Tornado

Just in case any of you were wondering, I was not in the path of the tornado that went through eastern NH today. I was about 15-20 miles away from where it struck. We had some very bad storms today but I never thought a tornado would come here of all places.

Relatives I had in that area report getting out fine with no damage. Unfortunately several towns were not that lucky. Best wishes go out to all of the people who were in the tornado’s path.

The Great Technology Battle of 2008

A week ago today, I was ready to declare war on my e-mail, address book, and basically my electronic existence. My life is built around technology. It has been part of my existence as long as I remember. It is my career. Yet, it was slowly drowning me. How could I turn this around I thought? Technology is supposed to help, not supposed to drown you. If anyone can figure out how to harness technology, it should be me. I had to do something.

The signs were clear: I had to do something…

 

  • My inbox was overflowing. I had over 40 labels in my Gmail account (many redundant), hundreds of e-mails a day, and many unread e-mail’s. Most of this was due to three e-mail accounts worth of e-mail being forwarded into my main Gmail account, years of laziness in figuring out how to organize it, and no time to do it. Most of what I didn’t read was just filtered into a folder, to be occasionally deleted without me even looking through them.
  • I had three address books (my Mac’s address book, my POS cell phone address book, and Gmail’s), none that synced with each other and none that were close to 100% up-to-date. My Gmail address book was in the worst shape due to the horrific feature of Gmail adding every person I have ever e-mailed into it. My Mac one wasn’t much better…it still had the phone number for my grandmother that was 2 or 3 numbers ago.
  • My bookmarks are scattered everywhere, between three web browsers (Safari, Firefox, and Camino), none of which were in sync.
  • My calendar situation was ironically in the “best” shape, as I had a central calendar I kept everything on. Only issue is access as it was hanging on the wall of my apartment, not very good if you need to check it from work or a friend’s place. Anything I wanted to write on the calendar would either be scribbled on the back of scrap paper (hoping I remember to take it out of my pocket before washing the pants) or worse, committed to a memory that does not remember such details well.
  • I had too many gadgets. Just a few years ago, I had 3 cell phones (2 from work), an iPod, and 2 computers. I had since narrowed it down to an iPod, a cell phone, and a computer. I knew I could do better though.

 

What did I have going for me? An immense knowledge of technology, the desire to figure out how to do it, and the will to do it.

Here is my progress:

 

  1. It was time I joined the smartphone junkies. Since there is really only one smartphone that plays nice with Macs and really only one smartphone that could do what I had planned, it was time to get an iPhone 3G.
  2. The iPhone immediately retired an aging POS flip phone and a 2G iPod Nano. Two devices become one. My entire digital personal life is now down to two devices: an iPhone and my Macbook. When I left the apartment, I knew I had to carry my iPhone and my wallet. That is it. The fog began to clear my mind.
  3. Finally I could schedule my life on-demand. The calendar on my iPhone? Always up-to-date. I enter every event into the iPhone, even when I should work out at the gym (Monday, Wednesday, Friday at 12 PM in the gym at work, reoccurring event). Plug in my iPhone into the Macbook twice a day (morning when I wake up and evening when I get home), all changes instantly synced with iCal. No more guessing, no more pieces of paper to lose.
  4. One address book to rule them all. I hated paper address books. They were typically bulky and who carries a pen/pencil around 24/7? So I kept three ones scattered online, on the POS flip phone, and on my Mac. Now it is all organized into one: the iPhone, synced with the Address Book application on my Mac. Two hours of organizing, adding, updating, and deleting later…and my address book is finally up-to-date for the first time in memory. I even added some birthdays in there.
  5. The inbox battle was delayed several days, but arrived Thursday night. By Friday morning, I went from 40 labels in Gmail to 5 (possibly going to four once I figure out how to deal with one of them). All filters were deleted. Everything went to the inbox. Any e-mail lists that I didn’t delete? I completely unsubscribed from them, roughly 25 of them to be exact. My sword was swift and deadly (and still swinging even today). When I was done with an e-mail? Delete it or archive it one of my 4 or 5 folders.
  6. My iPhone and Mac are now setup to use IMAP with Gmail. Both devices are now synced 100% together.
  7. My separate e-mail accounts became truly separate again. Instead of lumping my personal e-mail with my web site e-mail and my CSFBL e-mail, it is all separate now, ready for me to deal with each of them respectively when I can. All setup with IMAP of course, on my iPhone and Mac.
My progress is staggering. My personal digital life has changed drastically in the past week. E-Mail’s are now being answered promptly, I am no longer stressed trying to keep everything accurate/synced, and I even feel much smarter now I am organized. My digital life is now contained in an iPhone and my Macbook. That’s it. What an improvement.
What is there left to do?
  • Switch to using Safari on my Mac. It pains me to do it (been a loyal user of Firefox since Phoenix 0.1). But my iPhone syncs with only Safari. Might as well keep everything consistent and simple.
  • Time to clean up the bookmarks. Delete old ones, organize them, and bookmark only what I truly need.
  • Clean up my RSS feeds. I need to figure out how to best do this. Google Reader is great, but I have 300-400 feeds I keep track of in there, many are redundant. I need to clean house on those. Google Reader on the iPhone works alright, but I hope it either comes out with a native application soon or someone does a better iPhone RSS reader.
  • Keep the iPhone apps I truly need. Given the release of the app store a week ago, my iPhone is quite the mess at the moment, with icons everywhere. Need to clean it up and keep only what I need to use.
  • Better time management. I can be much more productive with my time. I really need to get going on reading Getting Things Done.
It is a start, but a drastic step forward. More later on this.

iPhone feature request #1

I would like to make an iPhone feature request. Who knows if anyone at Apple will listen, but here goes nothing.

  • I have my home button setup to show the limited iPod controls (pause, previous track, next track, close, iPod) when pressing it twice. What a fantastic little hidden feature! It would be even better if you could rate songs on this screen, so you don’t have to wait for the full screen iPod application to load (thus closing whatever you have open).

I know I said I would not do it, so I did it.

I know a few weeks ago, I said that the iPhone plans were overpriced. Ok, that is putting it mildly…I flipped out. I also said I could not get one until December due to my Verizon Wireless contract.

Yet yesterday, my wife and i purchased two iPhones. Yes, you read this right, we bought two iPhones. What gives? That is about as close to a flip flop as you can get.

Alright, I have to go to my defense on this one. A few factors are at play here:

  1. My wife’s 2G iPod mini is on its last legs and showing signs of dying. That means shelling out at least $150 for a new iPod to replace it.
  2. My 2G iPod nano is starting to act flakey (freezing when trying to play a song for example), with firmware restores not helping.  That means shelling out another $150.
  3. We hated our cell phones with a passion. They were not due to be replaced until December though.
  4. I have issues at times remembering appointments, events, etc. that I agreed to attend. I really need my calendar with me. I hate paper calendars…I lose them all the time, forget to bring them with me, or just forget to use them.
  5. Some phone called the iPhone came out with a new model. You have may have heard about it.
  6. I worked out the budget to pull off using an iPhone family plan. Am I completely happy about it paying this much for a plan? No, but we determined it would be worth it.
So we had a choice. Spend +$300 on new iPods with a chance of buying iPhones in December, or pay $160 in ETF fees with Verizon and then pay for two new iPhones ($299 white 16GB models). In the end, we ended up about $140 in the positive if you assume we would have otherwise gotten new iPhones in December anyways. Why pay for new iPod’s when we were going to get new iPhones within 5 months anyways?
So my wife and I are now in the possession of two new 16GB iPhone 3G models. What is the verdict?
  • The touch screen takes some getting used to, but I am getting the hang of typing real quick and my wife seems to be doing well with it too. I can type with two thumbs pretty quickly now. I could see if someone sends 100+ e-mails a day from it where it maybe a problem, but even my decent e-mail needs seems quite doable.
  • The UI is absolutely gorgeous and easy-to-use. In fact, so easy-to-use that we occasionally say “that’s all you have to do?” when doing a particular task. Like being able to mark phone contacts as favorites and just press the home button twice to bring it up.
  • The App Store is amazing. There are already some great applications on there (I will write later about what I installed) and the potential is there for so many more. There are also some quite huge duds on there (the Mobile Banking application from Bank of America is beyond horrific).
  • AT&T coverage is really hit and miss in New Hampshire. I can already tell it maybe an issue. A positive is our home is fine coverage wise. We went out to the New Hampshire seacoast (our state’s lone 17 miles worth of ocean views) and the beach we settled in had maybe 0.25 bars if the breeze died down for a moment. So a day of catching up on reading blogs on the beach was thrown out of the window. On the way home, we stopped by a place for some ice cream and where there used to be coverage in our Verizon days is a big black hole now.
  • Speaking of AT&T coverage, there is no 3G coverage in New Hampshire, so that means we have to deal with EDGE unless we find a Wi-Fi access point. EDGE is slow but usable in my belief. Rumor has it is that the Manchester, NH area will get 3G in the Fall, so hopefully that comes true. In the meantime, I look forward to going to Boston soon so I can try 3G on the phone.
  • I have subscribed to several video podcasts now. They are going to be great to watch during my lunch breaks.
  • The iPhone will use my iPod connector in my car, but suggests I use airplane mode. I can say no and it works, the only thing is my stereo system in the car could receive interference from the iPhone. A quick test shows that it seems to work fine. A good test will be my commute tomorrow.
  • Best feature on the iPod application: the ability to easily turn on shuffle when in a playlist. Why this was never added to the regular iPods is beyond me.
  • Google Maps with GPS on the iPhone rocks. We used it both on the way to the beach and on the way back to look up locations of everything from ice cream shops to grocery stores.
  • Organizing my contacts and calendar on the iPhone? Priceless. Already worth the price of the iPhone.
Anyways, that is a good initial review of my thoughts on the iPhone. It is by far the best phone I have used. It has some minor quirks and I know AT&T is going to be tough to deal with for two years, but it was worth the price and effort to switch over.

Backups with Time Capsule

Backups are always a touchy subject. I can’t remember how many times I have listened to a frantic phone call, with a person on the other end near the point of the tears…all over the fact their photos from <insert trip> were on what is now a dead hard drive. The first thing I ask is do they have a backup. 99% of the time, the answer is a flat out no. The excuses are wide ranging. Some people just never bought an external hard drive or took a few hours to burn 5 DVD’s worth of data. Others have the external hard drive, but remember to plug it in maybe twice a year. Still others manage to backup often, but forget to take a copy offsite prior to a major fire.

Apple’s Time Capsule and Microsoft’s Windows Home Server are finally filling part of a huge void that has been there since the beginning of the personal computer age. Both allow you to setup automated backups so you don’t have to manually start them. Basically, set it up once and let them do the rest. However, both take wildly different routes to reach this outcome.

Microsoft went the route of saying ever home needs its own server. Microsoft’s solution goes all out, offering everything from backups to remote access of data to even remotely controlling your computer. It is as if it was a true server in some company data center. The trouble of course is not everyone needs all of this, most people would be quite content with a simple device that does backups. You have to power what is essentially a desktop computer or even a server depending on how powerful the machine is. What if you turn off the server and forget to turn it back on? No more backups. Plus there is higher electric bills, higher complexity, more chances for things to go wrong. Oh yeah, a high price tag too. However, you gain a very powerful server, that offers amazing features and capabilities. It sounds like a must buy for any Windows power user. For your casual Windows user though? I believe it is way overkill. I don’t picture my grandparents buying one of these.

Apple went their classic route of simplier = better. Inside a small square box that isn’t even an inch tall, you have an internal hard drive and your wireless router. Just one device to power (there isn’t even an external power brick, just a simple power cord), no separate server. If it is off, you will know it, since the Internet won’t work as well. As long as your Mac’s are online and configured to backup to it, every hour Time Machine will silently backup the latest changes to the Time Capsule. If you ever need to restore something, a simple launch of Time Machine will let you browse around to the exact date and file you want to restore. Setting up Time Capsule was very simple. A few clicks and everything was working.

Time Capsule is perfect for your typical home user who needs backups without any hassle. I highly recommend it, despite myself being a classic power user. I just want backups to work, without intervention from me. The initial backup took awhile (I highly recommend using ethernet for the first backup), but the hourly backups work fine, even with a Mac that uses Wireless-G. A little slow, but it still works. That is all we care about, right?

Now the only backups I need to worry about is bringing an occassional one off-site to guard against fire or theft.

Baseball trade rumors masters

This is a plug and a worthy one at that. If you have any interest in baseball, subscribe to the RSS feed for the fantastic MLBTradeRumors.com blog. These guys are the masters of tracking down every rumor of any remotely possible trade in Major League Baseball, even at the minor league level. They seriously must watch every paper in the USA. They have been right on top of the C.C. Sabathia rumors since day one and are even providing multiple updates the past few hours as the trade nears completion.

Bye bye WRT54G, hello Time Capsule

My old Linksys WRT54G router, which survived 24/7 operation for over 4 years, numerous firmware upgrades using open source firmwares, and sometimes room temperatures probably in the 90 degree mark has finally died. I noticed this afternoon my wireless signal all the sudden got really flakey and then just flat out stopped. Numerous reboots and resetting of the firmware did nothing to fix it. Probably some cheap soldering job finally gave way.

This provided the perfect opportunity for me to purchase a 500GB Time Capsule from Apple. The product has intrigued me since it was released several months ago and I have occasionally considered about purchasing one. Having a laptop, it is a real struggle to get reliable and frequent backups given that I have to remember to plug in an external hard drive every time. Backups sometimes will happen with weeks between them.

I have been playing with fire far too long. Now with a Time Capsule, backups hopefully will be reliable and frequent. Setup was painless, I plugged in an ethernet cable to get the fastest initial backup possible, and now it is backing up everything on the laptop (~66.5 GB).

I took the opportunity to move my wireless router and cable modem back into the living room, where it is usually cooler during the day when the air conditioner is on. I am re-arranging the room a little bit to have a better office area. Should work great.

I will post further thoughts and reviews as I have time to use this Time Capsule.