Thursday, July 30

The Real World ... ... ... (of Warcraft)

Some time ago, South Park (which is a very funny show that I never watch, and wouldn't possibly suggest YOU watch, either) made an episode called "Make Love, Not Warcraft." It was filled with the usual assortment of poop jokes and gross-outs, but running through it was a damned fine skewering of people who obsess over World of Warcraft.

Laughing loudest were guys like me. Ones who obsess over World of Warcraft. We tell you that we have "three 80s and the only reason we don't have a fourth is that we can't decide what class to level next." If you're looking for a WOW-speak to English translation, level 80 is the highest level a character in that game can achieve. Having one level 80 is good, having three is borderline crazy, and I know some people in game that have six.

Anyway, South Park ... where was I? Oh yeah. One great moment in that episode was when the board of directors at Blizzard discovered the rogue player who was threatening to destroy their game, and one of the minions blurted out with "This could mean the end of the WORLD!" and, after a few seconds, sheepishly added "of Warcraft."

Nice job, that, mocking those of us who really feel like a virtual game world is a living, breathing place. We deserve it. Marriages have failed, jobs have been lost, and personal hygiene is a forgotten skill because geeks fall so in love with who they PRETEND to be, they can't waste any attention on who they really are.

By now, most of you reading this (Hi, Mom!) think I'm going to argue that we shouldn't play video games so obsessively. You'd be wrong. In fact, I see nothing wrong with my obsession over video games. My two children also play WOW, and it's very fun to be the dad who comes riding to the rescue (literally! ... well, VIRTUALLY literally). When my son tells his high school friends that his dad has three level 80s and is going to help him with something in game, it provokes looks of astonishment. Almost as much as when he tells them his dad just bought the new Disturbed album. (How DOES that guy have any vocal cords left, anyway?)

No, the point of this rambling muse is that the weirder the REAL WORLD gets, the better and more sane the virtual world becomes. I don't log in to the World of Warcraft because I want to escape to a fantastical realm where magic is real and there be DRAGONS, I log in to the World of Warcraft because the world is stable and predictable. It reassures me to see that things in WOW are pretty much as I left them. The economy didn't become a turd overnight, Stormwind didn't suffer a terrorist attack, and Goldshire is still a cesspool.

(WOW-to-English Dictionary Sez: Stormwind is the capital for the human race, and Goldshire is a small town in the beginning area for human characters. Goldshire is well known as a place where players with overactive glands come to spew hormones all over, and through, their keyboards. If it wasn't so completely pathetic, it would be hilarious.)

In the real world, I have no control over things. I could lose my job tomorrow. I could lose my health tomorrow. I could lose my family to...okay, you get the point. Now, I believe that God exists and has control over things, but C. S. Lewis said it best. Aslan is not a tame lion. He permits things, he even causes things, for his own reasons. And if I don't understand what he does, I still have to accept that he knows what he's doing. What is best for the big picture might be really crappy for me, in the short term anyway.

So while I struggle to remain calm out here, in THERE (this is the part where you get to picture me gesturing at the computer on my desk) I can feel safe. I can take care of myself. And if I DO happen to die, resurrection is just a corpse run away. (Whoops! More WOW-speak. A corpse run is when you wake up as a ghost in the cemetery and run back to your body, at which time the game brings you back to life.)

The irony of it all is nearly overwhelming. Video games with their virtual worlds started out as someplace where we would escape from the mundane in search of adventure and thrills. Somewhere along the way, these virtual worlds have become where we turn to escape the terror of real life in search of safe, predictable surroundings where life follows the rules.

That South Park episode is looking less and less funny, all the time.

Sunday, July 19

Let's Talk ... About Google Voice

I'm a fan of Google. I have been for years. Google was the best search engine when we didn't know what search engines were good for, and they're still the best search engine even though Bing isn't half bad. I use Google Calendar to keep track of my life, Gmail serves as my webmail, email archive, and spam filter, and I use Google Documents more often than I do Open Office or Microsoft Office (I also introduced it to the Into Tomorrow show when it was still called Writely; today it forms the core of how the show coordinates...well, everything).

Oh, and this blog is hosted on Blogger, which is also a Google product.

So I'm a fan. We've all got that. For what it's worth, I don't get paid anything by Google and in fact I've never even met anyone of consequence who works for the company.

I was therefore quite pleased to get an invite to try Google Voice. This is their new telephony service that gives you a single telephone number that will ring multiple phones at the same time, with brilliantly fast voicemail and text messaging built in. After testing it out this week, I've compiled a list of my top five favorite things about Google Voice.

1. One Number to Rule Them All. Part of the sign up process for Google Voice is to choose a telephone number. They have them in all area codes it seems, and I was able to find one in the 954. (Hey! Do I sound like I'm all cool and stuff when I use phrases like "in the 954?" It would be nice to sound cool. At least once.)

After you've selected your phone number, then you link it to one or more of your existing phones. I linked mine to my cell phone and my home phone. Now, when someone calls my Google Voice number, BOTH PHONES ring at the same time. If I take the call on one phone, the other one stops ringing.

A buddy of mine told me yesterday that he HATED this feature, because he doesn't want people to be able to find him nor does he want to give up the excuse that he's missed their call. I suppose there is some point in that, but until I go into the Witness Protection Program, I don't seem to mind if people can find me more easily.

2. Voicemail to Text Transcription, Instantly. If I don't answer either phone, or I decide after answering and hearing who is calling to shunt the call to voicemail, Google Voice takes a message. In just SECONDS (and I mean it was FAST!), there is an entry in the Google Voice inbox, accompanied by an email in MY inbox and a text message on my mobile phone, with a transcription of the voicemail.

If you're anything like me, the bane of your existence is listening to LONG and MEANDERING voicemails. First, you're irritated. Eventually you begin to SCREEEEEAAAAAM at them, demanding that they get to the point! Having voicemails transcribed to text lets me get the entire thing at a glance, discretely, and it doesn't require me to stop what I'm doing and call in to play back the message.

Of course, you CAN play back the message if you want to, either from the Google Voice inbox, your email inbox, or even your text message. I've been comparing the transcriptions to the actual recorded messages, and so far they are extremely accurate.

3. Integrates with My Contacts. My contacts are maintained in three places. I have them in the Contacts application on my Palm Treo, in the address book on Mozilla Thunderbird, and in Google Contacts. The last one serves as the center hub, I suppose, since my Treo synchronizes with Google Contacts using GooSync (an excellent service, by the way, if you want to synchronize a handheld device with Google Calendar and Contacts), and Mozilla Thunderbird synchronizes with Google Contacts using the Zindus add-on.

So no matter where a Contact is entered or edited, eventually the information propagates around to all three places. All automatically, without me having to do a thing. I do something similar with my calendar. I love this system; it is a great boost to my level of organization.

Since Google Voice uses Google Contacts, when a call comes in routed through them, it will both send the caller's number to my Caller ID (as opposed to Google Voice's number) and it will announce the caller by name when I answer the call, which is very useful on the home phone because I don't have Caller ID on every handset.

Best of all, I don't have to do anything additional or different in order to keep this all up to date.

4. Integrated Inbox For Messages And Texts. Google Voice has a web based inbox feature that looks a lot like Gmail. There is a mobile version I can access from my Treo and a nice gadget for my iGoogle home page, so I can see who has called and what message they left at a glance. If someone sends a text message to my Google Voice number, that's forwarded to my cell phone. The text message comes from Google Voice, in this case, so my reply goes back to them and is forwarded to the original sender.

This allows Google Voice to keep a record of both sides in any text message conversation, and it stores these in the same inbox as my voicemails. In short, the Google Voice inbox gives me a permanent record of everything that I might otherwise forget, and there is no need to call in to a voicemail system, or even track down a telephone, in order to access it. It's fast and convenient.

5. Switch Phones in Mid Call, Silently. Google Voice offers conference calling for up to four participants and as a related service, it will let you switch from one phone to another in mid call. Here's how it works. Let's say you call my Google Voice number and I answer on the home phone. We're not done with our conversation yet, but it's time for me to leave. Instead of telling you to call me back on my cell phone, I just press the star button on my phone and the other lines, in this case my cell phone, begin to ring. When I answer, Google Voice conferences the three calls together and then I can hang up on the one I'm not going to use, leaving the other part intact.

If my cell phone voice quality is good enough, the person I'm talking with might not even know I've just transferred their call.

There are a lot of other things Google Voice does. The ability to record phone calls, or to listen in as voicemails are being left (giving you the option of breaking in, if you realize this is an important call that should be taken right now), these are both powerful features. You should check the web site for the complete feature list. Believe me, it's long.

The five I've listed above were simply the ones that made the biggest impression on me.

When I showed Google Voice to my wife, who is a user of technology but not a geek like me (in other words, she's normal and like 99% of the world), she made the observation that this seemed as though it would do for someone what a receptionist in an office might do. It's true, when you think about it. It answers your phone, forwards calls, takes messages, organizes the "While You Were Out" slips (so to speak), and does this all for free.

In these hard economic times, we all need to take advantage of any technology that lets us do more with less. Google Voice does a LOT more, for a lot less. It's on an invite-only status right now, like Gmail once was, but you should be able to get your own account very soon.

Oh, before I end this, let me mention one thing about this service. It's not designed to just be an uber-voicemail system. You don't forward your existing phones to Google Voice. It's not the LAST thing in the telephony chain, it's the FIRST. I've seen complaints from people who are trying to use it as a simple voicemail service (like J2's service, for instance). If you're not letting Google Voice take the incoming calls and manage them for you, then you're misusing the service and you probably won't like it very much (or, at least, not AS much).

Soon, you'll be able to port existing phone numbers to Google Voice. Perhaps that will help people who just didn't want to update everyone with yet ANOTHER new number to call. Or perhaps people are cranky and stubborn, and will be determined to pound their square peg into this round hole.

In the meantime, just browse the list of available numbers and snap up one that's easy to remember. If you try the service, leave me a comment and tell me what you think of it, and why.

Sunday, June 21

Napster Confusion SOLVED!

One of the Big Four music services is Napster. I'd consider the largest to be the iTunes Music Store (which I shall refer to as iTunes from now on even though I understand the difference between the software and the service), followed by Rhapsody,, and Napster. Recently, Napster revamped their pricing and membership plans, and it seems to have created a great deal of confusion. As a Napster subscriber myself, I've taken the time to sort it out and perhaps I can explain what's changed more clearly that Napster themselves has done.

First, let's talk about how the service USED to work. Previously, you could create a Napster account for free, called Napster Light, that allowed you to listen to a limited number of full length songs and then buy whichever ones you liked for 99 cents per song. After you'd used your allotment of full length previews, you were limited to the same 30 second previews that iTunes Music Store has made famous.

For a while, these were DRM-protected Windows Media player format files that prevented you from playing the songs in your iPod or MP3 player (although you could burn audio CDs and re-rip the songs as long as you accepted the drop in quality). Eventually, however, Napster began selling MP3 files not encumbered by DRM protection, allowing you to use purchased tracks in any manner you wish. Play them on your computer, put them in your iPod or MP3 player, burn audio CDs, whatever you'd like.

Napster also offered two subscriptions. The basic Napster subscription charged you a monthly fee and then removed the limit on the number of full length songs you could listen to. You could still purchase albums or individual tracks as MP3 files, but you could ALSO download the PROTECTED songs, without limit, and play them offline. The catch was, the protected subscription downloads would play ONLY on your computer. You could not play them in your iPod or MP3 player, nor could you burn an audio CD with them. So, pay each month for the ability to play unlimited full length songs, download those songs without limit or additional charge as long as you accept the restrictions, and buy unprotected MP3 versions when you want to do more with the music.

Simple enough, right?

Napster-To-Go was the same plan EXCEPT that your downloaded subscription tracks could also be played in MP3 players that were compatible with the style of protection Napster used (something called "Plays4Sure"). iPods were not supported. You could still buy unprotected MP3 files, of course, and do as you please with them. But as long as you kept your subscription current and connected your computer and device with the Napster service on a regular basis, you could play as much music as you wanted, offline, for one flat monthly rate.

So what are the plans, now?

Napster Light has discontinued the ability to play full length songs. This free plan now lets you listen ONLY to 30 second previews, and then purchase any MP3 albums or tracks that you like. In doing this, Napster Light has become exactly the same as iTunes or It all boils down to which service you prefer using now, as the value is precisely the same. Each will tell you their service offers better reviews, recommendations, and whatnot, but that's really for you the consumer to decide.

The base Napster subscription has been replaced by Napster Pass. This new plan costs $5 per month, sold either by the month or in three month and one year packages. You can listen to an unlimited number of full length songs while connected to, and you will get MP3 credits to download tracks equal to the amount of your membership. That is, the monthly plans get 5 credits per month, the three month 15 credits for that period, and the annual plan gets 60 credits for the year. On the surface, that seems like a good deal, right? You can get your full length songs and you get MP3 credits for your membership price! What's not to like?

What you've lost is the ability to download files to your computer and play them offline. Subscribers who traveled with laptops full of music that they would play while not connected to the Internet are affected, as are those who downloaded songs to their computers serving as jukeboxes to their home entertainment systems. The latter preferred the downloaded songs, since those were immune to Internet slowdowns or hiccups.

Napster-To-Go is unchanged, but includes no MP3 credits for the $15 per month you pay.

So if you've been a Napster subscriber who downloaded large numbers of songs to your computer for offline playback, you can choose between upgrading to the slightly more expensive Napster-To-Go plan, or accept that your offline playback will no longer work.

If you're someone who has been using iTunes or to listen to 30 second song previews before purchasing the albums or individual songs, then Napster Pass does have something new to offer you. If you essentially prepay for some MP3 downloads, you get access to full length song previews in exchange.

Users of the Napster Light free service have lost something, as have Napster subscribers (other than the "To Go" versions). They will have to decide how angry this makes them, and whether they will continue to use Napster.

Oh, and why have three separate prepayment deals? Because your credits don't roll over. If you are on the monthly plan and don't download five songs, you lose those credits. People who are a little more sporadic in their music downloading habits should consider the longer periods to avoid losing credits.

Thus we have the new Napster. Is it a good deal or not? You tell me.

Thursday, June 18

Facebook apps and the Myth of Privacy

Do you have a Facebook page? I do. So does everyone I'm related to or personally acquainted with, or so it seems at least.

I really like Facebook. It connects me with my friends in a nice way. At least for family and friends who use it, I feel as though I know what's going on with them and I'm sure they feel the same way about me. I like snapping pictures from my mobile phone and posting them directly to Facebook. It lets me share experiences with friends in near real-time.

But I also don't want my personal information spread throughout the known universe. I don't need people I've never met knowing my cell phone number, email address, street address, and so on. Those are all things I've posted in my profile, because I don't mind my FRIENDS having access to them, and I am careful to change privacy settings on just about everything from the default of "Everyone" to the setting of "Only friends."

Facebook also has applications that run through its service, and these apps are just insanely popular. Some of the apps are internal Facebook programs. Events, groups, mobile, etc. Even photos is an app. Then you have the third party apps. Games, quizzes, and just about everything else you see your friends using. And while I think it's wonderful that one of my friends just set a record high score in Squeeze The Lizard, is it REALLY a newsworthy item?

Let me get to the point. When you use an application, part of the deal is you trust that application with TOTAL ACCESS to your profile. That means everything. Every contact detail, every photograph. EVERYTHING. It doesn't matter how you've configured your privacy settings. So if you're someone like me, who doesn't particularly want strangers tromping about in their personal information, even though I like sharing that same information with friends, you tend to avoid these third party apps and just stick to the Facebook basics. Because those third party apps, although they are supposed to only retain your information for 24 hours, are free to do whatever they like with it during that time. Even, say, sell your contact information to telemarketers?

What's worse, the third party apps that your FRIENDS USE can access the same information in your profile that your friends themselves can access. This means that when your friend Weird Al decides to play Nuclear Penguin Attack, that third party app can dig into YOUR profile, get your cell phone number, and sell that to some telemarketer who wants to call you in an attempt to sell used car warranties. Furthermore, it can be argued that this tenuous link constitutes a business relationship, so the Do Not Call rules for telemarketers wouldn't apply. Your friend trusts this third party app, whose author has a relationship with the telemarketer, and they've given permission to that author allowing complete access to their profile. You trust your friend, giving them similar access. This circle of trust leads to your personal information being available to ... well, just about everyone.

You might be thinking "Oh that's silly! Facebook would never do that!" Maybe you're right, Facebook wouldn't. But! I am not talking about the apps that Facebook has created. I'm talking about third party apps. Third party, in this case, meaning anyone. That's right, anyone is free to develop and promote a Facebook app. They're not connected with, or controlled by Facebook. I am absolutely certain that the vast majority of these developers are excellent people who never do anything improper with the information they have access to in your profile. What I am not sure of is how to tell which few are NOT good people. Can you tell? No, I didn't think you could.

So what can you do? There's actually a fairly simple solution. First, don't run any third party apps yourself. If you do, then at least understand that you're giving them access to EVERYTHING you've posted on Facebook, with NO RESTRICTION on what they are allowed to do with it.

Next, to control what the third party apps your FRIENDS choose to run can access about you, pull down the Settings menu on the main Facebook page and choose Privacy Settings. Under Privacy Settings, click the link for Applications. When the Applications Privacy page appears, you'll be looking at the Overview tab. Take a moment to read the scary text explaining how Facebook apps are given permission to move in to your basement and drink all your beer, then click on the Settings tab. Look at the list of things your friends' apps can see about you. You cannot stop these apps from seeing your name, what networks you belong to, and the names of all your friends. But you can clear all the check boxes for other items, including things such as cell phone numbers and email addresses.

I highly recommend you do just that.

Facebook is a wonderful thing and I don't intend to stop using it. However, it's just not clear to most people how much information these third party apps can access, and it's REALLY not clear that third party apps USED BY THEIR FRIENDS can access this information in the profiles of everyone in their entire network of friends. That's a lot of assumed privilege, there.

Facebook gives you controls to limit this, but the default is the same as it is with everything in Facebook. Access is granted to everyone on Planet Earth. So, get control of it and use your Privacy settings!

Oh, and add me to your friends list while you're at it.

Saturday, June 6

Vista Service Pack 2: Where'd the space come from?

I'd heard a rumor that installing Windows Vista Service Pack 2 resulted in a dramatic reclamation of disk space, on the order of tens of gigabytes. Fascinated by this, I decided to monitor available disk space on both my notebook and desktop computers as I installed SP2. Here is what I found.

On my notebook, free disk space was 27.0 GB before installing SP2 and 47.1 GB after. That's a very impressive gain, given the size of the hard drive (it's a 160 GB drive with 140 GB in the OS partition).

Over on the desktop, running Vista 64, free disk space was 386 GB prior to installation and 470 GB afterward. The OS volume on this computer is 581 GB in size.

Those are both some rather remarkable gains in free disk space. And I was impressed ... until I stopped to consider where they might have come from and the obvious occurred to me.

All previous system restore points were now invalid!

Think about it. What does a system restore point do? It preserves system files and various configuration settings so you can restore your computer to an earlier, working condition. A Windows service pack dramatically changes and updates system files, and to restore these files from what is essentially an earlier version of Windows would be disastrous.

So, while the buzz on other blogs and in assorted forums is correct, you DO regain disk space when you install Vista SP2, I believe there is a very simple explanation for this. I believe that installing a service pack erases system restore points, and that is where the disk space is reclaimed.

That being said, my experience thus far with Vista SP2 is generally quite good. I'm seeing some positive performance improvements on both computers, although these are only anecdotal seat of the pants impressions and I have no benchmarks to back them up. I am, however, fairly well inoculated against the placebo effect because of my decades in the IT business and a healthy mistrust of updates. I never expect them to go smoothly, nor do I expect them to always yield performance boosts.

If you're wondering whether to install Service Pack 2 on your copy of Vista or Vista 64, I'd say that you should. Yes, it does mean that your copy of Internet Explorer will be updated to version 8, but if you've got half a brain you're using Firefox or Chrome already so the version of IE that's NOT being used on your computer matters little.

Just don't be amazed and awed by the increased free disk space when you do. It's an illusion.

Monday, May 18

Making a radio show

Some time ago, I blogged about creating radio features for the Into Tomorrow show and I talked about the products I was using to do that. Namely, the Snowball USB microphone from Blue Microphone and WavePad Master's Edition from NCH Software.

I still have those products and I still use the Snowball microphone any time I need to record more than just my own voice. What I mean is, when I have more than one person in the room and I want to record the conversation (like you would do if you were making a podcast in your basement), there isn't a better microphone for the price than the Snowball.

But now I'm beginning to build complete half hour radio shows for a church. I edit down the sermons for time, record opening and closing voiceovers, and assemble the entire show including musical elements before creating a final mixdown to a finished show.

And I ran into two issues with this process. First, I felt as though I wasn't getting enough low end presence in my voice to be a very good "Announcer Guy." I have the ability to pitch my voice down when I'm doing Announcer Guy, and I wanted to have some of that bass punch in the recording. And second, mastering all the various elements of the show, assembling them into a timeline, and mixing it down was harder in WavePad than I wanted it to be. I couldn't get the effects that I wanted, and lining up the show elements against a timeline in multitrack mode was not working as I wanted.

So I began the search for new products to address these. On the microphone side, I found the Marshall MXL USB.009 24-Bit Studio/Broadcast USB Condenser Microphone, which comes complete with a nifty aluminum "flight case" that carries your expensive microphone safely from place to place. I did order an optional shock mount and windscreen for the product. Take note of that because you will want them and it does not include them. The MXL USB.009 gave me the deep, rich studio sound I wanted for my voiceovers, even while recording in my office at home.

For editing software, I chose Adobe Audition 3. I will admit that editing software is a lot like your favorite pizza. It all comes down to taste, and you will fight to the death defending your choice. (Okay, maybe not to the DEATH, but I've seen some ugliness over pizza, believe you me!) What I liked about Audition was the Mastering Rack that allowed me to assemble my favorite effects, preset the way I liked them, and apply it to a recorded track with a single mouse click. That's a huge time saver! The multitrack mode is excellent. I butt the closing theme up to the 28 minute mark (that's the maximum length of the half hour show) and now I can position all of the other elements so they fit within that. I line up voiceovers with music tracks, to get backing music whenever I want it, and the entire process couldn't be easier.

Recently, I was editing a sermon where the pastor yelled at one point. It totally glitched out the microphone and recording system, resulting in an ugly audio artifact where the stereo effect jumped about wildly and we actually had brief moments of silence on each track, but of a different length and slightly different location. It was a MESS. But I was able to isolate the better of the two channels, copy some noise over the absolute zero silences, then copy a specific length from one stereo channel to the other, and thus completely removed the glitch. I've got no idea how other editing software does this, but with Audition it was easy.

I'm very pleased with the final result, and impressed with the fact that a desktop PC combined with $650 to $700 worth of microphone and editing software can produce something that sounds like it was processed on tens of thousands of dollars worth of studio hardware.

Don't misunderstand me, you're not going to replace recording studios with their gigantic mixing consoles with a couple grand worth of PC gear, but for those of us engaged in the editing and voiceover business, there's no place like home.

Friday, May 1

Palm stomps on TealOS

I have a Palm Treo. That almost sounds like it should be a confession in front of a therapy group.

(Me) Hi, my name is Mark.

(Group) Hi Mark!

(Me) Uh, I'm here because, well...uh, I use this old smartphone that does everything an iPhone can, but just not as pretty, yet it works and I can't stop using it. I'm so ashamed!

(Group) Awww.

In my mind's eye, they'd give me a hug. Or...throw empty iPhone boxes at me. Something like that, anyway.

But that's not why I'm blogging today. I'm blogging today because Palm has taken the role of soul-crushing competition-fearing megalith. You know, the role that Apple usually has?

It's not a secret that Palm virtually invented the PDA and smartphone markets. If they didn't create it, they made the most popular early versions of it (with a very few exceptions). Then along came Windows Mobile, which was a terrible product but managed to gain traction because Microsoft knows how to stubbornly hang on when they want something. Palm Treos with their PalmOS did fine against Windows Mobile, but in a silly moment of sleeping with the enemy, Palm decided to start making Treos with BOTH PalmOS and Windows Mobile.

The problem? Once Treos ran Windows Mobile, they were no different from any other device also running Windows Mobile. You were disconnected from the thousands of third party applications, you didn't experience the smooth and reliable operation, etc. You were... Well, you were one of the herd.

And so, Blackberry chipped away at you. Early versions of that were AWFUL, just awful, but enough corporate types became hooked on them that RIM had plenty of time to turn it into a pretty decent product. Blackberry Curves are rather nice. (Don't get me started on the Storm, though.)

But Palm and their Treos hung on gamely. Until Apple showed the entire world how a smartphone was supposed to be done with their iPhone. Like everything else Apple makes, the user interface on the iPhone was stunning. Gorgeous, simple, functional? I don't have enough adjectives. But! I'm a Verizon customer, with a family of phones (mine, my wife's, the kids), and I don't want to deal with the hassle of moving to AT&T.

So I slog along gamely with my Treo. It's ugly, it's old, but it WORKS.

Palm begins working on a totally new smartphone, the ultra-sexy looking Pre. It has an entirely new operating system called WebOS. The Pre will be available soon with Sprint as the sole provider of service. (I just HATE these exclusive deals.) I won't buy a Pre for the same reason I won't buy an iPhone. I don't want to leave Verizon and deal with all the headaches of moving four numbers, etc., etc.

One of the third party software developers that I like for my Treo is TealPoint Software. When I was doing freelance consulting work, their TealTracker application running on my Treo was the slickest way to track my hours for client billing that I had ever seen. I loved it. If I did that sort of work these days, I would STILL be using it.

TealPoint Software came out with TealOS. It was a front end for the PalmOS that looked very similar to WebOS, and it gave us loyalists who still used our Treos an option to suddenly seem current and sexy again. It also caught the interest of Palm.

I'm not behind the scenes, so I have no idea whether Palm even approached TealPoint about buying TealOS to upgrade their older smartphones. I'm guessing they did not, since it's not in Palm's interest to support Treos not running on Sprint, which is clearly their wireless company of choice now. What we know that Palm DID do was hit TealPoint Software with a "cease and desist" notice. I'm sure it was on fancy lawyer stationery and filled with fancy lawyer words, but you know how these things always go.

Dear Small Guy,

We love the fact that you love our product. Thank you so much for taking time to support it over the years and keep us in business, so that now we can make deals with new companies that unfortunately require us to pretend our old products don't exist.

Your software (which is delightful, really and truly), might allow some of those stodgy old die hards that refuse to discard a working product continue to use those old models. And we can't have that, now can we?

So, this is the part where we need to remind you that we're a really BIG company with lawyers on staff and on retainer, and you're not. You don't even want to know what it would cost to defend yourself against us. Let's not let it reach that point, shall we?

Cease and desist your innovation! Dammit.


Big Guy

TealPoint's not stupid, nor are they rich. As of March 30th, 2009, TealOS is done. No further development, no further support, and will the last downloader please turn out the lights?

Instead of paying $14.95 for an amazing makeover to the still rock sold PalmOS, I have the same choice I've always had. Continue to use a smartphone that gets text messages from the 90's saying they want their user interface back, or deal with the huge cost and incredible hassle of changing hardware and my wireless company.

Thanks, Palm.

Sorry, TealPoint. You guys deserved better.

Now by this point, you all probably think I hate Palm. I don't. I really and truly don't. I love my Treo 700p, it's been my faithful companion for years. I browse the web with Opera Mini, I have maybe a dozen third party applications on it, I use ChatterEmail to track three separate email identities. All fast and reliable, even if they're nowhere near as pretty as an iPhone.

I really like the Pre and its WebOS. If Verizon ever gets the rights to sell it, I'll probably switch to one. Unless, of course, Verizon gets the iPhone first. In which case, I'll have a well cared for, much beloved Treo 700p for sale.

Thursday, February 19

The King is dead! Long live the King!

I think it's finally time to call this one over. Open Office, the open source applications suite, has been steadily stalking Microsoft Office for years now. Microsoft, for their part, has been striving mightily to mung up the works in Office, turning it into a horrible puddle of yuck to use.

I bought a new laptop a year ago and a new desktop earlier this month, and at the same time bought both a copy of Microsoft Office 2007 Home and Student Edition and Microsoft Outlook 2007. I'd used the 2003 versions of both applications, and liked them.

I've also been toying with Open Office for the past few 2.x versions, and I've believed it to be close to the Microsoft suite in power and user interface, but not QUITE there yet. Not until now, that is. What changed? Three things.

First, Microsoft has really screwed the pooch with Office 2007. Plain and simple, it's just awful. In the name of making things easier, they rearranged all the menus and user interfaces on an application that was largely unchanged (and a virtual standard) for nearly ten years. I don't know who it was at Microsoft that thought this was a good idea, but they need to be taken outside and beaten with a copy of the book "Who Moved My Cheese?" (An excellent book, by the way.)

Next, Open Office has released version 3.01 and it's a very smooth, polished, and powerful program. Yet its user interface is straightforward and simple. It can open Microsoft Office documents (most of them) and it can save in Microsoft Office format (for the most part), but I'm assuming that you're a lot like me, meaning that you don't share documents with people very often and whatever office applications suite you use is just for your own consumption. Besides, if document collaboration is needed, I'm a Google Documents junkie. Get the content down when you're working as a team, then download the document and polish it as needed for the final copy.

Finally, Open Office has a library of extensions for it similar to Firefox and Thunderbird (open source web browser and email program, if you've been hiding under a rock for the past few years). Extensions let Open Office do things its designers and programmers didn't think of, or didn't have time to include. I've learned to ADORE my extensions with Firefox and Thunderbird, and I'm quite certain I'll feel the same way about Open Office.

It's happened gradually and not because anyone forced me, but I use Firefox instead of Internet Explorer, Thunderbird instead of Outlook, and now Open Office instead of Microsoft Office. I'd love to kick Vista off my computer in favor of Linux, but I'm a video game addict and all my addictions of choice require Windows.

If you haven't checked out Open Office, do so now. It's time to fire Microsoft. The open source programmers are doing a better job, and it's certainly less cash (as in, these programs are free). By the way, while you're downloading these terrific programs, take the time to make a donation toward their support. It costs money to host the web sites and run the organizations that make this software possible, and we should give them a hand as we can afford it.

Tuesday, January 13

AMD's Dragon Gaming PC, myth or no myth?

No one likes competition more than I do. I do not believe that Intel would have produced the excellent processors they have over the past five years, if AMD were not competing with them.

AMD's Phenom processor was thumped soundly by Intel's Core 2 series and it's been a while since any PC experts, whether real experts or just experts in their own opinion, have been able to recommend a gaming PC built around anything other than Intel.

The new Core i7 processor benchmarks even better than the Core 2, and computer systems built around the Core i7 are remarkably inexpensive. Check this Dell deal at Costco or this Gateway build at Best Buy. (Disclaimer: These links work at the time of this blog post. I can't promise you they will work tomorrow, or at any other time in the future. In case they stop working, just close your eyes and imagine LOADED computer systems based on the Core i7 for less than $1500!)

However, just when you think it's over, AMD drops the news about their new Phenom II X4 processors. The very early benchmarks (big grain of salt there, please) show this new chip competing very well with the Core i7. Of more interest to me is the news that AMD has their Dragon gaming PC platform, a combo of parts including the Phenom II, motherboards with their 790X chipsets, and ATI 4800 series video cards.

According to this post on Tom's Hardware, AMD claims that a computer with a Phenom II X4 processor, an ATI 4870 1GB video card, a 790GX motherboard, and 4GB of DD2-1066 memory can be found for $900. That, friends, is one hell of a deal.

So I spent all morning looking for it. I searched Google, I checked all the web sites for the usual suspects building gaming PCs (e.g. iBuypower, CyberpowerPC, and so forth), and I found one company offering a computer system identified as an AMD Dragon gaming PC. The Dell XPS 625. Yes, that's right. Dell.

Only when I tried to come anywhere NEAR the specs AMD touted to Tom's Hardware on the Dell site, the price ZOOMED to nearly $2000. And that is most definitely NOT a hell of a deal. In fact, Dell themselves kick that deal's butt with XPS computers using the Core i7.

So what gives here? AMD makes a new processor that, at least early on, seems to move them back into real competition with Intel. Furthermore, they make this new processor the centerpiece for a gaming PC platform that has the geek in me quivering when they describe how a $900 system would be configured.

But is that just wishful thinking on AMD's part? WHO IS BUILDING THIS $900 COMPUTER? AMD's own web site has no information on it, in fact their web site doesn't even show the Phenom II X4 processor in ANY of their Where to Buy links.

I'm challenging AMD and AMD fanboys right now, show me this computer system. The one Tom's Hardware says AMD touted to them. I want to know it exists, because I want to know that competition is alive again, and because I'm in the market for a new gaming PC myself. Show me this PC, and I will make it the subject of an Into Gaming feature (and update this blog post).

Personally, I think AMD's price reflects a few missing parts. Like, say, a hard drive, case, and power supply? Yeah...

Wednesday, January 7

How to guarantee a billion comments to a blog post

Rafe Needleman writes for CNET. If you subscribe to their Anchordesk email newsletter, you will recognize his name. On January 5th, 2009, Rafe wrote a blog post on CNET's news site called Switcher's lament: The case against Mac in which he tells the story of he and his wife switching to Apple MacBook computers (they'd been previously using Windows notebooks).

The blog post was, I thought, quite fair and balanced (apologies to Fox News for borrowing their slogan, there). Rafe admitted up front that their problems were caused primarily by switching from a Windows environment where they both had a number of applications they'd come to rely on for their everyday work. He also said plainly that the Apple hardware was high quality and stable. He did pick one nit with Mac OS X regarding where the standard UI locates an application's menu bar, but I don't think he made too much of it.

The blog post has already generated a huge number of comments. I know, big surprise, right?

There are three topics you never cover unless you are ready to deal with the pushback from the zealots: Politics, Religion, and Apple. It's almost as if Steve Jobs has promised the Mac faithful high speed WiFi in heaven, if they defend Apple against any hint of criticism in this life.

Rafe had to know what sort of storm his blog post would whip up. Any of us who have covered technology for more than a few weeks know that Mac users sniff out anything that even vaguely resembles criticism of Apple or their beloved Mac computers, and attack it with a ferocity that is unparalleled in the online world.

I use two computers on a daily basis. My notebook runs Windows Vista and my desktop PC runs Windows XP Professional (although I will be replacing it with a NEW desktop PC very soon now, and I expect that one will run Windows Vista also). It does not threaten me or make me angry that some people don't use Windows. Nor do I think I am right, or they are wrong. I don't use computers because I love the operating system that runs on them. I use computers because I want to run specific programs to do my work, manage my life, and play video games. Those programs run on Windows, ergo I use Windows.

Why must every Mac user take it as an insult that I prefer my computers to theirs? Why must every Mac user treat it like some test of intelligence or ethics? There is a term used to describe those who cannot handle criticism.