Saturday, February 28, 2009

Dear Verizon: Make Microsoft fix Windows Mobile, or I'm switching to AT&T

I've been using PDA's since 3 months after the first Palm debuted. Love 'em. Loved the Palm. Because I worked at Verizon (then AirTouch), I was able to get my hands on one of the very first smart phones, which was a glomming together of a Palm and Motorola phone. It was the size of a shoe, but to have my phone and my Palm in the same device, and wireless access to the Web.... mmmmm.... so geeky. So good.

I didn't switch to a Windows Mobile device until Windows Mobile 5 became available. Until that time, all the review said, "Stay away! Do not touch! Cuidado!" WM5 got OK-ish reviews, and so, a few years ago, I got a Verizon phone with WM5 on it and was fairly pleased.

Fairly. Kinda. Almost pleased. As in, mostly it didn't suck, and it sortta did everything I really needed, which was the ability to synch with my email at work, get my Google mail on the WM version of IE, and read eBooks. The rest -- a few good games, some interesting utilities, etc. -- was gravy.

A couple months ago, I dorpped my phone and needed to get a new one. I considered the iPhone, but my wife and I have a family kinda plan with VZW, and if I dumped, her price would go up and I'd owe like $170 for early termination, etc. Plus, I've heard from a few friends that AT&T's actual service (call availability, clarity, dropped calls, etc.) wasn't as good, and neither was their customer service. Plus, as an ex-VZW employee, I have some school loyalty.

So I got the new Verizon WM6 phone, that is basically the same as my old phone, but with a slightly better camera (I don't care), a slightly sexier keyboard (which I don't like as much), and, most importantly, WM6 as opposed to WM5.x.

Apparently, the big upgrade for WM6 is that it completely bricks your phone every now and then for no reason at all.

I should be more specific... Three times now, my ability to synch my phone either wirelessly (which is needed for getting my work email, the one main reason I pay for wireless data access) or through USB (which is needed to backup and restore software) completely locks up. I can use the phone as a phone, I can get to the Internet on the browser... but nothing will get my synch back short of resetting to factory defaults. Which removes all my software, pics, songs, books, settings, etc. and requires that I call VZW service to get them to reactivate my cell number.

This is, as you might guess, a huge pain in the sphincter.

On top of that huge pain, there is also the more regular, yet slightly less piercing or debilitating pain of having to reboot my phone at least twice a day. Yep. Programs will lock, synch will freeze, and I need to push my stylus into the little tiny-hole-of-hopeful-rebirth in order to warm boot the damned thing. During which time I have to hold my breath to see if this is going to work, or if I've done the mysterious, heinous thing that will result in brickage again, rather than simply soft-reboot annoyance.

LISTEN UP VERIZON -- I like your service and your service. I like that, in general, the WM experience is more closely tied to my desktop version of Windows. I do not, however, like an OS that dumps my phone. 

You've got 20 months. If Microsoft hasn't fixed WM by then -- and I mean FIXED IT!!! -- I'm going over to the dark side.

PS: A mobile browser that can do Flash and Java wouldn't suck, either. C'mon guys... you're in the OS business. You're going to lose the mobile computing wars if you can't figure this stuff out.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Holy crap! Caligari trueSpace 7.6 is now FREE! I repeat: HOLY CRAP!

I'm a dabbler in many design software programs. I taught myself Photoshop, InDesign and Quark Xpress to a pretty reasonable degree (since I do it for a living, and my boss may read this, let's assume "reasonable degree" means "highly polished, professional level user."). To a lesser extent, I've learned stuff like Illustrator, Corel Draw, Arts & Letters and some various CMS systems, blog engines, wikis, etc. To a certain extent, learning new design programs is game-like for me; I enjoy discovering how they set up the UI, what kinds of capabilities are easily learned, where they burried the button to turn on/off background code, etc.

A few years ago, Caligari made an early version (I forget... 2.?) of their highly cool 3D design software, trueSpace, available for free download. The idea being, you use it, get hooked, then update to 4.? or whatever. I did and I did. It was, I don't know... a hundred bucks or something and I was having a blast using it to design some walk-through renders of a museum of my father-in-law's paintings. Yes, highly geeky.

The big plus for trueSpace was the ability to design in a "real" 3D space; you basically move around the design area the same way you'd move "you" in a first-person shooter. Many earlier 3D programs required that you work in one or more 2D "slices" (orthogonal views), rather than in something more natural. While designing in trueSpace is not for the faint of heart (steep learning curve), the experience becomes, in time, much more fluid and intuitive.

When the next big version (I think it was 6.?) came out, I did not step up and buy it for $200 or so. Nor did I do so when 7.? came out at $400 or more. Could have even been $700. I just remember thinking, "Wow. Well, I have hit the ceiling on what I'm allowed to spend on this hobby."

But today I come to find out (through my Twine on virtual words) that Caligari has released very 7.6 of trueSpace and all their tutorial videos (formerly $79 each) for free.

I do not know why. Excpet that Roman Ormandy -- the CEO -- is insanely cool.

Here's the link for the program. Click on download now to download now.

Update: On searching for info for the insanely cool Roman Ormandy, I discovered that Microsoft has purchased Caligari. Hopefully many of the neat trueSpace features will find their way into Microsoft Virtual Earth. If they use trueSpace as their version of a free 3D design program -- comparable to Google's SketchUp -- they may end up with a LOT better content in their worlds. trueSpace is to SketchUp as Photoshop is to MS Paint. Then again, that ol' learning curve may keep folks out. I'll play around with this new versioin and let you know what I think in a few weeks/months/years.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Learning to hunt -- Newsweek gets it wrong... and insults a whole bunch of us in the process

I subscribe to Newsweek, and generally enjoy it. Any pub with regular articles by Fareed Zakaria is worth keeping on the nightstand. This last week, though, there was an article about how President Obama's use of a Blackberry is, well... questionable. All the old arguments against continuous partial attention (which I've written about before) get trotted out.

I won't get into my arguments in detail again. Go back and read the last link above if you want. But, to be brief, my belief is that we're in a time where intellectual "hunting" skills are coming back into greater use, after more than a century of "gathering." Modern agriculture and the industrial revolution (as epitomized by the assembly line) being examples of activities that require dedicted, unflinching attention to specific, repetitive details (gathering). Being able to do more than one thing, successfully, at a time is necessary, I think, if we want to thrive in an always-on, information-rich society in which we will (they tell us) change jobs 7-109 times during our professional careers. The skills required for situational awareness, group processing, micro- and multi-tasking being much more akin (at least metaphorically) to hunting.

Whether you agree with me or not, Sharon Begley, the author of the Newsweek article, manages not only to trot out all the familiar (and, frankly, at this point, kinda stale) arguments against connectivity... she offhandedly insults an entire class (or two) of workers. A class which I belong to. She says:

The BlackBerry (which isn't nicknamed CrackBerry for nothing) is way more seductive than, say, e-mail alerts. Thanks to its growing social and cultural cachet, it can make the most inconsequential middle manager feel as important as the CEO who must always be reachable, and it can feed the illusion of the lowliest salaryman that his input is so central he must be thumbing away at the dinner table and on vacation.

What the what? "The most inconsequential middle manager." Hey! That's me! I mean, I may not consider what I do "inconsequential," of course, but I'm certainly a middle manager. I like to think that my boss and my team and my peers and our customers don't consider my efforts "inconsequential."

In fact, middle managers are probably the folks who are at most in need of various connective technology. On the one hand, you've got (we assume) upper management above... and they should be thinking deep thoughts, planning great plans, and having (ahem) consequential communications with others at their rank. I do not, in any way, resent their use of Blackberries, et al... but the case could be made (as Belgey does in the example of President Obama), that the higher up you go, the more "undistracted" time you need.

And on the flip side, folks who are at the "operations" level are often doing tasks that require specific, explicit attention. If you are in the middle of (for example) a sales visit or a customer service call, taking a moment to check your Blackberry could be both impolite and counterproductive. Same for (as Begley points out) jobs where attention is specific to the activity -- pilots, doctors, etc.

Middle managers, though, are the ones that often translate the strategic decisions of upper management into specific, tactical plans that then need to be communicated to operational teams. These (we) are the people who often need to put programs on hold, start new projects and refine ongoing activities with (in some cases) little notice. The ability to monitor communications from above and efficiently move them to the proper operational channel isn't a distraction... it's a way to be more efficient.

Are there times when we need to put down the Blackberry? Of course. But we learned how to do it with cell phones, didn't we? Remember in the early 90's when everybody was either answering phones in obnoxious public places (movies, restaurants) or pissed at the people who did? We moved through it. The tools get refined and the social environment changes. Now that we all have cell phones, we no longer mind when someone glances at the screen and says, "Sorry... I have to take this. My wife is calling about my picking up the kids." We don't mind because it happens to us. It's part of our communications DNA now.

Give the Blackberry and its sister hardware another 5-10 years. Everyone will have some kind of instant email or IM capability on their phones. Everyone. When that happens, discreetly checking the screen during lulls in meetings or in the elevator won't be a big deal because we'll all do it.

Taking an IM or email when you're in an interview, performing on stage or during your annual review? Not smart. But smart decisions have less to do with the technology than with the user.

In conclusion... get used to it, Sharon. And, speaking on behalf of all inconsequential middle managers and lowly salarymen...

Bite me.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

New poem: The conversation

What art is choicer than the talk? A thousand thousand colors paint the clip snip nip nibble bubble pop of you and me while we bob for puns, slip flirt, nudge points, poke parody inside, joke, tumble, prop the social pole, the hidden pile of life's dark hole. Not grave, just deep. The eyebrow dance, smile, shrug, hands up, hands out, hands point, hands fist, sideways glance that says what's said is less or more than puffs of air. Bright lens flare of context. All about the angle of the phrase, the way you don't say what you don't need to say. The way I know that you don't say what you don't need to say. It's all been said, and will be said again in other ways, on cold, warm, broke, flush, distant, closer, tender, harsh, loose, bound, free, forgotten, glowing different days. We work at this. The vital whole built on whispered leaves of play. More coffee, please. More traffic noise. More brush of coats and cell phone buzz. More rain in slithered tracks on windows, circumscribed by others' colors, background noise does not distract but emphasize the drip of words we let slide down. Like stalagmites, conversation built of tiny microscopic stuff, dissolved in wet, wry words, grown statuary, monumental witness to our shared wonderful and verbose worlds. 

[note: when I pasted this in from the program I wrote it in, I lost the line breaks. and I kinda like it better this way, so I'm leaving it for now]

Friday, February 13, 2009

John Hodgman RIP: another hero bites the dust

On "The Daily Show" yesterday (or Wednesday; I TiVo it, so I don't recall), John Hodgman, the show's resident "expert" gave us his thoughts on how to cure the economy in a new segment called, "You're Welcome" (below):

Until viewing that segment, I would not have needed the scare-quotes around, "expert," when referring to Mr. Hodgman. I've read his excellent, "The Areas of My Expertise," and haven often looked to him for sound advice on aeronautics, animal husbandry and hobo wrangling.

Now, however, I believe that either; a) he is a complete fraud, or; b) a John Hodgman impersonator has drugged Mr. Hodgman, left him in a root cellar in Paramis, NJ, and taken his place on the world stage.

I do not know which is worse. Certainly, they're both equally awful for me. For him? Well, it would depend on the ammenities in the root cellar, I suppose.

Why this change? Why has this paragon of cerebral sophistication come a'tumblin' down like the walls of Jehrico?

"Canadian" Geese.

While explaining a very insightful and rational monetary system based on new currency printed with the visage of Chesley Sullenberger, Mr. Hodgman said: "For every 100 Sully Bucks you spend, a Canadian Goose is strangled."

This is in reference to the fact that the jet Chesley Sullenberger successfully landed on the Hudson was downed by... (wait for it) a flock of...

Canada geese.

Not "Canadian."

(shakes head)


John Hodgman... you are dead to me.