Geek News: Latest Technology, Product Reviews, Gadgets and Tech Podcast News for Geeks


Marriage & Cell Carriers

Posted by tomwiles at 7:01 PM on July 16, 2010

The air is electric with heady excitement. The big day has finally arrived. “This one will be nirvana!” you tell yourself. As you enter the doors and walk down the isle, there she is waiting at the altar, all decked out in a one-use dress. Your heart races with anticipation.

There’s your dream — waiting there for you, with a pre-nuptial agreement in one hand and divorce papers in the other, complete with fine print written in legalese.

For some of us the marriage is a happy one. For others it is a marriage of convenience. And for a small number the marriage ends up going sour and costing them a bundle of money.

Am I talking about a wedding? No, I’m talking about the trip to the cell phone store.

We tend to get all excited about the latest phone models, comparing this feature set with that feature set, this screen with that screen, etc. Once we make a decision and our heart is set on a specific device, we eagerly sign the contract and end up married to a cell carrier for the life of the contract.

Devices aside, the big U.S. carriers have been making constant improvements to their networks. It’s a huge job, but there’s a lot of future money at stake.

In the realm of cell phones, I’ve always found it fascinating and somewhat telling how people will bounce from one cell carrier to the next, seemingly on a whim. If it becomes chic to talk bad about a specific cell carrier, it seems that a lot of people will change cell carriers the same way some people will worry about saturated fats or the latest diet fad.

And now we have the iPhone 4 and it’s purported antenna problem story of the past few days. At this point Apple has sold more than 3 million iPhone 4’s and the vast majority of iPhone 4 users have been happy with their new phones. Yet I find it interesting that all of this media attention about antenna problems has put doubt in the minds of some iPhone 4 owners.

That new spouse might be cheating on you…

History Is About To Repeat

Posted by tomwiles at 12:18 AM on July 15, 2010

I remember it well. Back around October of 2004, I first heard the word “podcast” used on The David Lawrence Show via my XM Satellite Radio. It sounded interesting, and I wrote it down on my driver logbook cover with the idea of looking it up later. I heard David mention it again once or twice over the next few weeks. Finally, in early December of 2004 I finally got around to looking it up. I found Adam Curry’s podcast, realized what it was, and knew that I felt compelled to not only listen to podcasts but get involved as a podcaster myself. This was exactly what I’d been looking for for many years – a wide variety of content that I could choose, download, and control the playback/consumption of on MY terms.

Podcasting took previously-existing elements and applied them with a new twist. MP3 files had already existed for a number of years. Virtually every computer already came with a sound card and had the basic ability to both play back and record audio. Portable MP3 players had been around for a while. Apart from Adam Curry’s and Dave Winer’s contribution of the podcasting concept and making it work, the one key element that suddenly made podcasting viable and actually inevitable was the fact that Internet bandwidth got good enough to make it practical.

Practical is an important key.

We have now passed another important milestone in terms of mobile bandwidth. Mobile bandwidth, while not yet perfect, has improved dramatically in both terms of data delivery and coverage. About three or more years ago I had experimented with streaming audio via my smartphone while driving my truck, and quickly determined that it wasn’t viable. I couldn’t listen long at all before I would lose the stream. No problem, I had plenty of podcasts to listen to.

I’ve been hearing a lot of people talk about Pandora.Com lately, so last week I finally tried the Pandora Android app out on my new Sprint HTC Evo. To my surprise, it worked amazingly well – even in Arizona and the western third of New Mexico along Interstate 40 where Sprint still has 1XRT service. The streaming music sounded great, and the few times it did briefly drop out in a couple of mountainous areas, it automatically reconnected and reestablished the playback stream.

(By the way, a side note – I was surprised to learn that Verizon has NO data card coverage around the Kingman, Arizona area – my Verizon aircard would NOT connect in the Kingman area.)

Streaming radio via the Internet in a moving vehicle is now practical. Smartphones have also reached critical mass to the point where they are really beginning to move into the mainstream. Even though streaming Internet audio has been around for quite a few years at this point, I believe the automotive market for streaming audio is about to open up in a massive way.

Up until this point most people have felt that streaming Internet radio had plateaued or was only going to grow slowly. I believe that improved cell networks along with smartphone proliferation will create a new market for streaming audio services. The automobile has been the traditional stronghold of terrestrial and now satellite radio services. An old kid that’s been around a while suddenly has a big and growing shot at a new lease-on life.

I believe opportunities exist for streaming Internet radio stations that deliver highly specialized content. For us geeks, imagine a 24/7 tech-centric streaming station. The sky really is the limit. The cost of running a streaming station can be very low, so therefore it becomes possible and practical to narrowcast to relatively small audiences.

Technology leap frog – Developing countries are skipping the PC

Posted by GNC at 2:16 AM on June 30, 2010

leapfrogI have spent the last 10 months in the developing country of India.  You see a combination of 1st and 3rd world lifestyles here.  However the most amazing sight is the technology leapfrog you witness.  Let me explain.  Two years ago I visited here and was amazed at the number of cell phones.  A person could be on an ox-driven cart transporting wood. . . and talking on the cell phone.  On that trip two years ago, the paper ran an article describing the leapfrog.  It detailed a village without power or generators.  The people took turns every few nights walking the 10 kilometers to a neighboring village to charge the mobiles.  Amazing leapfrog.  Never had a land line, television, maybe even radio.  Straight to the cell phone.

Recently at the All Things Digital Conference, Steve Jobs talked of how traditional PC makers, including himself, had to face the uncomfortable truth that the world is going mobile.  For the developed countries that is just the next step.  For most of the world it is giant leapfrog.  In India people still live on $3/day.  They have a cell, but they will never own a computer.  The internet is growing in India, and most of it is on the mobile phone.  Many, perhaps most of the world, will access the internet only on their phones.  They are skipping the PC and not even blinking or thinking twice.

So how important is the mobile OS market?  It will rule the digital world sooner than you think.

Andy and Steve

Andy and Steve

Andy McCaskey of SDR News and Jeffrey Powers of Geekazine had a rare honor as we got to interview Steve Wozniak - now Chief Scientist over at Fusion IO – a company that works with NAND  memory for high speed / High Capacity storage.

There are two parts to the interview. The first one, Jeffrey talks about Fusion IO, Steve’s role and a how the Segway Polo is going. After switching seats with Andy, something amazing happened. The two just started talking. I couldn’t get the video queued fast enough and they didn’t see the queue in. So, I just hit the button and they continued on.

But what we did get was an amazing conversation about education, the future of technology and Steve Wozniak’s new role.

Part I

Podcast: Play in new windowDownload (38.1MB)

Audio Only Version

Part II

Podcast: Play in new windowDownload (68.7MB)

Audio Only Version

Ford with Microsoft SYNC System in Ford Taurus SHO

Posted by J Powers at 4:13 PM on April 14, 2010

This last week has been a pretty good one for me, for I got to review more than just a computer, printer or network. I got to review a car. Well, mostly the computer in the car, but still a very tricked out Ford Taurus SHO. A $37,000 vehicle with the Microsoft SYNC system inside.

Ford delivered the Taurus last week to my home. Blue-Grey in color, it didn’t look like the Taurus of years past. I used to drive one for work from time-to-time. That is when the car pool had one available.

However, this one was fully loaded. It had everything from the aluminum wheels to the SHO branded floor mats. It really made me feel like I was on top of my game when driving it. Not that I don’t like the current car I have – But when the time comes, I wouldn’t mind swapping for that one. As long as I can put a full drum set into it.

So let’s take a look at the car, the geeky stuff and other items inside:

The Car:

Ford Taurus SHO

Ford Taurus SHO

We’ll start out with the car itself. This is the 2010 Ford Taurus SHO with 3.5 Liter EcoBoost V6 engine. EcoBoost Technology combines turbocharging and direct injection. It basically works like a V8, but with fewer emissions. The 365 horsepower engine can get 17 city/25 highway using All-Wheel Drive (AWD).

The wheel stock was 19″ premium painted luster nickel-aluminum. The SHO uses the intelligent Access technology with Push-Button Start. All you need is the FAB close by and you will not only be able to get in your car, but also start it without taking anything out of your pocket.

The Geeky Stuff:

Inside the car was where I was focused on. It contained the Microsoft SYNC system – A navigation software package, personal media player and full Satellite / AM /FM radio. The voice recognition was from Nuance – makers of the Dragon Naturally Speaking software. Connection was through audio jack, USB or Blutooth.

Microsoft SYNC

Microsoft SYNC

Navigation:

The voice navigation system was fairly straightforward to understand. If you have used a Tom-Tom or Garmin system, then the SYNC navigation will be second-hand. I entered in a couple destinations and the voice guided me to where I needed to go. There were a couple times it was unsure, so it said “Incomplete data, proceed with caution”. That way, I didn’t trust the system to the point where I would drive it off a cliff.

The voice navigation was also very competent on what it was saying. “Turn left onto Ambercrombe – Turn right onto McKenna..” and so forth. I think there was only one time I noticed the voice sound digital in my travels.

You can put in new destinations, or pre-program common ones. Just in case you forget where the store is, or if this is a company car – you can pre-program the destinations so new drivers can find the route without asking for directions.

The Climate Control:

What can I say about this? April is a Hot – then Cold kinda month. One minute you have all the windows rolled down, then the next the heat is blasted at 90 degrees. To be able to have all that at your fingertips is pretty important. I do have to say, though – The actual button configuration toward the bottom was more confusing than on the SYNC system. Especially when I wanted to turn the blower up and down.

The Sound System:

Microsoft SYNC with Sony Speakers

Microsoft SYNC with Sony Speakers

This is by far the best sound experience I have had in a car. The 12 speakers by Sony pushing out 390 Watts brought clarity to anything I played. Podcasts and music was both enjoyable to listen to, and easy. With the Bluetooth built in, I didn’t need to connect my iPhone to a cable – although I had an option through the USB port. The 10 GB of Hard Drive storage could allow me to put my CD’s into memory.

I was a little flustered that it wouldn’t let me upload MP3 CD’s into the car. I could play the MP3 CD through the system, though. Once I had the jukebox running, I could go through the songs as easily as if they were on my computer.

Since the system has Hands-Free options, I was able to answer phone calls with my cell in the pocket. It stored all my contact info so I could just push the button and go. The Stereo would duck under the phone voice, the backup sensors or the Navigation voice if needed. It made for a comforting experience where I didn’t have to juggle for phones or cables.

The Bling:

I was playing with the interior lighting all week. There were 2 buttons on the dash – One that dimmed a series of LED lights inside the car (by the door handles, in the compartments) and another that changed the color of the LED lights. I could choose the light based on my mood, but I mostly stuck with my favorite color: Green.

What is missing?

When we talked with Ford at CES, I thought there was going to be a special uplink option for music and podcasts. I was expecting to let the car talk with a wireless system to download media. That wasn’t the case. Sure, I could have used a Bluetooth connection from the house, but it would have been nice to be able to connect to the media server and get the music and podcasts that way. This was the only thing I wished it would have.

The car specs said I had a Rear View Camera. Either I missed it or this model didn’t have one. If it did, then I am surprised it wasn’t an intuitive system.

The Verdict:

I enjoyed the ride for the week. I got to take a couple longer trips and felt comfortable the whole time. I had a few friends ride along and they really enjoyed the handling. The only thing they mentioned on the car was the design of the dashboard felt a little enclosing. It was an akward looking dashboard, but there was one big Sony speaker in the middle.

I was really happy to drive this car around for the week. I would like to thank Ford for their generosity in letting me review the system. The SYNC system is absolutely a fabulous idea and with some extras can be a very useful and very fun addition to your drive.

Fighting Fires Instead of Preventing Them

Posted by susabelle at 10:04 AM on November 20, 2009

flame“There are businesses that want to make sure they keep making money by having cures that fix the last one, but not the next one.”

The above quote is from Dr. Fred Cohen, President of the California Sciences Institute, and inventor of the first ever computer virus over 26 years ago. He was speaking specifically about how virus prevention software builders are working only towards having cures, but not really towards prevention. This got me to thinking. How many of the patches and upgrades we install are done as an eye for fixing an existing problem, rather than preventing future problems?

As geek-tech workers, a more-than-fair amount of our time is spent putting out fires. Malware infected machines, network cables that have gotten chewed by mice or a rolling desk chair, trying to find a replacement cable for that syncing device that has been lost. Imagine how much time we’d have back if we weren’t busy putting out fires, and instead were looking for ways to keep us from having fires to put out in the first place.

One of my biggest beefs these days is the variety of cables needed for all the devices we have. My iPod has one type of syncing cable, my electronic note-taking tablet another, and the camera a completely different one. Then there’s the very strange cable that belongs to my Sony Ericsson phone, and the very odd mini-cable that goes to my Kindle DX. When I traveled last week, there were five different cables in my laptop case to accommodate the multiple devices I was carrying. When I set up for my presentation, my laptop’s USB ports were completely full with all of these devices as I demonstrated syncing and updating onto these multiple devices from my laptop. It was a virtual spaghetti factory up there on the podium, and I could not just plug in one cable and rotate devices around, there was a different cable for each one. No wonder people are always losing cables.

Standardization of cables and chargers would go a long way toward preventing problems these types of problems. So does decent cable management (what does it look like under your desk right now?). And in the case of malware/viruses, why aren’t we, as geek-techs, demanding that programs prevent infection, rather than cure it? If Dr. Cohen is right, and I believe he is, we are actually setting ourselves up for more fire-fighting in the future. And while that does create some measure of job security for all of us, it sure would be nice to come to work and do actual planning and development, instead of dealing with crisis after crisis.

Waiting for a new Geek Toy

Posted by Mike Dell at 10:30 PM on November 6, 2009

waiting for the draftIf you are like me, when you get the *need* for a new geek toy, it seems that’s all you can think about in your spare brain cycles.

I’m in that boat now. As I posted before, I’m planning on getting the new Droid from Verizon. Well, I thought that my contract had ended last month on the 16th. So I went to the Verizon Store today and found out it’s not until the 16th of this month! ARGH! Of course, they wouldn’t just let me slide for the 10 days. This would have been the first time I could walk into a phone store and walk out with the latest phone. That was not to be today. So I sit and wait.

I get this feeling every time I get (or am about to get) a new piece of technology. When I ordered my Macbook from Apple, every day, I was looking on the FedEx website, tracking the progress of my new computer. When I got my GPS Device (a TomTom One) I had to go for a ride in the car just to check out all it’s options and to see how lost I could be and hit the “home” button to find my way home.

How many of you get this amazing feeling when you are about to get a new geek toy errr.. Tool? I’m sure (or hoping) I’m not the only one that gets this way.

Ok, these gizmos are just things. We lived just fine without them before. Why is it that we get what feels like a NEED for some new thing? I’m glad it works this way. It’s sort of like waiting for that special gift for Christmas or a birthday when you were a kid.

I for one am a Geek Kid at heart! How about you?

Please Stop Emailling – Please Start Calling.

Posted by J Powers at 9:57 AM on June 5, 2009

Tell me what you see with this email (remember you have to read up on this one):

to: Bill
from: Tom

Original Message:

Hey Bill – don’t have your email. call me: 555.4321

——–

to: Tom
from: Bill

Original Message:

Hey, Tom – Call me: 555.1234

——-

to: Bill
from: Tom

Original Message:

Hey Bill – call me: 555.4321

————-

I have 3 clients I have been waiting for answers from. I gave them my number and told them to call me when THEY have the time. After all, my schedule is looser than most. One just emailled me and said “Hey, I don’t know your phone number. Call me when you get some time.”

Really? If you scroll down the email, my phone number is sitting there. Heck, in my signature (which is on the email about 4-5 times about now), my phone number is all over the email and I still get the “Call me” message.

Have we gotten lazy? Are we afraid of talking on the phone? Are we going to a hidden-social type environment?

I remember when I was a kid, the phone was a major lifeline. We were annoyed because our parents did not get a second line or even call-waiting. My mom would be on the phone for 2 or more hours talking to an aunt or friend.

Now we sit behind a keyboard and screen.

I love email – I can communicate to many in a quick fashion. I even enjoy SMS. But I have a policy – more than 5 SMS messages and I am calling. More than 3 short emails and I am calling. Of course it also depends on if this should be in print or over the phone.

Still, it seems that nowadays we shy away from the phone – at least using it with it’s original intention. With newer phones we’ll have the ability to SMS AND IM AND Facebook AND MySpace AND Twitter and so much more, then why would we want to call?

Wouldn’t it be funny if someone released a phone that had no receiver on it? You can do everything but call someone.

Maybe we’re just not reading the emails. After all, how many times did I have the number in the email? 4-5? I still got an email back on “Call me”.

It could be a power struggle. I do have to admit – I have a couple emails where their number was in the email and I just sent one back with my number and asked to call me. Then you sit back and go “Hey! He called ME! Yeah! I’m the man!”

Well, I got to go. I have to make some phone calls. Then again, maybe I should email them back…

The Ethics of Geekdom

Posted by susabelle at 11:35 AM on May 20, 2009

I have just had my second encounter with a coworker accessing my computer without my permission, on my login.  This means two of the twenty people in my department have some questionable ethics.  I’m laying odds that it’s more than that, but I’ve only known of two at this point, and I don’t want to make too many assumptions.

What really bugs me is that I would never do this to either of the people who did it to me, or to anyone else in my department, much less the entire campus.  There is no reason I would need to, and quite honestly, whatever they are working on is none of my business.  This most recent episode was borne of nosiness, a coworker wanted to know what fun new toy I was getting that she is not.  I had been gone from my desk for about twenty minutes, and came back to find her hunched over my desk with her hand on the mouse, clicking through my recent documents folder.  When she saw me, she made a very lame joke and laughed, as if I would just think it was all some sort of harmless chicanery.

There is nothing harmless about accessing someone else’s files.  It should never occur in the workplace, especially between members of the IT department.  Our jobs, out of necessity, give us access to things that other people on campus don’t have access to.  I have a master key that will let me in any room in any building on campus.  I also have rights to servers and desktop machines, for the purpose of fixing problems or providing training to our end users.  I take my job seriously, and I cannot imagine a time when it would be okay for me to access the files of our campus president, for example, or those of a faculty member.  There is just no rationale for me doing that, and further, my own personal ethics would stop me from doing so.  I equate snooping in someone’s computer the same as snooping through a purse or wallet or dresser drawers.  It just isn’t done.

I have been told by our department manager that I need to lock my computer when I leave my office.  And yes, I know I can lock it and it is easy to do, even though I have to do it three times (three active computers on my desk).  But I don’t feel that I should have to do that.  I should be able to trust my coworkers, the people that sit in the same office with me, the people that I am entrusting work to and accepting work from.  These are people that, presumably, have the same “best interests” of the campus and the department in mind in everything they do.

Of course, presumption and assumption are one thing, and reality can be vastly different.  As a geek with a lot of technical power over users, it is a disappointing to think that our users may not be safe from the geeks tasked with keeping them up and running.  Very sad indeed.

Computer repair shops: the 21st Century’s car mechanic

Posted by GNC at 8:26 PM on May 18, 2009
One of the worst feelings a person can have is seeking the repair of a product that they have a limited knowledge of how it works. How do they know what they are being told is true? How much does it really cost to fix? How will I know if they really replaced anything and it was just a loose screw causing the problem?
 
I talk to home and small business computer users daily in the course of my job and the one thing I continue to see is how much they distrust any IT person they come in contact with.
 
I can’t blame them as they may have seen the same stories on the news about the big box computer stores and national computer repair companies and what their technicians have been caught doing to users and their computers.
 
The more disturbing thing I’m see is how mom and pop repair stores are selling these people bootleg copies of software and loading up corporate networks with “Free for personal use” software.
 
I had a client ask me how much it would cost to replace Vista on the machine she had bought a few months back. I told her is would be the cost of a copy of XP plus the install time, she turns to me and says, “My old IT guy was able to upgrade our four of our other machines from Windows 2000 for $35 each.”  At that point I looked at the machines and each one of them had the same CD-Key and an activation hack loaded.
 
I believe independent shops are hurting themselves and others in the field by devaluing the cost of their services and in the end leaving the customer in a bad situation as well as perpetuating the myth that IT people are arrogant and will sell them what ever snake oil tonic they have to make a quick buck.
 
The main thing I think people should look for when seeking computer repair outside the home is personal recommendations. Talk to your friends and family and see who they have used in the past. Nothing beats the one-on-one interaction with a repairman as well as how they talk to their customers and explain the problems and possible solutions. Also if they say they need to replace a part, ask for the old one back even you have no plan to keep it.
Thankfully I have never been in the situation where I have had to rely on a total stranger to fix a computer of mine that contains family photos, banking information, personal emails and whatever else passes through my computer on a daily basis.
 
What experiences have you or your friends and family had with these shops and what are your tips on finding a quality shop?
 
As always I can be reached at jparie (at) gmail (dot) com.