Crazy Phone Tricks For Stef

She doesn’t want to lose touch with her friends by changing the number. At the same time she wants people in California to know she lives there–especially potential employers.

Stef lives in Southern California, specifically the San Fernando Valley aka 818. Her 203 cellphone is still associated with life in Connecticut. It’s the number all her friends have.

She has a problem!

She doesn’t want to lose touch with her friends by changing the number. At the same time she wants people in California to know she lives there–especially potential employers.

There is a solution that’s free and (of course) it’s from Google!

She’ll be getting a Google Voice account. There are lots of ways to use it, but for Stef it will be a virtual phone number. Dial either her Connecticut or California numbers to ring her cell phone. Google Voice can be programmed to ring other phones too, but this is a start.

The number comes with free texting and nearly understandable written transcription of voicemails. Of all the things Google does transcribing voicemail is the thing it does worst!

As always I have no idea what the business model is or how Google plans on making money from this service. It’s just there.

All Stef has to do now is pick an area code (she can choose any in SoCal or nationwide) and select a number.

It seems too good to be true. It’s not.

Google Voice And Me

Now Grand Central is Google Voice. It’s part of Google’s master plan to own everything informational. The plan is going well.

I have had a Grand Central account since they became available. I hardly used it, but didn’t want to miss out. I’m part of the reason Connecticut might soon need additional area codes since I received another phone number. Please don’t think of me when you have to ten digit dial.

Now Grand Central is Google Voice. It’s part of Google’s master plan to own everything informational. The plan is going well.

Google Voice has all sorts of cool features I’d like to take advantage. First though I’ve got to figure out how to use Google Voice for my at&t cell phone. Is it possible? I don’t know.

Do you?

Thanks Jim

She tried to offer Jim a tip, but he said it wasn’t allowed. Helaine said he was polite and helpful and… like I said, he’s guardian angel material.

Helaine and Stef are on their way to a concert tonight. They headed out early. Helaine always likes to leave plenty of time. Today it was warranted.

While cruising on I-95’s Baldwin Bridge over the Connecticut River, they heard a thud. Then they saw a piece of tire. A dashboard light was on a few seconds later. Her tire had gone flat&#185.

We have AAA. She has a cell phone. A call was made.

It’s never fun to change a tire, though that was never a concern. I’m pretty sure Helaine has never done changed one and never will. On top of that, it’s raining.

So, there they are, sitting in the car waiting for AAA, when up pulled Jim.

Who is Jim? Today he is Helaine’s guardian angel.

Jim works for the I-95 Safety Patrol. Paid for by the DOT, the patrol cruises I-95 in his yellow van, offering free assistance to stranded motorists.

As Jim found the spare tire and began to change the flat, Helaine called AAA to tell them “never mind.” A few minutes later it was mission accomplished and the girls were on their way.

Helaine tried to offer Jim a tip, but he said it wasn’t allowed. She said he was polite and helpful and… like I said, he’s guardian angel material. We are grateful.

If you’re wondering if Jim’s performance had anything to do with my TV-boy status, the answer is no. There was no way for him to know and Helaine never offered it up, though he might know now, because I gave him a shout-out on the news.

On behalf of the Fox Family, my thanks for Jim and to all the other Jims out there. You know who you are.

In a perfect world, they’d allow you to accept tips..

&#185 – Originally, Helaine said it was a blowout, which to me means a physical breakdown where the tire comes apart. I’m not sure that’s actually the case right now.

On The Road With Harold And Betty

“We stopped at a Taco Bell,” she said, proclaiming the highlight of the day so far. She had never been to one before! Then, she and my dad giggled.

I turned on my cell phone this afternoon and found a message from my mom – on the bus, on her way to Branson.

“We stopped at a Taco Bell,” she said, proclaiming the highlight of the day so far. She had never been to one before! Then, she and my dad giggled.

Yes, that’s sweet.

Helaine just called to tell me my mom had called her this afternoon. They are at their hotel in Branson.

It seems, because my mom is the ‘leader’ of this group, she and my dad have been assigned a suite! My guess is, that’s something my parents will keep quiet about… at least while they’re there.

In many ways, the social scene for retirees is like the social scene for high school girls.

No Bars At Home

AT&T is not alone in causing this kind of angst to a good customer. They have totally removed those who know what’s going on from those asking the questions. In essence, they’ve put their thinking staff behind a firewall. That’s what banks and airlines and all sorts of what were once called ‘service businesses,’ now do.

cell-screen.jpgNot one of my finest photos on the left. Just a little something I took a few minutes ago. It’s my cell phone explaining to me there’s no longer cell service where I live! It says “Emergency Service” because that’s now the only call I can make… if there’s even enough signal for that (It’s not the kind of thing you idly check).

OK – that’s an exaggeration. If you stand in just the right spot, a marginal signal is sometimes available. It’s not a total loss, but pretty close.

Look for yourself. With no strength bars showing, the signal indicator now resembles a screw head – as in… well, draw your own conclusion.

This all began Friday afternoon. My phone rang at work. It was Helaine. She was calling the station’s phone and she was using our POTS&#185. Usually she calls my cell from her cell.

“No cell service,” she said.

It’s electronic. It’s complex. I understand.

When I got home from work, I had no service. Stef was in the same boat.

Friday turned to Saturday, then Saturday to Sunday. Friends came to play poker and those with phones from AT&T found they had no service either.

Today, on my way to work, I called AT&T. Of course their rep saw no reason for my trouble, though the woman on the phone said she’d check for possible ‘service downgrades.’ There are two scary words for someone with the majority of a two year contract in front of him.

Do they honor payment downgrades?

I e-mailed Robert, the guy who sold me my phone, and who seemed pretty technically proficient. He is now asking for assistance on my behalf.

AT&T is not alone in causing this kind of angst to a good customer. They have totally removed those who know what’s going on from those asking the questions. In essence, they’ve put their thinking staff behind a firewall. That’s what banks and airlines and all sorts of what were once called ‘service businesses,’ now do.

So, I’m waiting. I’m sitting on my hands hoping there’s really no need for my cellphone at home. Unfortunately, it has become my number of choice when people ask how they can reach me.

I’m not sure there’s anything I can do.

&#185 – POTS = plain old telephone service.

Gate 5 LAX

Everything went smoothly. I wasn’t totally sure that would be the case.

As usual, I misplaced something (my Bluetooth earpiece) and had to search before I could leave. Even so, I waved to Cousin Michael (Melissa and Max having long since left) and headed out around my planned 9:00 AM departure.

The GPS was programmed with the out-of-the-way address for Deluxe Car Rental. This was an address that hadn’t been added before the trip and it took a minute or two to enter. Once again, it was like having a co-pilot.

I headed up the San Diego Freeway passing Irvine and Anaheim. A lot of people in those brand new, shiny office towers must be sweating it out today. This is ground zero for the subprime mortgage meltdown. Countrywide, in Calabassas went down earlier today.

Around 30 miles from LAX I hit my first traffic jam. From 65 mph, I slowed to a crawl. I then continued to crawl for the next 45 minutes! Suddenly the traffic was gone. I was moving again at the speed limit.

What was causing the tie-up? Nothing I could see. This is typical of Southern California.

At the airport, a medium sized crowd was waiting to check in and go through security. The Southwest agent who gave me my baggage claim check couldn’t have been nicer. All smiles!

Then I climbed a flight of stairs to the TSA’s special portion of hell. With all my electronics, I used three bins. I probably could have used four.

As I was standing in line, listening to Luna on the other side of the magnetometer yelling at us to remember our boarding passes, I realized what this whole process reminded me of: prison!

Thanks to MSNBC’s “Extended Stay” prison docs, I realize security at the airport is similar to what prisoners go through when they’re brought into the slammer. Who knew a documentary could be so practically useful?

I found some food to bring on the plane and Starbucks has brewed my first cup of coffee. Now I’m sitting in the waiting area, plugged into half the freely available power outlets I can find. My cell phone (connecting at old school slow speed and not 3G) is my link to the web.

Helaine says it’s quite foggy in Connecticut. Hopefully that will be gone by the time I land in Connecticut late tonight.

Almost Gone

I’m pretty much done packing. The plane leaves at noon.

I hope Stef doesn’t read this. I’m starting to pack like her. No, not clothes, but my stuff weighs more.

For Clicky, I’ve got the tripod and monopod, five lenses and a flash unit. Oh – there’s the Gorilla Pod too. I normally carry three batteries and charger plus 3.5 Gb in compact flash memory cards.

I’ve got a computer and cell phone plus cables for both. Ditto with a GPS unit. And, on top of that, there are the army of power plugs and power bugs.

Stef passed her old iPod down to me. I’ve downloaded enough podcasts to fly to Burma. The iPod travels with earbuds and a cable. Though pink, it is now hidden in a black rubber skin, lest anyone question my masculinity.

This is nuts. All this stuff. Even I can see that, but I’m obsessed. It’s an illness.

The weather has been horrendous out west. San Francisco had 60+ mph gusts on Friday. The system is moving down the coast, though it’s weakening. I expect the pilot will be forced to wrestle the plane to the ground as we land at LAX.

We will chase the Sun, flying west at about 500 mph. It’s a losing battle. The Sun’s faster and won’t be stopping at Midway.

Even with three time zones, the clock will read 4:30 PM when we put down.

My plane flies from Hartford to Los Angeles with that stop in Chicago. Somehow, I’ve gotten it in my head to post a blog entry from my airplane seat as the plane briefly empties while we are on the ground in Chicago. My cellphone will act as the modem, bringing the Internet to my laptop.

Now I’m worried I’ve forgotten something.

Google Does It Again… Though Not For Me

What a tease! Google has brought out some cool, new technology and it doesn’t work for me!

Here’s what I’m talking about.

Google has replicated many of its full sized web applications for the tiny screens on ‘smart’ cellphones. One of the coolest ported applications is Google Maps. I’ve actually used this more than once.

It’s just as full featured as the Google maps you see on line – just smaller. As you scroll the map, new panels are downloaded off the Internet. It’s ingenious. And, just like Google Maps online, you can have it route a trip.

It’s possible to ‘mate’ this app with a Bluetooth GPS receiver (and wouldn’t I be King Nerd to do that) and have it position the maps and move them across your screen, keeping pace as you drive. I’ve seen some of these pocket sized GPS receivers advertised for under $30.

Of course that’s not enough for Google! They’ve taken it one step further. They’ve figured out a way to have this map program find its way without a GPS receiver. Neat trick.

Since the maps are running in a cell phone, Google looks at which cell towers are being received, figures out where they are and triangulates!

It’s not as accurate as satellite based GPS, but it’s not too bad. You can be located within a few blocks. With the maps on your screen, a few blocks is close enough… or it should be.

As I said, there’s an unfortunate problem. It doesn’t work with my phone!

I’m not 100% sure, but I think it’s because my Samsung Blackjack uses a strange version of Java which is problematic in many cases. It’s a ‘me’ problem, not a Google problem.

Is there a workaround? Probably. I’ll be looking for it.

Meanwhile, I’m impressed by Google… and more than a little bit envious.

Mall Madness

I offered to accompany Helaine and Stef to the mall this afternoon. Here’s the deal – the mall is not for guys… at least not for guys like me.

As far as I could see, at our first stop (West Farms) there was only one store I wanted to spend any time in, the bookstore. Even then, the once sprawling computer section is now a single rack. So sad.

I popped in all the cell phone stores. Glad I didn’t wait for the Motorola Q9H. It’s too big.

I played around sending live video to my friend/fellow geek Harold and took lots of cellphone photos.

I only ran into one person I knew. It was Chuck, an engineer from the TV station. Chuck, his wife and stepdaughter were there with seven grandchildren. Seven… at the mall. Chuck deserves sainthood!

Oh – all seven were blond!

I’m not sure what Helaine and Stef do at the mall, but it obviously holds more attraction for them than me.

It was nice seeing the decorations and people with a mission. It was fun watching Chuck’s grandkids sit down for a photo with Santa.

If it wasn’t for the cold, I’d really enjoy the holiday season.


In Search Of The Use

I just opened a free account with ComVu’s PocketCaster:

With your individual account, you get PocketCaster software for your phone, a Personal Webcast Page to host videos for your viewers, live video broadcasting capability, online video storage, and many options for automatically sharing your video.

In other words, I can broadcast video live (with a delay) directly from my cell phone to any Internet equipped computer worldwide.

I suppose this shouldn’t be a surprise. I already upload every piece of video I shout with my cellphone directly to YouTube (in a private, not public, directory) using simple and free software from Shozu.

Where this is different is, if you’re looking at the right web page and I start ‘broadcasting’, you’re going to see it right then and there. It doesn’t make any difference where I am or what’s going on. At the ballgame, at a concert, overloooking the nuclear sub base- it makes no difference. You see it (reasonably close to) live.

The quality isn’t all that great. What I see, coming through at&t’s G3 data network, is pixelated and choppy. However, if it’s a situation where content trumps technical quality, this is perfect.

With this software up and running, I realize more than ever my Samsung Blackjack wasn’t designed to be a video camera! It’s a cellphone with a camera added on as an afterthought. Why else would the screen go blank (as all cell screens do after a while) while I’m shooting video?

For TV stations, this definitely unlocks the ability to have cheap and dirty live coverage for minimal cost. Luckily, the poor quality will keep this from being overused, except where the story itself is compelling.

Anyway, I’ll keep playing with it and let you know if I figure anything out… like how this company plans on making money.

The Excitement Of Android

I read a lot last week about Google’s new mobile phone initiative – Android. It’s not an actual phone, that much is perfectly clear. Instead, phones will be built on Android.

Android is a software stack for mobile devices that includes an operating system, middleware and key applications.

My current Samsung Blackjack runs on Windows Mobile 5. Android would perform that same function. There are many similar, though different, phones using WM5. I expect the same thing with Android.

Does the world need another mobile platform? Maybe not. But what makes Android so exciting and different is, it’s open source. That puts it in the same category as Linux, MySQL and Apache&#185.

In a video (see below), Google co-founder Sergey Brin makes it perfectly clear he wants Android to be supported by the same type of free software tools he used to get Google going! This time, in his role as super rich guy, he gets to be the one who pays to have them developed, then set free.

To that end, the Android SDK (Software Developers Kit) is open and free. The SDK is the tool with which Android applications will be developed. SDKs for platforms are pretty commonplace. Having them be open and free is not.

Finally, Google has offered a $10,000,000 bounty for Android software developers. That might not be enough to excite Microsoft or Motorola, but it will spark many propeller head geeks into action. That’s big money if you can write a killer app all by yourself, or in a small partnership.

This open source phone talk can’t be pleasing my cell carrier, at&t, or any of the other incumbent carriers. Their business model is predicated on control of both the network and the hardware you buy. Right now, they decide what you phone can do, not you.

Understand, this isn’t a perfect solution. Free and open software can lead to ‘crashed’ cellphones, with no one to take responsibility. Still, it’s a very exciting concept.

My limited time with the Blackjack has shown me the potential in the mobile platform. We’re barely out of the stone age. My hope is, Android takes it to the next step.

For someone like me, who still fancies himself a bit of a hacker, it’s pretty exciting. There’s a lot of upside potential here. This is actually better than if Google had just gone ahead and announced a phone!

&#185 – Even if Linux, MySQL and Apache mean nothing to you, understand that much of the Internet would stop running immediately without them! That includes Google, EBay, and a gaziilion other sites… including geofffox.com


Of Plugged In Phones And Area Codes

I spent most of last night moving phone numbers between my old Motorola RAZR and the my new Samsung Blackjack and between Helaine’s old phone and her new Motorola RAZR.

You’ve probably heard that your contacts can be electronically moved from phone-to-phone. Sure, but only in theory. In the real world it was pencil and paper and hundreds of characters on tiny keys. I have around 120 entries in my ‘book,’ many with multiple numbers.

About halfway through, all I could think of was, “You’ll never be able to move that thumb again.” I’m assuming emergency rooms are filled with new smartphone owners who get carried away. It’s easy to overdo it.

I learned a few things while entering all those numbers and letters. I have three entries for people named Harold, but only two Johns (plus a Jon). I have more cell numbers entered than home or business numbers. I also have lots of entries where someone’s area code no longer matches their actual physical location.

We’ve reached the end of the line for plugged in phones – what is referred to in the telco biz as POTS, for plain old telephone service. I can’t imagine why Stef, for instance, will ever have one.

The concept of area code is dissolving as well. Why change your number when you move? That meant something back when long distance was costly. Now, in this cellphone world, long distance calling is often included at no additional charge. Even when you’re paying, it’s only pennies.

It also means 212 isn’t necessarily going to New York City.

It used to be, a phone number couldn’t have a 0 or 1 as the second digit. No more. The same goes for 0 or 1 as the middle digit in area codes, which were once required. 561 should not be an area code!

How long has it been? It still looks wrong to me every time. Even my cellphone number, beginning with 710, just looks wrong.

I am lost without the phone book in my cell phone. My mom still has a worn address book she’s used for years. Extra pieces of paper have been shoved in where the allocated space for individual letters has been filled. Mine’s electronic with less finite restrictions!

If you die, you live on forever in my mom’s book. Not so when you’re digital bits being carried in my pocket.

For years, the most powerful and organized people were known by the Rolodex they kept. Past tense on that too.

All of this effort with the new phone was to prepare it for the trip we take early tomorrow morning. It’s ready. I am too.

Our plane leaves at 7:00 AM. Most likely, my next post will be from somewhere in the Desert Southwest. They’d damn well better have cell service!

The New Phone

I’ve got a new phone. Helaine’s got a new phone. Stef’s got a phone, but it’s currently on a UPS truck somewhere between here and college.

I’m not sure this was the most difficult decision I’ve ever made, but it was pretty close. That’s ridiculous, because a cell phone decision should be easy… or at the very least, easier. I think the cell phone companies make sure it’s as difficult as possible to compare plans.

They’re willing to compete. They just don’t want to compete on price.

Yes, my new phone is a toy, but I wanted a PDA type phone. You know the type. It’s got a full QWERTY keyboard and 320×240 pixel screen. I have no business reason for getting one. I still wanted it.

Originally, I had my heart set on a Motorola Q9, a sharp new phone. It was supposed to be out in August, then September, then…. well, it’s not out yet. In the meantime, my Motorola RAZR died (though it has since mysteriously come back to life), rushing the process along.

I finally decided on a Samsung Blackjack. It’s bigger than today’s standard cellphones, but it still fits in my shirt pocket. It is a phone, camera, camcorder, audio recorder, computer. It’s probably got more going for it that I haven’t figure out yet.

More on the phone in a minute. First, the process of getting it.

As it stands now, there’s no way to buy a cell phone and know you’ve gotten the best deal. Seriously. I wanted to stick with AT&T, but they have different prices on the Internet, in their retail stores and from their independent online dealers. And, of course, few of those prices are obtainable.

One online retailer showed my Blackjack earning me $60, on a new contract. Yup, buy a phone and get $60 back.

Hey, that’s for me. My old AT&T contract expired in August. But when I called to get the price, I was told it wasn’t for me.

As a good AT&T customer, I wasn’t eligible for their best price. That was only for switchers. The price for me would be $250 more per phone! I will maintain a bad taste from that for a while and though it was the independent telling me… I’ll blame AT&T, the enabler.

On top of that, AT&T sells the exact same Internet access for a variety of prices. If you’ve got an iPhone, you really get jobbed. There’s also a different price for Blackberries, phones like my Blackjack and standard phones, like my old RAZR.

It’s all the same access. It’s all unlimited access. They’re just differently priced.

A blog reading friend, Pat (who once worked selling cell phones), was incredibly helpful, setting me up with Rob at the AT&T store in Meriden. Rob did what he could, but it still cost me $160 more per phone than that online teaser ad led me to believe.

Rob was the calming influence in all of this. Of all the people I dealt with, he’s the only one who could say the sky was blue without me being tempted to look up and make sure.

This is one very cool phone – though being a phone is only a small part of what it does. I’ve already been online, downloading programs to better web surf, deal with email and upload photos and video.

The video and still image quality is surprisingly good, considering the tiny lens. It’s not going to unseat “Clicky,” but I will be using this functionality. In fact, on our upcoming vacation, I’m planning on doing a little vlogging from the Blackjack.

The phone connects to the Internet on AT&T’s high speed 3G network (available here at work, but not at home). It’s still not like real broadband, but it’s not too bad. Of course the relatively small screen is not well suited for web browsing.

If you’ve never used one of these, you’ve probably looked and said, “those keys are awfully small.” They are. Still, I haven’t had any trouble with the keys. Where my big fingers do cause trouble is with the center navigation switch. For me, it’s very difficult to press it, without pressing what’s next to it.

Some of my trouble is caused by being left handed. There’s a navigation wheel located perfectly for right handed people, but not me. I will learn to use it with time, as lefties learn to use right handed computer mice.

It didn’t take more than a few minutes to start to realize the power this phone possesses. I understand even more why the phone companies are fighting network neutrality. This phone allows you to bypass the cell carriers on many things they want to sell.

For instance, there’s a service sold by some carriers for around $10 a month. It turns your phone into a pretty cool GPS receiver with live traffic reports. Google gives that functionality away for free! It’s tough to sell against free. As far as I can tell, I’m about $40 away from using Google and my phone as a GPS receiver.

I’m curious to hear Stef’s impressions when after she unpacks her phone. I hope she’s as pleased as I am… and I’ve only scratched the surface.