Organizing my life

It has been awhile since I have written on here. I have tried to keep up with the hectic pace of life. Yet the more I try to keep up with the everything, the more I realize how unorganized I am.

Right now next to me at my computer desk, I just have a pile of paper stacked on my multifunction printer. On the floor below is a stack of paper laying next to my shredder. Below the printer is yet another stack of paper. Below is a picture of this unorganized mess. Part of it is that I don’t really have anywhere to put my paperwork. The little stand that my printer sits on has a file cabinet drawer, but it is only one. Ideally, I need two. Plus, I desperately need to go through and clean out old paperwork.

Another part is my digital life. My wife and I share a MacBook for home use and I have an employer issued MacBook Pro for work purposes. Given how I am on the computer all day at work, the last thing I want to do is spend time at night figuring out what folder to put a file. Then sometimes I am too organized on my computer, with several layers of folders that can make me easily create unneeded folders since I can’t find the one I am looking for. I need to figure out a system that works and that I will not feel like is too much of a burden.

Getting an iPhone last year fixed my chronic problem of not remembering what is going on thanks to the calendar on it. Now when I have something I need to attend or need to check to see if I am available one day, it is just a couple of finger taps away. Revolutionized scheduling in my life, but I need to make better use of it. Many times my calendar looks empty, when I really can be doing something productive around the condo.

This gets to down where I jot down some ideas here and see if I can get working on them. Some I have experimented with over the past week with great results.

  • To-do List – I need one, I don’t understand why Apple hasn’t integrated it into the iPhone yet, but I found a possible solution. Thanks to Remember the Milk with its web site and iPhone app, it is showing lots of potential. The other day I accomplished a task that I had delayed for 6 months in 10 minutes! Today I took an old TV that we had meant to recycle to the dump, something that has sat in a corner for three weeks!
  • Shredding day – Tomorrow I plan on going on a shredding extravaganza, going through and ditching any unnecessary paperwork. I am also going to look for a filing cabinet that has room so I will actually use it.
  • Finances – I was doing well with this, but have slacked off a bit. I signed up for Mint.com, plan on redoing the budget, and figuring out how I can pay the $2800 left on the Subaru Forester car loan soon.
  • Computer Files – I need to go through my computer’s Documents folder and clear out old junk. The other day I found a letter to my old landlord from 2004 telling him we would be leaving the apartment in 1 month. I don’t know about you, but that is probably not needed anymore.

It is a few small steps, but hopefully one in the right direction.

My thoughts on Snow Leopard

Last night I spent about five hours doing a clean install of Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard, the latest and greatest Operating System from Apple. Going into it, I was hoping that this $29 (!) upgrade well help me get another year or so out of my Mac thanks to the reported speed improvements and refinements throughout the OS.

After those five hours last night, plus a couple this morning done some cleaning up, the verdict is in: I really like Snow Leopard. On the face of it, it does feel more like a Service Pack compared to even a minor OS release, but supposedly there is a lot of work done underneath the hood for developers to really hook into. Everything I have read suggests we won’t see the real power of this update until developers start targeting their apps for Snow Leopard directly.

What I like:

  • There is a definite speed increase, even on my first generation MacBook with the original 2.0 GHz Core Duo processor and 2 GB of RAM. Even though I am limited to 32-bit apps due to this processor, I definitely feel some very nice speed increases.
  • Looks like I freed up about 8GB of hard drive space. Nothing wrong with that!
  • Startup/shutdown is insanely fast. I can start the computer completely up in about 30 seconds. Shutdown seems like it takes 5 seconds at most.
  • The little refinements are very nice. Some little inconsistencies have been cleared up. It certainly feels like a completely mature OS now.
  • I really like using stacks to navigate within folders. Really clears up some clutter on the dock.
  • Mail seems a lot more solid and faster. To me, it is finally usable if you have lots of e-mail saved.
  • The new services menu really has potential. For the first time, I think I can actually make use of it.

Still playing around with it, but by all accounts, this is looking like a very nice upgrade.

Using an iPhone 3G with a 2009 Hyundai Elantra SE

Here are my notes on using an iPhone 3G with a 2009 Hyundai Elantra SE. This requires the purchase of a special iPod cable (part # 086202L000 according to my dealer’s invoice, for $29.99) that has the iPod dock connector on one end and a combination of the 3.5mm audio connector and USB connector on the other end. From what I can tell, there is no official support for the iPhone, so your mileage may vary greatly on whether this works or not.

Disclaimer: Your mileage may vary on whether this works or not. I have done VERY limited testing for approx 10 minutes in my car. I have not tested it on the original iPhone or the iPhone 3GS, only a 16GB white iPhone 3G. I do not know whether any or all of this applies to the iPod touch or other iPod models. Please do not contact me for support, your best bet is to contact Hyundai. I can only report my experiences.

Tested with an iPhone 3G, Hyundai iPod kit, and a 2009 Hyundai Elantra SE.

Before you start:

  • Pick up an Hyundai iPod adapter from your local Hyundai dealer’s parts store. I bought mine at Autofair in Manchester, NH for $29.99 (part #086202L000).
  • Just to save you trouble: no, you cannot use a 3.5mm male-male audio cable and iPod USB cable to copy the Hyundai iPod cable. The Hyundai cable most likely includes a special chip that lets the steering wheel controls and the stereo control the iPhone/iPod. Without that chip, the iPod USB cable is useless, you will get just audio from the 3.5mm cable, and no controls on the steering wheel or stereo outside of volume.
  • The Hyundai cable is not long at all, maybe a couple of inches. If you have an iPhone mount or another location you wish to put it, you either have to mount it real close to the iPod jack in the car (which is immediately behind the shifter) or see if an extension cable of some kind will work. There is a spot immediately in front of the iPod port where you can lay your iPod or iPhone.

The initial connection:

  • I am doing more testing, but it appears you must have the car turned on when you plug in the iPhone. If you do not have the car on and just run on battery power, the iPhone freaks out (keeps flashing between iPod connected and unconnected mode every second) and cannot connect to the stereo despite the stereo being on. I don’t know why the car has to be on first, but it does, trust me.
  • Make sure you unlock your iPhone first if you have the passcode feature enabled. I have had better and more consistent results this way.
  • When you plug in the iPhone, hit the No button on the Airplane mode option. Hitting Yes will disable the iPhone’s radios.
  • If all goes to plan, you should be able to play music now and control the iPod from the stereo.
  • I have usually found with car iPod interfaces that it is quicker and in most cases, easier to pre-select what you want to play on the iPhone itself then plug it in so that item plays instantly.

What works:

  • Steering wheel controls (volume and track forward/back) work flawlessly in my testing. Track changes are instant.
  • You are able to access Playlists, Artists, Songs, and Albums on the stereo.  Scrolling through the lists are pretty fast, as quick as you can turn the right knob really.
  • Folder and Cat buttons bring you to the main iPod menu on the stereo (listing the items above) or to the previous menu.
  • Press right knob to select something (such as a song, playlist, etc.). Turn knob to navigate down the list. There is no loading delay scrolling through the list, titles are loaded fast, although the more songs you have, the longer it takes to scroll from beginning to end of course. No way to jump sections of the list at a time.
  • Press the Random button to go into shuffle mode on that playlist. Repeat button does what it sounds, repeats the previous song.
  • Good amount of info displayed on stereo. Artist name, Song Name, track # on playlist, playback time. Easy to read when driving, no odd formatting that I have noticed.
  • Info button lets you cycle through artist, track, album, etc.
  • The iPhone 3G DOES charge! No need to worry about bluetooth and music killing the battery.
  • The iPhone’s Sound Check feature works with this interface, keeping all song volumes relatively close to the same. Big feature for those of us who hate changing the volume after every song.
  • NEED TO TEST: I have not answered a call yet via the Hyundai’s bluetooth add-on for the 2009 Elantra and do not know how the iPhone will handle transitioning between playing music, taking a call, and then going back to music.

What doesn’t work:

  • Audiobooks and Podcasts do not show up on the stereo’s main iPod menu, so you will either have to access them by song/artist or make a playlist containing them.
  • The fact it still goes makes the iPhone 3G go into airplane mode is disappointing. The iPhone has been out for over 2 years now, you would think the manufacturers of these connections could design their devices to not trigger this message.
  • I do not see any way to mute a song outside of pressing the power button on the stereo itself or manually turning down the volume. This goes for any stereo source in this car.
  • Like I said above: if you do not have the car on when you plug the phone in, you will most likely have issues.

As I stated above, this has been limited testing. The real test will come in real life conditions, when I am on the road and trying to use this (vs. 9pm at night sitting in my parking lot and pressing every button for about 10 minutes).

If you have more tips on using an iPhone or iPod with the 2009 Hyundai Elantra iPod kit, please feel free to leave a comment.

A new car: this wasn't part of the plan

I have always had the policy of taking a car and running it into the ground. It has served me well over the years, getting me through high school, college, and those first few years after graduation when every college graduate is poor. For the past 7 months, I had been driving a 1993 Saab 900S Convertible that my grandparents gave to me after my wife’s 1998 Dodge Neon became too expensive to repair. She took my 2002 Subaru Forester. The plan had always been that when the Subaru was paid off, we would try to save up as much as possible for a certified used car or a new car.

Well, it didn’t go to plan. The Saab was a fantastic car to drive, but as all 17-year-old cars, its original parts were slowly breaking one at a time. It felt like every month I was sinking in $200-300 in repairs into that thing. If I am going to do that, why not just get a new or newer car? It had even gotten to the point where we were not taking that car wherever we went. When you can’t drive a convertible in the summer, afraid it will break down, you know something isn’t right.

With our Subaru going to be paid off in October, our search began. Looking around hard for some deals, we weren’t very impressed with the quality of the used cars on the market. It seems like with the economy, everyone was looking for good deals on used cars, not new cars. I was not impressed with the used cars around us.

I began to look into new cars, just to leave no stone unturned. What I found startled me. My wife and I went to the dealer Friday night after work and after 4 hours, walked out with a new 2009 Hyundai Elantra SE.

Our 2009 Hyundai Elantra SE is an automatic, has ABS brakes, Electronic Stability and Traction Control, Bluetooth adapter, iPod interface, 5 year / 60,000 mile bumper-to-bumper warranty, and 10 years / 100,000 mile powertrain warranty for $16,500. Not to mention it can get upwards of 35-38 mpg on the highway. A compatible American car would run near $20,000 with a warranty that doesn’t come close. Even a Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla would come in around $20,000 with similar features.

Why a new car? A few reasons:

  • The difference between comparable used cars in price wasn’t enough to outweigh the added benefits of a new car (warranty, safety features, mileage, piece of mind). Our payments will go up about $100 a month compared to our Subaru Forester.
  • Given our low mileage commutes (mine is 3 miles one way, my wife’s is 6 miles one way), we can use the Elantra for all of our trips and still not rack up much mileage on it. Probably less than 8,000 miles a year total. Yet we would save a lot of money in gas (28mpg combined, but I was getting 36mpg on the highway yesterday!) compared to the Forester (21mpg combined) and our old  Saab (18mpg combined).
  • The killer Hyundai warranty was a huge selling point. Especially since the Subaru Forester is getting up there in miles and years, we did not have to worry about paying for repairs on two used cars. I can be running this 9 years from now, the transmission dies, and still get it replaced under warranty at no cost. And given our low mileage commutes, we would almost certainly fall under the year limits of the warranty, not the mileage limits.
  • The Subaru Forester is being paid off by October. With payments on the Hyundai Elantra starting in September, we will have one or two months worth of double payments. Plenty room in our budget to work with that.
  • I can’t talk to the insurance agent until Monday, but doing comparisons online with other insurance companies online suggest my insurance will actually go down with the new car compared to the Saab. I am guessing 17-years of safety and reliability improvements really outweigh the cost of a insuring a new car.

Anyways, we are loving the new car and think it was the right choice for our situation.

A tale of good support

I have been doing customer support in the IT field since I was 17-years-old and since I was 12 if you count family, relatives, and friends. I used to work for a company that is famous its customer support and I am currently working for a company that has the best customer support team in the DNS business. So it is fair to say I know a thing or two about customer support.

Today I had to take a trip down to the Apple Store in Salem, NH to have my wife’s and I’s iPhone’s fixed. In my case, I knew my iPhone would probably be replaced due to some hairline cracks by the silent switch, but my wife’s iPhone had an intermittent problem where the iPhone would claim headphones were plugged in even though they weren’t. Of course, the issue did not happen when I was at the Apple Store either.

I dealt with a nice genius who immediately took a look at both iPhones and without even duplicating the issue on my wife’s iPhone, replaced both immediately. Within 10 minutes my wife and I were walking out with brand new iPhones (3G version…didn’t want to press my luck asking for a 3GS). Other companies I have dealt with? They would almost certianly blame the silent switch cracks on me and would probably force me to come back when my wife’s iPhone was actually thinking it had a headphone plugged in. Yet this genius took care of everything instantly without questions, even without being able to duplicate one of the issues.

Hat tip to Apple. Clearly shows how their stores are winning the hearts and minds of my generation.

Reaction to today's Apple WWDC conference

My thoughts on the Apple announcements today at WWDC:

  • Macbook upgrades: makes complete sense to make the 13″ models full Pro models. Lower pricing always helps. Love the fact that you can get 8 GB of RAM in these babys now along with a backlit keyboard even in the 13″ model. 7 hour battery is going to be epic for many of us who do not use multiple batteries but suffer through 3-4 hour battery life. SD slot is one of those nice to haves. Whenever my 3+ year old original Macbook finally shows its age, it will be a very nice upgrade to one of these new computers.
  • OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard): I really like how both Apple and Microsoft are really taking a step back and optimizing/bug fixing with their next OS release. The aggressive upgrade pricing by Apple (just $29!) is one heck of a shot across Microsoft’s bow with Windows 7. It will be really tough to charge even $100 for that upgrade. The speed and hard drive footprint improvements are much needed and will be very nice to have. Could even get another year or two out my Macbook based on what I heard.
  • iPhone 3.0 OS: Looks like a great upgrade for a fantastic phone operating system. There are too many features to like on this to write about here, but I really like the idea of the integrated search and the better Safari performance. It is amazing how good this OS has become.
  • iPhone 3GS: The new iPhone hardware offering much better specs and a few really cool features (voice calling and video recording are my favorites). Not enough of a reason for me to upgrade now, but for those original iPhone 2G owners, it is a perfect and huge upgrade for them. I am going to hold out for next year’s iPhone, which hopefully will be available on Verizon’s network…

Overall, I am very pleased with how the announcements today went. Something for everyone.

Star Trek

Star Trek is a fantastic movie. I like how they were able to change the direction of the franchise. Well thought out, fantastic action, and funny at all of the right places. This is the movie that the new Star Wars movies should have been like.

What I don't get about Manny's suspension

Baseball fans everywhere today were probably either very shocked or saying “I told you so” at the reports that Manny Ramirez was suspended 50 games for a banned substance. There is one thing about this that I do not get:

The Los Angeles Dodgers star said he did not take steroids and was prescribed medication by a doctor that contained a banned substance. The commissioner’s office didn’t announce the specific violation by the 36-year-old outfielder, who apologized to the Dodgers and fans for “this whole situation.”

However, two sources told ESPN’s T.J. Quinn and Mark Fainaru-Wada that the drug used by Ramirez is HCG — human chorionic gonadotropin. HCG is a women’s fertility drug typically used by steroid users to restart their body’s natural testosterone production as they come off a steroid cycle. It is similar to Clomid, the drug Bonds, Giambi and others used as clients of BALCO.

“Recently, I saw a physician for a personal health issue. He gave me a medication, not a steroid, which he thought was OK to give me,” Ramirez said in a statement issued by the players’ union.

“Unfortunately, the medication was banned under our drug policy. Under the policy that mistake is now my responsibility. I have been advised not to say anything more for now. I do want to say one other thing; I’ve taken and passed about 15 drug tests over the past five seasons.”

If I were a baseball player these days, if my doctor gave me a prescription or supplement, or anything, I would get signed letter from Major League Baseball saying that this prescription or supplement is acceptable to use, or if it isn’t, some type of waiver in special circumstances.

I just cannot fathom why, if Manny’s story is true, that this had happen. It could have easily been avoided (assuming Manny was given this by a doctor) if it had been cleared by the people who could (and in this case, did) suspend him.