during the film. Once the watch can't see the phone anymore, the watch will alert you. I have a bracelet that does this -- it's a nice little insurance policy.
  • And for extra credit, you can also use the watch to FIND your phone. Push a button chord on the watch to make the phone play a sound.
UPDATE: I tried the watch on. The alerts come in the form of two pairs of quick pulses of vibration. Each pair is spaced a few seconds apart. Each pair is certainly powerful enough to get your attention. It's almost as if the first pair fires, giving your brain enough time to process the sensation and ask yourself whether the watch just notified you -- that's when the second pair arrives.

The FAQ reports the watch connects to an iPhone 4S or 5 via an app. The mail notification feature is a little cheesy because you have to register a mail account with the app, and the app will poll the account for an unread messages flag. It won't just pick up the flag your phone already reports. This can lead to some confusion, because the account registered to your phone and the account you set up through the Citizen app will poll your mail server at different times -- meaning your watch may alert you to new messages that your phone doesn't yet have, or your phone may have had a new message before you're alerted by the watch. Sadly, it's a necessary evil because Apple has a history of denying third-party access to its programming APIs. (Of course, you can look at this another way: You can set your watch to poll traffic on an account you don't have set up on your phone.)

By the way, the watch doesn't come with a printed manual for using the special features of the watch and app. The FAQ link is your best resource. The version of the FAQ is currently 1.09, and it is dated December 1, 2012.

Links:
Citizen Eco-Drive Proximity Watch (Citizen Watch Co., LTD)
Proximity FAQ (PDF) (Citizen Watch Co., LTD)

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2012.11.26Installing Parallels on the MBP

I'm pretty impressed!

My wife bought me a copy of Parallels for my birthday. I'd been telling her how intrigued I was with the idea of using my MBP as home to both Mac and Windows applications.

Although it took some doing, I finally got a copy of Windows 7 I could use as the basis for a virtual machine (good luck trying to find it now that Windows 8 has been released). Even though Win 8 is dirt cheap right now -- a copy of the professional- level upgrade cost only $59 last week -- I wasn't confident Visual Studio 2010 would run under the new OS.

Once the image was in place, I had a few other pieces to add: a lightweight antivirus solution (I downloaded avast!), SVN, and VS. Oh -- then there was the little matter of the automatic install of 137 operating system updates. (No WONDER the VM seemed to run so poorly!)

BUT, I've got the VM up, the solution pulled out of source control and built, and the first couple of modifications running smoothly.

And for extra credit, there's a mobile version of Parallels available for the iPad. I could monitor the updates progress of the VM straight from my iPad. That was pretty sweet!

Is going the VM route better than a dedicated Windows machine? Well, it's certainly cheaper. There are limitations, however -- Parallels will make recommendations on the maximum amount of memory to be allocated to the VM, so you're limited primarily by how powerful and spacious the host machine is. My MBP has a reasonable amount of resources available, but obviously more is better. IMHO, Parallels did a fantastic job of wiring up its VM's seamlessly -- basically I just created the VM and let Windows install -- that was IT. If your idea is to stand up a temporary machine for a particular task -- and testing software compatibility is ideal for this -- then a VM is certainly worth a look, and Parallels makes VM creation nearly effortless.

I bought the Switch to Mac edition of Parallels Desktop (link below), which contains a USB cable as well as the software. This edition is fantastic for creating a VM of an existing Windows machine. My Vista-based desktop is way too large to cram onto my MacBook, so that wasn't an option for me at this point, but could come in handy later. Then last night I blew $5 on the Parallels Mobile app (link below) that let me hook into the VM on the MBP. I wouldn't say it's ideal for doing actual coding, but it seems fine for pointy-clicky work. And at the introductory price of $4.99, well, I just couldn't pass it up.

Links:
Parallels Desktop 8 - Switch to Mac Edition
Parallels Mobile


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2012.11.23Do I Dare Buy My Mother an e-Reader?

I'm having my mother out for the holidays this year, and am considering the purchase of an e-Reader for her for Christmas. The idea presents certain... considerations.

It has to be easy for her to operate. More than page navigation, she simply is not well-equipped for fiddling with WiFi connectivity and management. The Amazon Kindle Paperwhite has a 3G connection that should allow her to buy and download content seamlessly. Interestingly, the new basic Kindle and the Kindle Fire tablets are WiFi only. Nook's Simple Touch are also WiFi only. At least the Nook may also be loaded via connection to PC; I assume the Kindle product may as well. Finally, Barnes & Noble touts the inclusion of a charger with their reader (and claims the Kindle does not) -- Amazon includes a USB cable with the Kindle Paperwhite (which supports the idea the Paperwhite may be loaded via PC).

It has to be legible. I think the lit background on the Kindle Paperwhite or the Nook Simple Touch with Glowlight ought to fit the bill here nicely. Plus she can adjust the font sizes at will -- this is likely a universal feature regardless of manufacturer. Plus the light intensity on both of these models are adjustable. I do find it somewhat weird that the Kindle Paperwhite 3G is actually more expensive than the basic Kindle Fire (which has a color screen, but is WiFi only).

It has to be convenient and compelling. It's got to be something she's going to want to use. My mother might be a tactile enough reader that an e-Reader simply won't be something she'd enjoy.

It has to be well supported. By somebody other than me. Sure, it sounds bad. But I can't spend two hours out of my work week doing tech support for mom. So I need to be sure that she can go to somebody if she's having trouble using the device. Best Buy sells the Kindle product, and of course, the Nook is offered by Barnes & Noble. Though I'm sure there's telephone support available through both companies, Mom doesn't have a B&N in town.

She should be financially insulated. Put more plainly, I don't want her to feel compelled to enter her credit card number anywhere. In talking with Barnes and Noble, I learned that something like a Visa gift card could be used as long as it has a balance of at least $50. I think a reloadable gift card is a great way to go here.

It should be easy for me to acquire and configure in advance. My only worry with the Kindle unit here is that it won't be available until December 21st.

For me, I think the winner here is the Kindle Paperwhite 3G, despite the availability concerns. The 3G connectivity is just too valuable, even though I think the Nook Simple Touch unit is pretty compelling, especially at a lower price. I think having a B&N in her town would have been a factor, but not quite enough to change the endgame -- particularly since she doesn't have a wireless Internet capability in her home.

Links:
Kindle Paperwhite 3G, Amazon.com
Nook Simple Touch with Glowlight, Barnes & Noble


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2012.11.22Revisiting e-Readers: Contemplating a Return to Kindle

I find I'm considering replacing my Barnes & Noble Nook Color with the new Amazon Kindle Fire.

After spending quite some time with the Nook, I've come to realize:
  • The touch sensitivity on the unit is awful. Sometimes you have to pound on the thing to get it to respond. A B&N salesperson noted that the original Nook Colors are known for this flaw, and that it's been corrected/improved in the new generation.
  • I miss the TTS capabilities I have in the original Kindle, and really want that feature in an e-Reader.
Additionally, it seems clear that the Kindle Fire is Android-based, as is the Nook. I bought the Nook partly because I was considering porting one of my Android apps to work with the Nook. Going back to the Kindle might be a plus, insofar as I already have a developer account with Amazon. As a consideration, this falls outside the feature set of each platform -- but, for me, it's worth noting.

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2012.11.20Installing Parallels on the MBP

I've been wanting to install Parallels on my Apple laptop -- I've heard that the software runs Windows better than actual Windows machines do.

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2012.10.29The "90#" Phone Scam

From AT&T Smart Controls

The 90# phone scam has been around for some time. With this scam, you receive a call at your home or office from someone claiming to be a telephone company employee investigating technical problems with your line, or checking up on calls supposedly placed to other states or countries from your line. The caller asks you to aid the investigation by either dialing 90# or transferring him/her to an outside line before hanging up the telephone receiver. By doing this, you may be enabling the caller to place calls that are billed to your home or office telephone number.

AT&T recommends the following tips to avoid this scam:
  • Educate yourself and other employees about the scam.
  • Take charge of incoming calls. Fraudulent callers may misrepresent themselves. If you doubt the identity of the caller, hang up.
  • Read telephone bills carefully. Make sure that you thoroughly understand the charges on your phone bill and that you only receive charges for your corresponding calling activity as defined by your selected calling plan.
  • Protect your identity. Be careful about disclosing personal information over the phone.


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2012.09.24iOS6: New Features, New Apps, New Threats

First and foremost, I heartily applaud Apple for their latest version of their mobile operating system. They've done well to once again incorporate -- solidly -- feature updates that really, really make sense for the platform.

Siri is becoming a mature and dependable tool (now on the iPad, too! -- a big reason why I bought an iPad 3), and upgrades like replying to calls with SMS, setting callback reminders, Do Not Disturb, photo streams and a "One-Touch" option for app purchases are completely sensible.

For parents, check out the Guided Access capabilities. You can hand your kid your iPad to play "Frogger" without worry any longer by limiting the device to only using that app and even restricting touch input on certain areas of the screen. (I can't wait to try this out!!)

Apple has also taken integration with social media much further. People can tweet or post to Facebook directly from the Notification Center (that's the gray screen you can access with a downward swipe), or even have Siri do it for them.

All of these new features taken together force us to ask, "How did we ever get along without these things?" -- Together with social media of all kinds, Apple is really pushing the convergence of our "digital lives" with our "mobile lives." I mean, I had a list of several reminders to do this past weekend, and I was able to do nearly all of them using Siri: finding out when my next appointments are, keeping track of football games -- all conveniences, but amazing, amazing things!

It's easy to look at this amazing convergence and evaluate it both positively and negatively. All these new features and apps paint a picture of sunshine and rainbows -- but your skies will darken quickly if you lose your device. Consider taking advantage of alternate means of authentication, and have a good idea of how interconected you are with your social networks, and how interconnected your social networks are to each other. For example, nearly all of the newer social networks accept Facebook and Twitter credentials, so someone having your Twitter account credentials could really hit you where you live: Instagram, Foursquare, Localmind, Twitpic, Pinterest and so on. Many of these services have secondary means of authentication that will ask for additional credentials if you're using them from a strange computer -- consider investigating those features. While you're at it, get familiar with iPhone features like Lost Mode and the Find My iPhone app.

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2012.07.26Apple OS X 10.8 "Mountain Lion" Made My MBP Relevant

I've been anxiously awaiting Apple's latest upgrade to OS X ("Mountain Lion"). It took several hours to download the 4.6GB upgrade, and about 35 minutes to install. I've only played with it a tiny bit, but the improvements I've seen -- and I'm talking specifically about the closer ties with iOS functionality -- have increased the usefulness of my MBP by 300%.

That's not any kind of indictment of OS X or the Apple computing product. Not at all. I bought an MBP a couple of years ago to get into iOS development. I spend most of my time on my Windows machine, and haven't yet immersed myself in Mac world. Right now I mainly use it for web surfing.

For me, the latest release of OS X will greatly help bridge the gulf because I've been an iPhone user since the 3G, and an iPad user since the first generation. (By the way, I recently replaced my old iPad with the latest version because iOS 6 will bring a greatly expanded Siri functionality to iOS devices -- but the Gen 1 iPad will not be upgradeable.) My iPhone 4S' capabilities are fantastic, and tighter integration will instantly make the MBP more valuable to me.

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2012.06.07Facebook's Battles for Revenue and Relevancy

Obviously there's been a lot of press about Facebook lately -- much of which I've condensed into recent posts. But amid all the noise about the stock price, one can get a glimpse of Facebook's real problems: advertising and relevancy.

Much is being made of the IPO, apart from the NASDAQ problems and the charges of insider trading, because of the nature of being a public company: Public companies need revenue streams, and Facebook's main revenue stream is advertising dollars. The market is judging Facebook on its forecast ability to generate revenue for its shareholders. Among its several problems: the effectiveness of Facebook ads is widely questioned. Without the essential conversion of clicks into dollars, Facebook will need to find another way of convincing diligent investors of the worthiness of their stock.

Facebook has become a nexus for all things social -- connectivity is ubiquitous, thanks to its open API. It's so easy to share articles from websites and blogs and connect with friends to play games -- developers can even use the API to authenticate to other websites! This omnipresence is Facebook's greatest asset -- the number one thing it has over everything else on the market, AND it's platform independent. I believe Facebook now has the unenviable challenge of nurturing and maturing the monster it made into a stable and attractive revenue source.

In my opinion, Facebook's abilities to attract investors, to manage its advantage as the center of the social media multiverse, and to capitalize on an increasingly mobile base will shape its future significantly.

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2012.06.06Facebook IPO: NASDAQ to Compensate Trading Firms for Botched Orders

CNNMoney reports the NASDAQ Stock Exchange plans to spend $40MM to compensate firms affected by glitches associated with the Facebook IPO.

Pending approval by the SEC, firms affected by sell orders that didn't go through, by sell orders that went through at a lower price, and buy orders at $42 that weren't confirmed, will be eligible for compensation through a combination of cash from money generated from the sale of short positions the exchange held on Facebook stock, and reduced trading fees over the next six months.

Links:
"Nasdaq plans $40 million payout for Facebook losses" (CNNMoney)


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2012.06.05Facebook IPO: Stock Continues Plunge, New Lawsuit Against CEO Zuckerberg

Facebook's stock price continues to tumble. The stock opened at $26.70 this morning amid allegations of insider trading leveled against Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. The suit, Eannarino v. Facebook, Inc., et. al., claims Zuckerberg and other officers unloaded over $16BB worth of the stock before prices tumbled because they knew Facebook's stock was grossly overvalued. The suit also claims that Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan and Morgan Stanley all pointed out the overvaluation, but Facebook only "secretly disclosed this information to certain preferred investors."

Links:
"Mark Zuckerberg Sued for Unloading Facebook Stock Before Price Collapse" (The Inquisitr)
"Berman DeValerio Files Securities Class Action Suit Against Facebook, Inc." (Market Watch)


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2012.05.25Facebook IPO: Stock Dives, Losses Mount

One week after its IPO, Facebook's stock price continues to dive while problems continue to rise.

At the time of publication, FB was trading nearly 18% below it's $38 initial price, which was set by a consortium of 33 underwriters led by Morgan Stanley.


Meanwhile, allegations of preferential treatment to institutional investors are being investigated by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, the State of Massachusetts, and the U.S. Congress. The suits contend that negative information about the IPO was privately circulated among preferred institutional investors and withheld from others -- a violation of securities law. Banks that revised their revenue projections for Facebook shortly before the IPO include Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan, Bank of America, and Goldman Sachs.

Four firms that execute stock trades have told the SEC they've lost a combined $140M due to connectivity problems with NASDAQ shortly after the Facebook IPO last Friday. At least Knight Capital is seeking compensation from NASDAQ for their share of the loss. In related news, Reuters reported Fidelity Investments was working with thousands of brokerage clients affected by the trading issues. Trading of the shares was so furious it set a volume record.

Links:
"Facebook's Stock Slips Again!" (CNNMoney)
"Facebook IPO: Wall Street's Losses Mount" (CNNMoney)
"Facebook's IPO: Sorting Through the Legal Mess" (CNNMoney)
"The Numbers on the Facebook Earnings Revisions" (Reuters)
"Exclusive: Fidelity Facing 'Thousands' Hit by Facebook Woes" (Reuters)
"UPDATE 1- Citi Unit Lost $20 MLN in Facebook IPO -Source" (Reuters)
"Knight Capital Hit by Facebook Loss, Wants NASDAQ to Pay" (Reuters)
"UBS, Citigroup Lost $50M Due To Nasdaq’s Facebook Glitches" (Wall Street Journal)


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2012.05.23Foul Play at Facebook?

The initial public offering of Facebook stock did not go as planned. Priced at $38 per share on Friday, the stock saw a price as high as $45 before later falling below $31. News outlets reported that Facebook and investment firms associated with the IPO may have jumped in to buy up shares to stem the flow of money the stock was hemhorraging in the afternoon. (Morgan Stanley and other underwriters reportedly made a profit of about $100M doing so.)

Now today, Wednesday, reports have surfaced that state the IPO is being investigated by the SEC, and that lawsuits have been filed on both coasts, claiming that Morgan Stanley analysis suggesting the company was weaker than predicted was only circulated among few preferred investors.

For his part, CEO Zuckerberg has been mum. On Tuesday he sold 30.2 million shares worth $1.13B -- analysts suggest he sold between 10% and 15% higher than the original price expectations. Both are probably wise moves.

Links:
"Zuckerberg, Morgan Stanley Sued Over Facebook IPO" (MSNBC.com)
"Facebook Stock Slumps Another 9 Percent" (MSNBC.com)
"Where are Facebook's friends? Stock Slide Deepens" (Bloomberg Businessweek)
"Morgan Stanley, Other Underwriters Make $100 Million Profit on Facebook IPO" (Wall Street Journal) "Facebook's Zuckerberg, Thiel Sell Shares" (CBS MarketWatch)
"Facebook Is Nothing But Embarrassment" (CBS MarketWatch)

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2012.05.21The HTC One X, and the Larger Picture of Apple vs. Android

I really like the HTC One X.

Overall, I'd give it eight out of ten stars. If I overlook availability of apps for both platforms being an issue, I can say that I can do almost everything on the One X that I can on my iPhone 4S -- some things better, some things not.

iPhone History

I've been an iPhone user since the original iPhone 3G. I originally switched because I was sick and tired of having to use a stylus for everything on my Windows phone -- even just dialing the unit was a pain in the keester. Apple gets interface -- and they realized that a smartphone interface must be finger-friendly. They earned my business. Unfortunately, AT&T has effed up nearly every major rollout of Apple product since then.

Apple vs. Android

I got into Android development a couple of years ago. One thing I really enjoy about Android development is that the platform is far more exposed for third-party development. For example: AUTOreply, my most recent Android release, is an SMS responder which can engage and disengage itself based on your rate of movement. I'll probably never be able to develop an iOS-based counterpart app because Apple doesn't allow third-party access to their SMS API. As a consumer, I suppose I can appreciate Apple locking down the functionality, because it minimizes the chances of a data compromise. As a developer, I'd love to be able to build that app for the iPhone because I want to use it there.

Generally speaking -- for me as a user -- the major advantage that Android has is in its native abilities to naturally extend Google's mail (GMail) and calendaring capabilities. Apple's handling of Google's calendar is not the best. I can update my Google calendar on the Web and see those updates in near real-time on my Android unit; not so with my iPhone.

It's the classic battle between closed and open systems. On the one hand, the closed system is risk-adverse, but its rules prevent departure from the standard it set. On the other, the open system allows for greater flexibility but at a higher risk of data compromise and complications.

The HTC One X

The HTC One X has a very slim and inviting form factor, with a slight curvature. It's actually so slim that when it slipped out of my hand in my car, it slid straight down between my seat and the center console. Happily I was able to retrieve it from under the seat! The handset is longer and wider than the iPhone -- there's a lot of talk about an iPhone 5 being made larger than the current production units (recent reporting noted the current iPhone's dimensions were driven by a person's ability to reach all points of the screen with one's thumb.) The One X is available in white and in black -- just like the iPhone. And, for what it's worth, the ZAGG screen protector for the One went on absolutely flawlessly. I can't say the same for the protector on my iPhone.

Ice Cream Sandwich

The One runs the latest version of the Android operating system, named "Ice Cream Sandwich." ICS looks beautiful. It features resizable widgets and "folderable" shortcut icons (mimicking one of the most notable features of the original iOS 4 upgrade, in my opinion). Even the basic, retro font on the unit looks sweet.

Voice Command

Another notable change over Gingerbread is the addition of voice transciption. One might be tempted to compare this with Apple's "Siri" functionality. ICS won't respond to you in a female voice, but I have noticed it will add your spoken text in near real-time. That's mostly what I use Siri for, but my wife uses it far more extensively. I don't believe ICS' voice command implementation is as capable as she might require. Iris is a third-party app meant to address the gap. It sounds awful -- though it is still in alpha. The bottom line here is though Apple's iPhone 4S blows away ICS' voice command capabilities, clearly Google is thinking about voice command.

Face the Music

One of the big things Apple has going for it is iTunes. The iTunes store has an amazing catalog of music available for consumption. Google Music allows one to upload music files and access them from their Android phones. The result-- and advantage-- is your music available on whatever unit WITHOUT taking up storage space on the unit. The trade-off is an occasional pause while tracks are sent to the phone. Worth it. The HTC One X ships with Beats Audio, which essentially appears to be a stripped down audio equalizer. For what it's worth, the iPod's/iPhone's equalizer is far more robust.

Smile for the Camera

As a camera, I LOVE the One. The camera aboard the iPhone 4S creates brighter photos than its predecesor. But the Android O/S includes multiple filters which allow you to take lovely, large photos with effects right out of the box. For the iPhone? Well, there's Instagram.

Apps

For the One, I especially recommend:
  • Phone Schedule is a great utility app that lets you create tasks oriented around various OS objects. For example, I have a daily workday schedule that switches the unit into silent mode at 8:00 AM and flips the ringer back on at 5:00 PM. The app is free from Google Play.
  • Beautiful Widgets is an app that features highly customizable skins for Android Widgets (which are applets that run on the "desktop.") Beautiful Widgets has a counterpart app that must be loaded for the animations to run. It cost $2.79 from Google Play.
I am grateful for the multiple apps I use that come both in Android and Apple flavors -- particularly those of the social networking, banking and debt variety. These apps will perform slightly differently depending on the platform. Foursquare, for example, includes a map on the Android version that it doesn't have on the Apple version. Facebook and Localmind appear virtually identical.

I have a wish list for iPhone apps that I really want for my Android:
  • Forkly -- a lovely foodie app
  • Newser -- consise news, working smarter, not harder
  • Spellsword -- super-fun platform game in retro style. Crazy addictive.

How About Reception?

Now, a number of varying factors may be involved here, but overall I think I get better performance from my iPhone 4S in my area than I get from the One. The problems are just enough to be irksome.

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2012.04.16SiriusXM iPhone App Difficult to Navigate, Resource Hog on the iPhone 4S

I thought I'd try out the SiriusXM Internet Radio app last week in the hope of being able to listen to baseball games. I'll be uninstalling the app and discontinuing the trial.

The app is difficult to navigate because the channels aren't organized by channel number, like they are on my car radio. Though I can use categories like "sports" -- and this is helpful -- I can't surf to channel n to catch the game like radio users.

The other thing I noticed was that each day I spent listening to the broadcasts through the app drained my phone's battery to the point where I had to recharge it while I was at the office. Considering I charge my phone up nightly and power it off completely afterwards, there's no excuse for this kind of drain. (In comparison, I can listen to an entire baseball game through the MLB "At Bat" app and notice no significant deviation from normal battery depletion.)

It's a shame, too, because I've really been enjoying the music I've been discovering on Alt Nation. Guess it'll have to remain a treat for while I'm in the car.


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2012.04.15"At Bat" App Hits a Home Run

I've suddenly developed a ferocious appetite for Detroit Tigers baseball. After a little research, I found that the MLB At Bat app will stream game audio for as little as $2.99 per month! It's a fantastic solution for me, because I can listen to the day games in the office and, if I lose interest, I can simply cancel before the subscription renews the following month.

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2012.03.12The iPhone 4S, Siri, and iOS 5.1

Despite telling people I wasn't really all that plussed by the iPhone 4S, I have a white one sitting on my desk in front of me now. How I got it was the result of a Jedi mind-trick my wife used on me.

Okay. Now that that's out of the way...

OMG OMG OMG OMG it's really cool!!!! The 4S is a steroid powered iPhone 4. Everything's more powerful. Even the display is brighter. And Siri is actually quite useful. Having never used it before, I told the application, "Tell [my wife (but I only used her first name)] that she's awesome." The app pulled out the correct person from my contacts and prepared the text. It asked for my approval, and sent it. Siri seems very promising indeed.

Okay. Now that I've said that, one must take care when using Siri to send texts. In the example I gave above, the first draft read, "She's awesome." Lest I give my bride the impression I was giving a compliment to a third party, I edited the content to read, "You're awesome." So, Pro tip: Even though you're using the third person to get the app to contact someone, make sure your message itself is spoken as if you're talking to the addressee.

With the iOS 5.1 upgrade, they made a few really nice feature changes. For instance, you can now access the camera directly from the lock screen -- no more having to fumble through unlocking the phone to get to the camera app and missing the moment.

Unfortunately, the iOS upgrade did present a slight wrinkle. My iPhone 4 upgraded to 5.1 the other night -- that's when I did a full backup of the unit in preparation for the eventual arrival of the 4S. The 4S showed up at my house yesterday. (What? It was supposed to go to the store, wasn't it?) Its version of iOS was still 5.0.1 -- which makes sense, considering 5.1 only came out the other day. So I couldn't load the data from the 4 onto the 4S directly -- I had to upgrade to 5.1 first.

You know, 800MB of data just never seems to download fast enough. It took about an hour and a half to do it all last night, but in the end I had a flawless upgrade.

By the way, Radio Shack will give you $190 for your old 32GB iPhone 4 -- cutting the cost of the 32GB 4S down to roughly $100. A couple of tips here:
  1. Be prepared to spend some time in Radio Shack to get it all handled -- the store manager told Laurel the reason it took so long the other day was because the clerk who handled our transaction is dying. Yes. He really said that.
  2. Upgrade your desktop iTunes to the latest version.
  3. Make sure your phone is synced up. And by "synced up", I mean make sure your desktop iTunes is an accurate reflection of what you have on your phone. I disconnected everything on my 4 from the desktop a while ago, so I had to hook it all back up -- transfer all the purchases from the unit back to the desktop, then reselect the playlists, the ringtones, blah blah blah.
  4. Do a full backup of your 4 to your PC before you go to the store. NOT KIDDING.
  5. If you're thinking about doing this upgrade right now, either don't upgrade to iOS 5.1 yet OR wait a little while until units with 5.1 enter stores' stock. Otherwise you'll have to set up the 4S as a new phone, download and install 5.1 on the new phone, THEN go back and restore the 4 data to the 4S. Kind of a PITA.
  6. Don't think you'll actually leave the store having paid $100. They want to sell you the new AppleCare plan before you leave -- this will double your cost, but it may be worth it: the plan is changed so that it now covers any accidental damage to your phone from the moment the plan is activated (which is why they push to sell it to you right then). The old AppleCare was far stricter, and didn't cover everyday oopses. Considering I put a minor crack in my 4 when it slid off my leg the other day, the plan is worth investigating.
  7. Speaking of insurance, ZAGG is now offering a lifetime replacement warranty on their screen protectors, if you're so inclined.
  8. That full backup you did before you went to the store? It won't restore your passwords. Those you'll have to re-key.
All-in-all, the upgrades -- both the iOS upgrade and the new unit -- went pretty well. If you follow the tips, you should come out smelling like a rose.

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2012.02.27This weekend I decided to undo some changes I made to my iTunes library. Thought I'd offer a tip or two for those contemplating similar changes.

To do this, you're going to have to make a new library and basically import in everything you still want from the old library file.

There's some decent documentation available on Apple's iTunes support site for this kind of thing, and on messageboards on this topic. One such tip mentioned exporting playlists from the old library first. I can't emphasize this ENOUGH. The playlists have to be exported one-at-a-time; this can be tedious if you have many lists. They'll export as text files. Recommend you stick them all in a location you can easily find later.

You can create a new library file in iTunes on Windows by holding down the key when you click on the iTunes shortcut. Hold down that key and keep it held down for longer than you think you should have to. Once you create the new library, DON'T GO BACK TO THE OLD LIBRARY FOR ANYTHING. If you do, it'll import junk from your old library file and basically put you right back in the same mess you were trying to get out of. That's why it's important to export those playlists from the old library FIRST.

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2011.12.20Carrier IQ: A Simple Summary

Much hay has been made of the recent discovery of secret software embedded on smartphone devices sold by several US carriers over the past year. The software, intended for network diagnostics, is produced for the carriers by a company called Carrier IQ, and included on smartphone units by the various carriers after the actual telephones are produced.

By way of example, consider the film I, Robot. At one point in the film, a US Robotics technician accompanies Detective Spooner to the factory where the robots are produced. The robots at that point aren't yet programmed; they have a basic set of laws and that's all. The handsets companies like HTC and Samsung produce for the carriers are a lot like the robots at the factory: they don't yet have the firmware and software to make them complete, serviceable units. Carriers like AT&T order units from manufacturers, and each carrier loads each unit with the firmware and software the carrier chooses. Some carriers (notably AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile) chose to subscribe to Carrier IQ's services, and so the Carrier IQ software was included in the programming provided by those carriers. The software provides value to carriers by sitting in the background and keeping meticulous records of the unit's network activities for the purpose of providing the carrier intelligence on handset and network performance.

This is where Android developer Trevor Eckhart comes in. Eckhart discovered that the Carrier IQ software was capturing enormous amounts of private information that, in reality, has nothing to do with network performance because the software continued to capture the data even while the unit was disconnected from the network -- including every keystroke typed into the unit. Eckhart filmed his discovery and published it to YouTube, where it received the attention of, among others, Carrier IQ's lawyers: Carrier IQ issued a cease and desist order against Eckhart, which was promptly challenged by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Carrier IQ later rescinded the order, but not before a media firestorm erupted over the privacy concerns raised by Eckhart's research. The tempest received the attention of Senator Al Franken (D-MN), Chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, who published a statement on the issue earlier this week.

"People have a fundamental right to control their private information. After reading the companies' responses, I'm still concerned that this right is not being respected. The average user of any device equipped with Carrier IQ software has no way of knowing that this software is running, what information it is getting, and who it is giving it to-and that's a problem. It appears that Carrier IQ has been receiving the contents of a number of text messages-even though they had told the public that they did not. I'm also bothered by the software's ability to capture the contents of our online searches-even when users wish to encrypt them. So there are still many questions to be answered here and things that need to be fixed."


What units have the software installed?

AT&T reported to Sen. Franken that the Carrier IQ software is "integrated and active" on the following Pantech devices: The Pursuit II, Breeze 3, P5000 (Link2) and Pocket; it is also active on the Sierra Wireless Shockwave, LG Thrill, the Avail and Z331 from ZTE, the SEMC Xperia Play, and Motorola's Atrix and Bravo. AT&T also notes the software is aboard the HTC Vivid, LG Nitro and Samsung Skyrocket, but wasn't activated due to performance issues.

Sprint reported to Sen. Franken only the manufacturers of devices upon which the software is installed: Audiovox, Franklin, HTC, Huawei, Kyocera, LG, Motorola, Novatel, Palmone, Samsung, Sanyo and Sierra Wireless.

Samsung provided a list of unit models, by carrier, upon which the carriers ordered the software installed: Sprint ordered the software on 28 models (all prefaced with "SPH" -- visit the Samsung link below for the full list); T-Mobile, 2 (T-989 and T-679); Cricket, 4 (all starting with SCH-R); and AT&T, 1 (SGH-i727).

HTC reported that Sprint had ordered the software placed upon its Snap, Touch Pro 2, Hero, Evo 4G, Evo Shift 4G, Evo 3D and Evo Design models. HTC confirmed the presence of the software on it's Vivid model offered by AT&T, and on the Amaze 4G available through T-Mobile.

Links to each response letter (in portable document format) appear at bottom. Responses from T-Mobile and Motorola were not yet available.

Bottom line: Should I freak out?

Probably not. I concur that the software's activity represents a massive privacy violation -- but ask yourself what the likelihood is of analysis of your traffic. Consider all of those phone models, and the numbers of those phones that have been sold: roughly 33 million Samsung and HTC units, with some 27 million units operating on the AT&T and Sprint networks -- all radioing in data once a day. Consider the volume of data involved -- and the effort it would take to organize and mine it all, assuming a company would wish to dedicate the resources ($$$) for such a Herculean task. If you're in doubt, here's a hint: AT&T probably isn't paying anybody to care about your OMG's and OMW's. But the great news here -- for us all -- is that the problem has been exposed, and consumers may end up benefiting from Senator Franken's efforts. After all, he's good enough, he's smart enough, and doggone it, people like him!


Links:
Carrier IQ
Trevor Eckhart's investigation of the Carrier IQ software
The Electronic Frontier Foundation's explanation
Sen. Franken's Statement on the CarrierIQ Debacle
AT&T's Response to Sen. Franken
Samsung's Response to Sen. Franken
Sprint's Response to Sen. Franken
HTC's Response to Sen. Franken



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2010.11.23iPhone, iPad updates to 4.2.1 go without a hitch!

Apple released the iOS 4.2 update and I must say -- it went very well. Both my iPhone and iPad units updated very smoothly!

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2010.11.13Updating the iPad to iOS 4.2? Not yet, you're not

Bundled with the iTunes 10.1 update is the release of iOS 4.2 for the iPad. I don't sync my iPad very often, but I've been looking forward to bringing the iPad out of the 3.2 world, when it's capable of so much more.

My experience was that I first had to update iTunes to 10.1 (10.1.0.54, according to the "About" dialog). The software asked me to reboot my PC, but iTunes started syncing my iPad, so I just let the sync go, then rebooted.

Restarted the machine, fired up iTunes, plugged in the iPad... and got a very fast sync. That's it. What about iOS 4.2? Not so much, apparently: I even had to tell iTunes to check for an update for the iPad. "This version of the iPad software (3.2.2) is the current version."

What the hell?

Multiple websites today report the iOS update is delayed due to wifi problems. The latest I saw on this reports the iOS portion of the update has been pushed back to November 24th.

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2010.10.05Kindle vs iPad Update

Thought I'd offer a "status update" on how things have been going with the Kindle and the iPad since I last spoke about it in May. The executive summary is that the two remain in their separate provinces and are just fine that way. For my part, I use both extensively in their separate domains. While traveling this past week, I brought both with me -- I read like a fiend with the Kindle, and kept up on the Interwebs with the iPad. In fact, my latest read (Overhaul by Steven Rattner) was an on-demand Kindle download as a function of a CNN story I saw while awaiting a flight. And by the way, TSA does not require iPads to be removed from your carry-on like they do laptops. Going through security, it never left my bag.

Some say they prefer the tactile feel of a book; I understand that. My copy of To Kill a Mockingbird is a paperback with wonderfully textured pages that lends a soft, old feel. It made the read as tactilely pleasurable as it was entertaining. Yet I don't perceive I'm losing anything with the digital version of Overhaul. The digital pages turn quickly, and I feel like I'm moving right along.

The bottom line is that each purchase was a complete win in my view. Where reading is concerned, the Kindle is an absolute must -- compact, environmentally friendly, and can even read the material to you (I've had it read me the paper as I've gotten cleaned up in the morning). Most importantly though, the Kindle has gotten me back in touch with the pleasure of reading. I haven't read this much in years!

Links to Amazon.com:
Overhaul: An Insider's Account of the Obama Administration's Emergency Rescue of the Auto Industry
To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Perennial Modern Classics)
The Kindle (latest generation)

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2010.08.29I Let the Macbook Go

Earlier this week I said "goodbye" to my 2008 MacBook Pro. I was sorry to see it go, but I just wasn't using it often enough to justify keeping it -- so I sold it. Still have the Cocoa programming book, though.

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2010.08.28Clipping articles on your Kindle and posting them to Facebook? You can do that?

Yes.

It's a little kludgy, but it works. I was highlighting part of a newspaper article and wondered how I might send it to some friends when I noticed an option to associate the Kindle with social networks Facebook and Twitter. I gave the Kindle my Facebook credentials, and blammo -- it posted the clipping to kindle.amazon.com as a post and assigned it an ID. Then it used the simple note I'd typed ("What an interesting idea.") and used that as the text above the link on the Facebook post. The link itself reads, "Amazon Kindle: {my name} shared from {article title} in {newspaper/magazine/book}" -- or it would have, had a character limit not been reached. The Kindle even posted an image of what appears to be the front page of the newspaper I quoted above the words "kindle edition" and an image of the device. Those amazon people aren't dummies -- in providing this linking service, they're going to make certain EVERYBODY knows the Kindle deserves the credit as the means for sharing that content. I get that.

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2010.07.17Stanford University's iPhone Application Development Course

When thinking about how to expand my programming repertoire, I found that work on an iPad/iPhone app was a bit of a no-brainer -- I've been pushing for mobile app development at Michigan State University for a couple of years now, and, had budget been identified for the effort, I would have found myself spearheading a team to do exactly this. In preparation for the eventuality, I intended that the team use this Stanford course on the topic. The project didn't get funded and I am moving on to another project, but I'd like to build a little something just for the practice of doing so. I've no idea when I'll actually jump into development, but I'm downloading the course material from iTunesU as I type.

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2010.07.09iPhone 4 has arrived!!

Never again.

Seriously, getting this little black box here was a colossal pain in the kiester. But WOW is the iPhone 4 pretty. And the upgrade was incredibly easy -- in no time at all the new phone was up and running. Heck, even the state of my games was preserved -- it was nice to not have to start superfall all over again. Bye bye dying battery and slow response (thanks, iOS4). Hello multitasking, faster processor, and crazy beautiful display. But was it worth trying to pre-order for 14 hours? AT&T server implosions? Super long lines? Delays? Cancellations? Really?

By the way, I have not experienced the signal degradation problem associated with the infamous "dead spot."

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2010.06.24I can make a kindle talk!

I just KNEW that was a speaker on the back.

If you go into the menu and select "Experimental", you'll find instructions on how to have the Kindle read to you. I haven't yet figured out how to control the volume, but I'll say the text-to-speech functionality is pretty darn impressive -- The TTS engine Amazon used is very, very good.

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2010.06.23What good is my iPhone 3G once I get the iPhone 4?: Apple, AT&T Reply

I made a couple of calls this evening to Apple and to AT&T on details associated with the simple question: "What good is my iPhone 3G once I get the iPhone 4?"

Q: Can I sell or give my 3G to someone else?
A: Yes. Regardless of whether you sell the unit or give it away, the preferred way to do this is for the current 3G owner to call Apple with the name of the person to whom the transfer is being made. Apple will then associate the 3G unit with the new person, and that person can take the 3G into an AT&T store and make arrangements for service (Apple). (What about the SIM? See below.)

Q: What happens to the remainder of my AppleCare contract once the 3G is replaced?
A: Apple can't transfer the remaining time from the 3G contract onto the 4, but they can refund the remaining time of the 3G contract to you, which you can then apply to coverage for the 4 (Apple).

Q: What remains usable on the 3G once the 4 has replaced it as my phone?
A: Although you'll receive a warning that the phone has no SIM (or no valid SIM), you can acknowledge the warning and still use the apps over WiFi and still use it as an iPod. You just can't make any calls or do anything over AT&T's network (Apple).

Q: If something happens to my 4, how do I restore my 3G to service?
A: Because the SIM cards used in the 3G and in the 4 are different sizes, it's not possible to simply slip one SIM into the other unit. Once the SIM has been activated on the 4, the SIM in your 3G is essentially dead and cannot be restored. To restore service to the 3G (say, the 4 has to be sent for repairs), go into an AT&T store and they'll place a new SIM into the 3G unit (AT&T).

By the way, according to the recording I just heard on AT&T's line, AT&T will have the iPhone available in their retail stores starting June 29th.

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2010.06.22Why I loves me some iOS 4

There were two very subtle changes Apple made in the newest release of the iPhone operating system that make a huge difference for me. The first: the unit now allows you to control the iPod volume while listening through a bluetooth headset on BOTH the headset AND the iPhone unit itself. This is huge, because until today I've always had trouble listening to music softly enough to still be able to pick up incidental speech, because the volumme control on the wireless headset simply wouldn't bring the volume low enough. The second: when the iPhone would ring through the same headset, the headset would simply beep to signal a call. Even though I have separate ringtones in place on the iPhone itself to distinguish between callers, the ringtones would not play through the headset.... again, until today. I know I couldn't expect too much from the 3G with respect to iOS 4, but I hafta tellya -- these two tweaks make the two hours I spent last night updating the phone completely worthwhile. And I just told Apple so.

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2010.06.21iOS 4 Upgrade: Have some time on your hands

The upgrade to Apple's iPhone OS version 4 (iOS 4) went relatively well on my 3G model, but it took some time.

About two hours.

Downloading the roughly 250MB file went fairly smoothly this evening. In the broad strokes, the update first performs a full backup -- apparently including your music and videos -- , followed by the iOS 4 install. The phone restarted, then the apps were put back on. The phone restarted again, then restored the data, followed by the music and video content. That last step seems to be taking twice as long as the initial backup, if one can believe that. Then once everything appeared to be done, the fool thing started syncing again to iTunes... which meant (wait for it)... another backup!!

At least the software version in iTunes reads "4.0."

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2010.06.19Picked up an AppleTV unit last night...

"Meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee likey!!"
Apple TV basically connects my iTunes collection with my HDTV. It can do this either by streaming or downloading it in real-time from my iTunes-enabled PC, or by syncing the 160GB Apple TV unit with my iTunes library. (I think I’d prefer the latter; that way, the unit can reach out for new content, but the majority of the content will be stored locally and just run from the Apple TV to the television via an HDMI cable.)

What this unit really does is breaks the barrier between my office and my living room. It also paves the way for me to officially stop purchasing media on plastic and strictly go with downloads. THAT is huge.

But wait — there’s more. It can also reach into my MobileMe account and grab, for example, photos to use as a screen saver or to display as a slide show.

AND I can rent movies from the iTunes store, and even watch YouTube videos.

My need for network television continues to diminish (I’m lookin’ at YOU, Dish Network). The Apple TV unit will have paid for itself by cutting the satellite TV service I never use anyway for just two months.

Right now, the only “gotcha” is that the initial sync takes FOR. EV. AR: I’ve let this run all night and it’s nowhere NEAR complete.

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2010.06.12Giving AppleTV a look

I know I already have all of the iStuff I really need. But in my total entertainment equation, there is one thing missing: the ability to watch downloaded content on my television set. I've put some thought into this, because it's central to my ongoing debate about the media format on which I should purchase content. Blu-Ray is certainly nice and all, but its only a matter of time before it is supplanted by the next new, new thing. I think that downloaded content is more stable, though, because the delivery method is platform-independent. Or it should be, anyway. Sure, there's DRM to contend with and file formats, but converters and rippers abound and I don't see that market shrinking any time soon. On top of that, there's a green motivation: less plastic.

Apple TV promises to bridge the gulf between my iTunes content and my living room over my wireless network. The $250 box can connect to my TV via HDMI cable. The box has a hard drive -- so I think the deal is I'd have iTunes on my PC push the movie to the AppleTV and have the appliance play it from there, as opposed to streaming it from the PC.

I know they've been on the market for a while, and I've known people who have owned them have remarked that they get VERY hot. This newer version I saw at the store seemed smaller than the unit I saw in the past. I felt that unit and it felt pretty warm through the top.

I've more research to do. If you have a suggestion, please drop me a line!

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2010.06.11Stickybits: not ready for prime time

I learned about stickybits in a recent PC World article. I did some digging, and liked what I saw: the ability to associate a bar code with just about anything you want in the virtual world. My mind immediately went to business cards: by placing the code on each card, savvy recipients could use a bar code scanner app to find my résumé. Beautiful!

If only it really worked. Oh, the reader part works great -- but the associating things to bar codes part simply does not. Every code you generate is "untitled" (implying one should have the ability to actually assign them a title); you may associate text with each stickybits bar code, but it's not HTML and cannot be deleted. So the hyperlink I tried to embed rendered as code instead of the link, and I couldn't edit it once it was in place. My only alternative: generate another bar code. Want to upload something to attach? Forget about it: I tried several times to upload a static PDF with no results except for disappointment.

I love the concept, fellas, but I'll need it to be more mature and more stable before I'll feel it can add value.

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2010.06.10MobileMe doesn't have a "family plan" so much as it has a group discount

In today's era of mini-vans and soccer moms and scheduling kids' swim meets, soccer, dance lessons, et cetera, AND of synchronized digital calendars, one would get the impression Apple's MobileMe "Family Plan" might be one place where such disperate elements would come together. After all, the big thing about the service to begin with is the ability to sync contacts and calendar events and so forth across all of your iStuff and Outlook and all of that.

As it turns out, not so much: I was hoping the MobileMe "Family Plan" would take care of this for us -- by creating a sub account for my fiancée, these "family" accounts should be able to have some relationship, right? Not the case. According to the apple support representative I spoke with this morning, "Family Plan" accounts are merely individual sub-accounts associated with a main account. They are separate in every other way. We can't even have read-only access to the other "family plan" accounts.

Okay, well, what if I simply add her MobileMe calendar onto my iPad and iPhone? That's no good either: Apple informs that MobileMe can only sync one account at a time. That means that even though I could add her calendar, it will not update automagically like you'd expect.

Now it's costing Apple money: I'm currently considering just giving her access to my MobileMe account on her iStuff. It's an imperfect solution, because we're updating and viewing the same calendar, we'll have to devise ways to differentiate between my events and hers, for example -- but it's better than not having a shared, dynamic calendar at all, which is where we currently are.

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2010.06.09Handy Links from PC World

Big props to PC World (June 2010 issue) for these:
  • nutritiondata.com offers nutrition information for most major fast-food chains
  • retailmenot.com looks up coupon codes for more than 50,000 stores.
  • thefind.com will scour the Web for any product, uncovering sales, coupons, and shopping deals
  • jobspice.com is a résumé building assistant
  • huddle.net is a Web-based project management system
  • Stacks (usestacks.com) has task management tools for groups
  • wakerupper.com lets you schedule wake-up calls to any phone at any time. The basic, plain call is free, but for 5¢ per call, you can have a snooze option and have a reminder message read back to you (via voice software).


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2010.06.08Best Use of the iPad YET

I bought an iPad for my fiancée not long after receiving mine. I went to visit her last weekend and found she'd loaded a bunch of videos on it so that her 4 year old daughter could watch them in the car. GENIUS!!!!

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2010.05.30iPhone OS 4 is coming; iPhone 3G is EOL?

Mac|Life offered some insights into the new iPhone OS 4 in their June, 2010 issue. Here are the hightlights:
  • Multi-tasking for third party apps. Location-aware apps can track your whereabouts in the background. Also, fast app switching will store and restore each app's state.
  • App Folders will allow you to sort your icons into folders by dropping one app's icon over another's; you'll be able to store all of your photo-associated apps in one folder, your chat-associated apps in another, etc. Another way to think about it: instead of having screen real estate for 180 apps (11 pages x 16 app icons per page, plus 4 apps on the dock), you'll now effective have space for 2,160.
  • Upgraded E-Mail Support. A unified inbox will give you all your messages from various accounts into a single view; support for multiple Exchange accounts has been added (plus support for Exchange Server 2010 and Jupiter and Cisco SSL VPNs), as well as the ability to organize messages in a thread view (á la Gmail); and third-party apps will be able to open e-mail attachments.
  • Bluetooth keyboard support has also been added (good thing, too, considering a I bought one for my iPad)
  • Zoom capability for the camera is coming as well.

But with the good, we must also take the bad: The iPhone 3G and the second-gen iPod Touch will be able to run OS 4, but won't be able to take advantage of the mulitasking features. By the way, it should come as no surprise to most that OS 4 will not support Adobe Flash.

Infinite Loop reported this week that Apple has stopped shipping the iPhone 3G to AT&T stores, and cites others' reports that Apple has ceased taking orders for the 3G, and that Wal-Mart has cut the price on the 3GS; they further speculate a release for the iPhone 4 could be as early as this summer. Personally, I'm not entirely comfortable with the 3G, a device I depend upon so greatly, now at its end of life. I may have to do some succession planning here.

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2010.05.17Follow-up to "Thoughts on iPad keyboards": Use the Eject Button, Stupid

You have to be smarter than the equipment, I guess.
I failed to notice the "eject" button in the upper right corner of the wireless keyboard.
When linked, pressing that key will disconnect the keyboard from the iPad -- and immediately bring up the on-screen keyboard! When done using the on-screen keyboard, simply strike the "Eject" key again to reconnect the bluetooth keyboard. Brilliant. Thank you, sweetheart!!

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2010.05.15Thoughts on iPad keyboards

While waiting for the iPad to arrive, and after having monkeyed with a few demo units, I figured that a keyboard might not be a bad investment. I opted for Apple's Bluetooth keyboard. And now I wish I hadn't, and had gone for the combination keyboard/dock instead. That may seem counterintuitive -- I think it seems so, anyway -- but here's my logic: With the bluetooth keyboard, the device is obviously paired via radio. That means it doesn't care whether the unit is docked or not. I tend to use my keyboard while the iPad is in its dock. But if I take it out of the dock, the iPad still demands I use the keyboard (as long as its within range). Typical scenario: I remove the iPad from its dock and take it to the sofa to goof around. While goofing, I recall something I want to add to my task list. So I open up the app, touch the button for "new task", then get to... not type anything in. The iPad knows there's a bluetooth keyboard within range, so it doesn't show me an on-screen keyboard. (Dear Apple: I'd like the option.) The answer, for me, seems to be getting in the habit of shutting the bluetooth keyboard OFF when I take the iPad away from it's usual place. But if I'd purchased the keyboard dock instead, I wouldn't have the problem.

Links
Apple Wireless Keyboard
Apple iPad Dock
Apple iPad Keyboard Dock

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2010.05.09After a few weeks with the iPad and Kindle

Meant as a follow-up to my April 21st post, I thought I'd offer my views on life with the recent enrichments of both the iPad and the Amazon Kindle (links follow at the end).

I have MAJOR LOVE for the Kindle. With the Kindle, I'm reading more because I'm getting much more out of it -- I've a subscription to a newspaper now -- something I've not had in YEARS -- and, because the information is organized so well, I have time in the mornings to peruse the news of the day while making morning coffee. I'm also using the Kindle to read a pretty complicated book on Information Theory, and find I'm enjoying it quite a bit because the Kindle's "pages" turn fairly quickly -- after all, entropy and the Second Law of Thermodynamics isn't exactly page-burning material. I have to believe the Kindle makes it more manageable.

The iPad and I are getting along okay, although I wish I could find more applications I use on the iPhone available in iPad-optimized versions. Still, it seems to be fitting nicely in the niche I've carved for it. I am incredibly impressed with two apps in particular: the Weather Channel Max app for iPad and Weather Underground's WunderMap. Honorable mention must be made for Sorted, which is a to-do list app, and for NPR's very well organized NPR for iPad app. Oh, by the way -- NAMCO has released an iPad-optimized version of Pac-Man. Still, I'm left wanting -- particulary where the iPhone versions of Facebook and Superfall are concerned. I find myself browsing the App Store often for new releases.

As far as accessories go, I've picked up a few both for the Kindle and for the iPad. For the Kindle, I bought a beautiful leather cover by Cole Haan. It's delicious, and I'm glad I splurged despite reviews mentioning poor quality control. For the iPad, I bought a ZAGG invisibleSHIELD for the face because I'm concerned about the persistence of fingerprints. The ZAGG product was a major pain in the ass to apply -- well, to apply well, anyway -- but I'm glad I did so. As their instructions promised, the tiny bubbles that formed between the invisibleSHIELD and the surface of the iPad disappeared a few days after I'd applied the film. Good thing, too, because I was not looking forward to having to try to pull the thing off to reapply it, had I done as lousy a job of applying it as I thought I had. I also purchased a stand for it, which resembles the one Apple manufactures for the iPhone. It has jacks both for the charger and for a sound cable. I also own the case Apple offers, but I don't care for it. I'd love a product like the case Cole Haan makes for the Kindle. After all, Cole Haan offers leather goods as eclectic as tie cases, wine bags, and tape measures. The iPad case market is growing, though -- note the CaseCrown offering at bottom.

Links:
The Kindle
Apple iPad
Cole Haan Hand-Stained Pebble Grain Leather Kindle Cover with Hinge, Saddle Tan
ZAGG invisibleSHIELD for Apple iPad (Front)
CaseCrown Genuine Leather Horizontal Flip iPad Case

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2010.05.08Apple: Millionth iPad Sold in Less Than One Month on the Market

CUPERTINO, Calif., May 3, 2010 /PRNewswire via COMTEX/ -- Apple(R) today announced that it sold its one millionth iPad(TM) on Friday, just 28 days after its introduction on April 3. iPad users have already downloaded over 12 million apps from the App Store and over 1.5 million ebooks from the new iBookstore.

Read the full press release. CNBC offers some additional infoporn here.

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2010.04.21Presenting The Kindle

I became interested in e-book readers primarily when my former wife showed me hers. It's the model offered by Barnes & Noble, and she seems absolutely smitten with it. With all the traveling she does, a unit like that makes perfect sense. Then Apple introduces the iPad and touts it partially as an e-book reader. I have my doubts about using it in that capacity, though, because the screen is like a laptop screen: information is displayed in a backlit manner, meaning light is produced and shone into your eyes. IMHO, this makes for tired eyes, which is why people will probably struggle with using it in that capacity. (When I spoke with an Apple engineer about this, his carefully-worded reply was, "If you're buying the iPad solely as an e-book reader, then [the iPad] is not for you." Personally, I think that if they could give the display some different modes when using it as an e-book reader, they'd have greater success. E-book readers, in contrast (pardon the pun), work like actual books: you read the content by light reflecting off of its surface. It's natural, and likely far easier on the eyes. All of this thinking about displays and so forth made the device more attractive to me (well, both devices are attractive to me, for different reasons). Today, my kindle arrived ( link to Amazon.com ). It is beautiful in form factor and its simplicity. After allowing it to charge to capacity, I played with it a bit this evening, subscribing to a trial of USA Today. Considering I don't watch television very often, getting a daily snapshot of the news (apart from the 15 or so minutes of NPR I may or may not hear when my alarm goes off in the morning wouldn't be a bad thing. Perusing the paper on the Kindle was actually... beautiful. I quickly found that I could look at the headlines of the various sections with ease, and select the stories that interest me. I really like that. It makes finding a place for perusing the news with breakfast in the morning far easier -- and that would certainly be more useful, while sucking down my Cheerios and orange juice, than surfing Facebook and Texts From Last Night.

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2010.04.20Apple: iPad 3G to hit stores April 30

After some speculation on the web as recently as yesterday, it now seems Apple has announced it's "magical" iPad ( link to Amazon.com ) 3G will ship in time to reach US customers on April 30th, according to Apple's April 20th press release.

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2010.04.06I'm such a sucker. iPad enroute!

I've done a fair amount of thinking about the iPad (link to Amazon.com ), and decided I'd like to take a chance on the unit. I did so thinking I would use their MobileMe service to sync the essential data from my iPhone with the iPad. I like the idea of having the iPad as the stay-at-home version of the iPhone, as far as the PIM is concerned. I think about what I've been using my MacBook for lately, (and for that matter, my three year-old Vista laptop) and the answer is: generally, not much beyond surfing, really. I use the MacBook and the iPhone in tandem in the mornings - the MacBook to surf and perhaps blog; the iPhone to get a bead on the day's events. My primary task for the iPad is to do both of those things -- plus let me screw around with apps, plus handle e-mail. I want that unit to be my one-stop-shop for general All Things Internet short of coding. The model I ordered is the 64GB with 3G. As I understand it, it's spoda ship at the end of the month. Fingers crossed.

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2010.02.23I put my phone back in "iJail"

The "jailbreaking" thing just wasn't working out. I used the software only to make minor cosmetic changes to the unit -- simple changes that were quite nice -- but apparently at the cost of applications hanging before closing, and crashes which forced the unit into safe mode. The black slider bar was pretty and all, but not worth the hassle. So I upgraded the OS to the new version, which erased blackra1n and winterboard. Yeah, the phone looks like every other iPhone now, but it's behaving as it should.

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2010.02.01So, what's this "jailbreaking" business I've been hearing about?

Oh, I suppose it was bound to happen. I've friends who "jailbroke" their iPhones months ago. I understand the process was relatively arduous; they had to download this and wait while the phone did this and this, and then had to put on this and open up this and I wanted no part of that. Then a couple of days ago, I learned about blackra1n, which apparently "jailbreaks" the unit in nearly no time. Once blackra1n was installed, it gave me some options of other programs to install. I chose "Rock", (RockYourPhone.com), and through it installed a program called Winterboard. Winterboard is very much like CSS, in that settings you give appear to cascade through the display. All I've done so far is changed a few style settings on the unit to sort of personalize things a bit. It's nice and all, but unless I find something that is just so amazing I couldn't live without it, I'll probably revert the unit to its settings prior to the blackra1n install.

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2009.10.11New PC: Coming to an apartment near me early this week!

The new box is due to arrive either tomorrow (Monday) or Tuesday. I've arranged for the shipper to release it to the complex office -- I can't mess with delivery attempts, and their ground shipments office is nowhere near here -- so collecting the system from them at their office isn't exactly ideal either. I bought an HDMI cable for the new monitor, but held off on buying the second video card. I want to make sure the card that's in the box is the one I really ordered first.

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2009.10.06New PC: Has shipped!

The new box is coming! It shipped tonight!! w00t!!

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2009.10.03New PC: What the Hell, Dell?

I don't recall any system I've ever purchased from Dell taking this long to get out to me. I grant that I may be a victim of my own mail-order OCD, but DAMN... It's been two freaking weeks already. Seems I've generally heard or seen something by now.

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2009.09.20Shopping for a new PC: It's that time of the triennium

I don't like thinking about my current system as an "old man" -- it's just become too quirky and I'm tired of dealing with its peculiarities. The release of Windows 7 will mean my current box's operating system - whose interface was initially described by my best friend as "Fisher-Price meets Microsoft," is essentially two generations old. I suppose that's not a function of age as much as it is a testament to what a flop Vista was in popular (geek) opinion. For my part, I never had a problem with Vista. In fact, for as much as people despised the UAC, I have to say I like it. Anyway, here's a comparison between old and new.

  Current System New System
OS 32-bit Windows XP Pro (now SP3) 64-bit Vista Ultimate SP1, w/free upgr to Win 7 Ultimate
CPU Intel Pentium-D (Dual core), 3GHzIntel Core i7-920 (Quad core), 2.66GHz
RAM 2 GB 12 GB
GPU nVidia GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB nVidia GeForce GTX 260 SLI-capable 1792MB
HD 500MB 1TB
Optical Drives Dual: DVD-ROM, DVD/CD burner Dual: BD-ROM + DVD/CD Burner, DVD/CD Burner

I'm also buying a new monitor. Right now I have two LCD monitors (1280 x 1024). I'm a HUGE advocate of coding in a multi-monitor environment. I will add to that 23" widescreen flat panel, and will probably add an additional GTX 260 to run all three monitors. The new monitor has an HDMI input, and the GPUs have DVI to HDMI converters. YOW!! The manufacturer is having a sale on their systems right now, so instead of simply buying cheaper, I decided to buy more than what I would have otherwise, to spend what I intended to spend.

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2009.09.07Stuck at your PC while the game is on in the other room? Have no fear! Slingbox is here!

A Slingbox was my answer to watching (or listening to) TV while in my computer room ( link to Amazon.com ). Instead of purchasing another box and a television set, I bought a Slingbox Pro-HD and a wireless bridge. Although Sling Media recommends a wired Internet feed for the Slingbox PRO-HD, I thought I'd try the wireless bridge because my router is all the way in my master bedroom (wiring problem in the apartment) and I felt that attempting use of a Sling TURBO (which uses electrical outlets to carry signal) in an apartment complex might be ineffecient at best.

The thing that tipped the scale toward the Slingbox instead of, say, a cheap tuner connected to a PC monitor, was the potential to watch my television content not just from anywhere in my apartment, but from anywhere in the world -- and even on my iPhone. What? Football game is on and I'm stuck elsewhere? No problem!

Setting up the Slingbox was super easy. I simply plugged in HD video cables (the RCA cables with the green, blue and red tips) and standard audio cables (RCA cables with the red and white tips) between my satellite box and the Slingbox. I could do the same from my DVD player if I wish. Then I plugged in the Internet feed from the bridge and the power, and downloaded the SlingPlayer controller software to my PC and to my Windows and Mac laptops.

You can also control the appliances you plug into the Slingbox through the software via a set of IR sensors. When configuring, you tell the software the make and model of your, say, satellite receiver or cable box, and you tell it who your company is and where you are. This is so the software can find and present for you the proper menus and the correct TV/channel guide. The ID people did a good job with the wizards -- they're easy to follow and quite thorough, I find. In no time at all, you'll be catching the game from the comfort of the bedroom. As I mentioned above, there is also a means to configure your Slingbox to broadcast to the Web. While I can generally appreciate the appeal, I'm not ready to go there quite yet.

The biggest pain about it had nothing at all to do with the Slingbox. Configuring the network bridge to play on my network was a little trying, but once I got it configured and working wirelessly, I was able to plug it into the Slingbox and power everything up. It worked like a charm.

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2009.09.03Snow Leopard in the hayouse

My order from Apple came in, and OS X "Snow Leopard" installed smoothly. I'm told that running backups is lightning fast. I think it's very cool that the standard Mail app supports Microsoft Exchange right out of the box (way to choke off Microsoft's Entourage revenue stream).

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2009.06.13The perfect iTunes set-up: Much easier to create than to destroy.

When we first got bitten by the iBug, I put a lot of thought into how I might install iTunes such that we could both share the same library while logging onto the WinXP PC with different password-protected credentials. I achieved this by placing the music library under Shared Documents\Shared Music. Then we each logged in, fired up iTunes, and pointed the software to the library. This worked AMAZINGLY well. Even though the library was in a single location, iTunes, for each profile, only knew about the music we each imported or bought (by the way, we used the same iTunes account, too -- same principle, but with unexpected benefits). If my wife bought an album from the store, it was downloaded into the shared library; if I wanted to listen to it too, I'd log in and simply import the directory. My library file would add it, and that's that. My prog rock and her 80's dance would co-exist in the Shared Music directory, but my library didn't have to know about her Frankie Goes to Hollywood and hers didn't have to know about my Dream Theater. Similarly, I used my iPod under my profile, and she used hers under hers. Simple and clean.

Early this year I couldn't stand it anymore and I bought us iPhones. I can't TELL YOU how happy I am to be away from a stylus-driven phone/PDA. (Within a week, she became a BIG believer. Yay!!) Anyway, we employed the same principle as we did with the iPods, and this worked very well. It actually afforded us the unexpected benefit (see previous para) of allowing us both to use the same iPhone apps if we wanted -- because both phones were tied to the same iTunes account, she could download for free the apps for which I paid. To the App Store, it was the same user just downloading the app again.

All well and good, until it came time to split things out. The main source of trouble is she prefers a laptop over a PC -- and the laptop does not "organically" have the space for the 500+ GB library.

My solution, so far, is to copy the drive to a USB hard drive -- I found a 1TB drive for as little as $120 yesterday -- and modify the entries in the various XML files. The library file that tracks what songs and videos and so forth "I" had, and the file that tracked the ones "she" had, are XML-based. For each song (for instance), there are nodes which identify the path of the song file. There are other XML files hidden in the user's Application Data folder which may require this kind of doctoring. My hope for the iTunes Library XML file is that iTunes will build it once the new install gets pointed to Z:\iTunes Library. Stay tuned!

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2008.05.25

Took the plunge and bought an Apple MacBook Pro. Figured it was about time I got into something that wasn't Windows. Been a LONG time since I did anything with *Nix.


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2008.03.29

A quick poll located on the PC World Magazine Website asks visitors: "Which Web browser do you use most?" Of 25,738 respondents, over half (51%) use Mozilla Firefox, and only 40% use IE. Safari users comprise roughly 4% of the total. The W3Schools Website logs Web statistics and trends based on the log files of the W3Schools servers. Its February, 2008 data shows W3Schools.com visitors chiefly use Firefox (36.5%), IE6 (30.7%), and IE7 (22.0%). Safari and Konqueror users account for 2%.

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2008.03.21

I've crabbed about RealPlayer for YEARS. Ever since I was forced to use it for my undergrad program ten years ago I despised it and I never stopped. I could not abide the seemingly endless forms of checkboxes and radio buttons one was made to endure when uninstalling it. I felt their marketing people killed an otherwise nice technology by turning a simple uninstall into harrassment. It was such a profoundly negative experience that I absolutely refuse to use any of their products to this day -- including Rhapsody. Today, though, others despise it for different reasons: it's badware.

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2008.03.21

No developer in his or her right mind is a fan of a Web browser that is not standards-compliant. But we probably have demand for standards-compliant browsers to thank for Microsoft continuing to push the envelope of alienation by releasing Beta 1 of IE 8.

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2008.01.05

RIP Netscape Navigator: Support for the Netscape line of browsers officially ends February 1st. I still have the mousepad that came with my NN3 diskettes.

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2007.12.12

Some Firefox tips from good folks at PC World Magazine: See how to tweak it for broadband and pick up some keyboard shortcuts here.

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2007.06.30

The Apple Safari 3 browser is now available in Beta for Windows. (Thanks once again to the good folks at PC World Magazine. The beta may be downloaded at http://find.pcworld.com/57521.

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2007.04.11

Early adoption can be expensive. About a month ago I ordered a new laptop from Dell. It shipped with Windows® Vista Ultimate Edition and with Microsoft® Office 2007. After a few days with the laptop, I contacted Dell's support folks and basically gave them a list of several things that needed to be corrected (putting it nicely). The truth is, I had never received anything bad from Dell. In all the years I'd done business with them, never was anything out of place. I'm sorry to report that's no longer the case.

The biggest problem with it is the McAfee Security Center software (and by the way, according to PC World Magazine, McAfee failed the Vista cert -- so thanks Dell for installing their software anyway). I have tons of e-mails with copies of electronic chats with techs and have had several very lengthy telephone calls with technicians and customer support representatives on this software alone. A less patient man would have uninstalled it completely about three weeks ago. The other major issue I'd had was with Office Outlook 2007 -- and (for all you Microsoft bashers out there) it wasn't a problem with Outlook 2007 at all. This one I fixed myself thanks to multiple posts on the Web on this issue. Turns out it's a pretty common problem attributed to some software built by Cyberlink which Dell installs to support its MediaDirect application. Once I uninstalled a program called "OutlookAddinSetup" the issue was immediately resolved. Here is one example of others with the Cyberlink problem.

So, what's so cool about Vista? Basically it seems to come down to presentation as the most noticeable difference. In short, it's beautiful, just like the name implies. But I think the codebase is pretty similar to XP's -- and I offer as an example the release of patches and updates which seem to mirror patches for my XP systems. The most notable exception is the UAC, which asks one to verify the execution of programs. UAC can be shut off, but please - don't. You'll be safer if you get used to it and be thankful for it.

If my other laptop wasn't crawling as much as it has been, I would have waited until the kinks were worked out. Bottom line: Shame on Dell for busting ass to slap these systems together. Switching to McAfee in particular was a big mistake. I'm sick and tired of nightly chats and phone calls with tech support to sort out this mess.

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2007.03.21

Mozilla released Firefox 1.5.0.11.

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2007.03.21

Wanted to follow-up about SyncPST. - the data syncronization tool for Microsoft® Outlook®. I purchased the professional version of SyncPST and am using it to export Outlook data from my PC to my laptop. I'm doing this directly by sharing the folder that contains the Outlook data on the laptop, then pointing SyncPST to the Outlook file. Although you can use SyncPST to push everything from one to another (or sync them with each other), I have been using it to push contacts and calendar data from the PC to the laptop (because I use the PIM on the PC to record all of our family events). It works very smoothly. Incidentally, the PC is using Outlook 2003; the laptop is using Office Outlook 2007. If you find yourself in need of syncing Outlook on multiple PC's, SyncPST is worth a look.

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2007.03.09

From PC World Magazine: a peek at some of the work of Hamad Darwish, the photographer Microsoft hired to create background images for Windows® Vista®.

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2007.02.09

Here's one for those who use Microsoft® Outlook® on multiple PCs: My name is Elmer J. Fudd, millionaire. I own a PC and a laptop. I use both regularly. Outlook on the PC is essentially the scheduling nerve center of the house (well, if you ask me it is). Travel schedules, school schedules, misc. appointments, birthdays -- everything's in there. I generally use Outlook on the laptop for checking mail on the go; keeping calendars and contacts updated is a chore, and using a PDA as a go-between wasn't an ideal solution.

Today I read about SyncPST. The downloadable trial allowed me to build a PST file and dump single folders into it (so I first dumped in my contacts, then dumped in my calendar) and used my network to get it onto my laptop. I had Outlook on the laptop open the exported PST and the data showed up just fine. The SyncPST website suggests that the professional version of the software might allow me to push updated PSTs directly to a second PC at regular intervals. I'll send out an update when I learn more.

Thanks to PC World Magazine for the tip!



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2007.02.04

I wanted to provide a tip or two about PC security and backup strategies. Before I begin in earnest, though, I want to acknowledge that this might come off like a giant rah-rah for or slam against a particular software vendor. It's not. Not really. And to be fair, I've omitted names of specific vendors and titles. I'll be happy to provide these names and titles if you contact me.

I purchased my current PC last year. It had a single hard-drive and came with an anti-virus solution that is not a big-name brand. I had used a big-name brand for years and while I liked its ease of use, I found that from year to year there wasn't anything that seemed to expand its usefulness. I had also noticed that virus makers were targeting that particular product, working to find ways to disable it to allow the viruses to deliver their payloads. Finally, I'd noticed in magazine reviews that their solution wasn't necessarily superior when put to the test. Anyway, although I was encouraged by some of the test results I'd found, I wasn't necessarily married to the idea of retaining the security and antivirus software that came preloaded on the new box until I noticed something, well, brilliant: two little check- boxes on the Windows form it used for scanning. One box reads, "Shutdown computer if no threats are found." The usefulness of this feature is both straightforward and subtle: I can tell the system to run a complete virus scan when I'm done using it, and as long as no problems are found, the system will shut itself down when its done. Straightforward and brilliant. But it gets better.

I mentioned above that the system I'm using had a single hard-drive. I purchased a second hard-drive with slightly greater capacity and installed it myself as a second drive. I also purchased and installed some backup and recovery software that has the ability to make an exact copy of your hard drive. After only minutes I had set the machine to make a complete copy of my entire original hard drive - not just the partitions Windows® can see - on shutdown, and to do this once every day.

Now between the anti-virus and the backup software, I can:
(1) cut my Internet communications
(2) start a complete virus scan of my PC
(3) walk away.

The system then:
(1) runs the virus scan
(2) the anti-virus software, once the scan is completed and assuming no nasties were found, tells the PC to shut down
(3) the backup software interrupts the shutdown call to back up my entire system to the spare drive
(4) once the backup is completed, the system shuts down.

The subtle beauty is, if the anti-virus software finds a problem, the system won't get backed up. This gives me the capability to fix the problem before the next backup occurs.

Notice my step (1) up there -- cut my Internet communications. I do this to isolate my PC from the outside world while the system runs its scan and does the backup, which could take a couple of hours. Besides, if the anti-virus software does detect something suspicious and doesn't send the shutdown call, my system will spend the night in "radio silence." The anti-virus/security software lets me do this right from the system tray - so it couldn't be easier.

The backup software also provides a dialog box once it intercepts that shutdown call, allowing me to abort the backup with a single mouse-click. Plus I can mount the backup image as a virtual drive to recover any single file from its state at the previous backup. Most importantly, if the original drive fails, I can drop in a new drive and use that backup/recovery software to push everything onto the new drive. Suh-weet. $200 (hard drive $150; backup/recovery software $50) buys pretty affordable peace of mind IMHO.

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2007.01.30

According to an article in the February 2007 issue of PC World Magazine, Mozilla has set a sundown for FireFox 1.5 support for April 24, 2007.

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