My Opinion Has Changed


A week or so ago I smiled mischievously as the hack against Sony was revealed. After a little more thought my opinion has changed. And, I guess I should add, I understand what happens when private emails go public.

For totally blameless Sony employees this has been a public undressing. Every detail of their personal life that crossed their work computer was laid bare.

Every number associated with their existence will have to be changed!

That’s a very 21st Century concept most of us don’t understand. Once something is in Google, forget it being forgotten!

Some of the Sony emails are brutal, but not unexpected. We all do a little of that with our friends (though probably not the Obama stuff–definitely not).

There’s no way Amy Pascal can survive. Amy: I said the same thing about Roger Goodell.

Sony’s lawyers are trying to quash the publication of any new details. God bless them if that works. Experience says it’s a fool’s errand.

On Net Neutrality

It seems like the fix is in. Tom Wheeler, the FCC chairman was the cable TV industry’s chief lobbyist! He spent too many years selling their points of view to not be biased.

Internet-Service-ProvidersThe whole concept of the Internet is amazingly cool. Each piece of the Internet exists independently from the others. Data packets route themselves to go from computer-to-computer. If part of the Internet crashes the system automatically works around the problem.

There are potential bottlenecks where Internet service providers (ISPs) connect to the Internet’s backbone. Until recently more traffic meant the ISPs would install more equipment, in essence laying broader pipes. Now that’s changed.

Comcast, as an example, has extracted money from Netflix. Otherwise Netflix videos would would be slowed by congestion, becoming unwatchable for Comcast subscribers.

John Oliver did a much better job explaining this than I can. This video is full of NSFW language. Beware.

I had to look up my congressman to write him… twice.

Recently I sent a comment to Congressman Campbell concerning FCC proceeding 14-28, Protecting and Promoting the Open Internet. I am disappointed to have not received any reply from Congressman Campbell’s office–not even confirmation you received my email. I certainly want to know Congressman Campbell’s position.

I am adamantly opposed to any rule change which will allow ISPs to ‘double dip’ by creating fast and slow lanes and charge businesses for access I already pay for.

Geoff Fox

It seems like the fix is in. Tom Wheeler, the FCC chairman (and of whom I wrote in 2007) was the cable TV industry’s chief lobbyist! He spent too many years selling their points of view to not be biased.

Maybe if the stink is big enough actual citizens can stop this travesty from taking place. That would be refreshing.

Ballmer? Really?

The NBA gets another schmuck as an owner. I see Ballmer behind Microsoft’s failure to innovate over the past few years. Even worse, I see his mean spirited imprint on most everything Microsoft has done.

Steve BallmerIt looks like the Clippers will go quickly. Published reports says Steve Ballmer, who recently left as CEO of Microsoft after seeing the writing on the wall, will pay $2,000,000,000. That’s an impressive number. Now I understand why Windows costs so much.

Donald Sterling, disgraced current owner, gets to laugh all the way to the bank. The value of his team seems to have doubled over the past few weeks. He can buy new friends.

The NBA gets another schmuck as an owner. I see Ballmer behind Microsoft’s failure to innovate over the past few years. Even worse, his mean spirited imprint is on most everything Microsoft has done recently.

But let me allow Steve to speak for himself. On the iPhone:

“There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance.”

Of Google’s Eric Schmidt:

“F**king Eric Schmidt is a f**king pussy. I’m going to f**king bury that guy, I have done it before, and I will do it again. I’m going to f**king kill Google.”

On Apple’s Macbooks:

“Apple gained about one point, but now I think the tide has really turned back the other direction.”

And, on business in general:

“That doesn’t mean nobody else ever thought about it, but ‘How do you make money?’ was what I got hired to do. I’ve always thought that way.”

After a friend posted this sale on Twitter, I replied, “Until Sterling, he was my most despised CEO.”

Good luck to all of us.

What’s Left Unsaid With MH370

Malaysia_Airlines_Boeing_777-2H6ER;_9M-MRG@ZRH;07.08.1998_(4794758296)Today’s news concerning Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 is sad, but expected. The plane’s course and probable last location have been narrowed further by Inmarsat and the British equivalent of the NTSB using “groundbreaking maths.” This means the passengers are dead and the plane might someday be found in the vast expanse of the Southern Indian Ocean.

Like I said, sad but expected.

However, there is a new tantalizing thread being dangled today. The Guardian quotes Chris McLaughlin, an Inmarsat senior vice president.

Ships have to log in every six hours; with aircraft travelling at 500 knots they would have to log in every 15 minutes. That could be done tomorrow but the mandate is not there globally.”

The operative word is, “tomorrow.” McLaughlin seems to be verifying a piece of this puzzle I suspected right away.

Let’s say you buy a new car. Today, most come with a satellite radio. If you don’t pay for a subscription the satellite radio won’t work.

I think it’s similar with this Malaysian Airlines 777. It came equipped with terrestrial (ground based) and satellite ACARS. Malaysian Airlines didn’t buy the satellite ACARS package.

Once an hour the plane would tell Inmarsat, “Hey, I’ve got data.” Inmarsat would answer back, “You’re not a subscriber,” and the conversation would end. It was logged and noted, but assumed to be worthless.

This is why in the first days of this tragedy when satellite reception of MH 370’s signal was mentioned Malaysian officials seemed surprised. They had no idea this unused, unpurchased functionality was even in the plane.

If I understand correctly, what McLaughlin’s saying is, why isn’t this data link required to be active as a matter of course? Even if only GPS coordinates were sent it would mean a lot.

There are a few ‘big rig’ pilots who read my blog. I hope you’ll take a moment to correct me where I’m wrong.

Meanwhile, will this data spigot be turned on tomorrow for planes still flying? I hope so. I fear not.

The Cellphone’s Mortal Enemy: Lint!

Errand Day in Irvine! My chance to score daddy points with Stef. I took her car for a smog test, oil change and wiper blades.

My phone beeped twice as I took it from its charging stand. “8%,” a large notice on the screen read. This was a problem.

stef's-car-on--a-liftBy the time Stef’s car was on the lift the phone had died entirely!

I plugged it in. Nothing.

What about a cellphone free weekend. I could handle that, right?

Who am I kidding?

My phone is an HTC One. I’d get one again in a second. It’s a wonderful phone with a solid build and battery that lasts through a full day!

Well… usually.

The AT&T store is five minutes from here. Not their job! They sent me to the central repair facility near the 405.

I handed my phone across the counter. He held it up to the light and looked at the charging port. His stare was intense.

“No water,” I offered.

They always look for water as a way to get off the hook. A few seconds later he was pushing a cloth across the port’s connectors.

“Maybe a little lint,” he said, though he didn’t sound totally convinced. “Let me put it on the charger for a few minutes.”

I went for coffee and came back to find the phone turned on with a 3% charge. It was back from the dead and slowly building its strength.

Lint? Lint did this? Or did he just get lucky?

My Hacker Spirit Remains Alive

TL-MR3040-V2-04The word ‘hacker’ has acquired a bad reputation. Hackers steal. Hackers deface. Hackers take down.

I’m a hacker. Not that kind.

As a kid I took apart our family’s telephones (and reassembled them) to see what made them work. When computers first arrived I bought one, even though it could do next to nothing. I’m that kind of hacker.

I am fascinated by making things do tasks they weren’t designed to do. Sometimes that means circumventing controls, like jailbreaking a phone.

I did a little hacking this weekend. My Canon 7D camera (aka, “Clicky”) can now be operated remotely from my tablet or cellphone. This all came about after looking at a website posting titled, “TP-LINK TL-MR3040 wireless field monitor with DSLR controller.”

The MR3040 is a neat little wireless router made for road warriors. It gives folks with a USB cell modem the ability to use it with many devices at once.

DSLR Controller  BETA    Android Apps on Google PlayThe hack I found loads new firmware into the modem. Now, instead of a router the little white box becomes a ‘wireless cable,’ attaching my camera to my tablet. From there an Android app, DSLRController, takes over. Most of the controls on the camera now become accessible from the tablet.

Loading unauthorized firmware nearly always voids the warranty. There’s a chance the unit might get ‘bricked.’ The router was $30 with shipping on Amazon. I took a chance.

DSLRController itself is a hack, adding functions Canon left out!

I want to get more involved in using my 7D for video. This seems like an excellent step in that direction.

I Wish I Was At CES

Between the reading tweets and news coverage I’ve become disappointed I’m not at CES, the Consumer Electronics Show. Las Vegas is nearby. CES has all the toys.

Technology is constantly changing. The big deal at this show is how much processing power can be put in how small a space, like Intel’s Edison Development Board.

It’s the same size as an SD card, commonly used in point and shoot cameras. It has a two core processor, with WiFi and Bluetooth already integrated.

Intel says, wear Edison. Here’s their suggestion for a baby monitor.

Start with a computer that really is the size of an SD card.
Attach it to a regular onesie and sensors that monitor the baby’s temperature, breathing, and motion.
Then, set the Intel Edison board to trigger actions on other connected devices, like this automatic bottle warmer or this coffee cup.
Each one of these has the Intel Edison board inside, communicating with the others to deliver amazing solutions to age-old problems.

Helicopter parents, your prayers have been answered.

This baby surveillance system is just a demo. It’s a taste of what the device can do so other developers create more products using it.

There’s lot of talk of 4k video at CES. It’s a new, higher standard for video. 4k video is sharper and more lifelike than HDTV.

I’ve seen 4k. Spectacular. The improvement is immediately noticeable.

Unfortunately, in 2014 having 4k capability is like having a car that can do 160 mph. So? Where can you use it?

Cable, satellite and Internet delivered video are all compressed mercilessly before we see it at home. Modern TVs are capable of much better images than what we see. I’d rather get less compressed HDTV (and hold onto my current hardware) than compressed 4k.

Marissa Mayer of Yahoo! spoke today. Her arrival has been widely applauded among the Technorati. Whether Yahoo! becomes a bigger player, as they once were, is another story. Their stock’s doing well.

1,700 were at the Hilton to see her. Katie Couric talked about her involvement with Yahoo News. David Pogue’s Yahoo! tech site was shown off.

It’s still more smoke than substance. They seem to be moving in the right direction. It’s a company full of smart people who should be able to figure things out.

This is the nerd prom. I need to attend. Maybe next year?

The Sad Side Of Recycling

Hamden CT electronics recycling at town Transfer Station

Want proof we live in a throwaway society? Take a drive to the dump transfer station. We were there today with the electronics culled in our spring cleaning.

Because electronics is often loaded with lead and other heavy metals you can’t just toss it. It is recycled.

Hamden’s dump transfer station is just down the road from the Southern Connecticut State University campus. Helaine and I drove there early this afternoon and stopped at the electronics pile.

So much of what was there, computers, TVs, fax machines and printers, looked ready for service. Alas, the cost of repair is more than the cost of manufacturing! This is major problem in our modern society.

Even as I added my own gear to the pile I felt bad, but what could I do?

These old, heavy, bulky, working TVs are valueless when a spiffy HD LCD TV can be had for under $100, has a better picture, takes up less space and uses a lot less electricity.

My trip to the dump transfer station was the right thing to do. It still left me feeling bad.

Google Voice Is Almost Good Enough

I have no clue how it can be sustained for free, but I’m not claiming to be the smart guy here. I fly coach. The Google founders have a large luxurious jet.

I got an email from a friend yesterday. What was that thing where she could send text messages but not use her cellphone? The answer is Google Voice. It’s an interesting product that does a lot and stops short in a few functions that would make it a killer!

As with most of what Google does I’m not sure why they do this or where their money is made. It’s offered for free.

I have no clue how it can be sustained for free, but I’m not claiming to be the smart guy here. I fly coach. The Google founders have a large luxurious jet.

Google Voice starts simply by giving you a new, additional phone number. The number itself can be in your local area code or nearly anywhere else.

I got one for Stef with a Southern California area code with the thought she’d give it out and look local while Google Voice would sneakily (and freely) transfer the calls to her 203 cellphone. As far as I know she’s never used it.

The number comes with sophisticated voicemail which automatically transcribes messages to text and forwards them to you as a text message or email. The transcription is horrendous, but usually usable. The voice message is preserved just in case.

The Google Voice account can be set up to ring many separate phones from any incoming call. It would be nice if my friends with home, work and cell numbers used one Google Voice number. Instead of hunting them down all their phones would ring! So far none have used this–including me.

Like a cell phone Google Voice can be used for texting. If your cellphone has a data plan you no longer need a separate texting plan. It only handles text, not pictures. Too bad. I don’t know anyone who’s dropped their text plan for Google Voice’s free service even though it can be used from cellphones and computers.

All these things work. They work work reasonably well. Why aren’t they used? Is GV too kludgy… still lacking enough integration to make it an easy decision? Maybe. It still looks like a service designed by engineers for engineers.

Recently Google Voice released (and Apple finally accepted) an app to bring GV to iPhones. It was an immediate install for me!

It’s pretty slick, but every time you make a call through Google Voice it connects by first dialing through your cell account. Why doesn’t the Google Voice app use VOIP&#185? This one simple step could alter the cellphone landscape forever. You could buy a cellphone with a data plan only and no minutes or text plan.

Google Voice has loads of potential, but seems flawed in execution. Maybe that’s Google’s want. Maybe they don’t want it to be more popular than they’re capable of handling. More likely they’re showing what happens when a company gets big and products must satisfy too many managers and departments.

The difference between good and great isn’t that large, but it’s enough to inhibit use. Google Voice is good, not great.

&#185 – VOIP is voice over Internet protocol. It simply means calls are originated through the Internet and enter the ‘normal’ phone network late in the game. VOIP calls are data and shouldn’t use allotted cell call minutes.

Tiny Bluetooth Dongles Set Me Free

Without the USB connector this device wouldn’t be much bigger than a multivitamin.

I bought a set of Bluetooth headphones to use with my laptop and iPhone when traveling. No cord seems the way to go. I’ll write more about the headphones themselves when I get them charged and running.

Meanwhile, the headphones were $29.99 alone or $29.98 with a USB Bluetooth adapter. Duh! Today the vendor has seen the error of their ways and added free shipping to the ‘more expensive’ package.

usb bluetooth dongle.jpgIt’s the USB Bluetooth adapter I want to briefly talk about. That’s what’s in the photo on the left.

As small as it looks, and it is tiny, the metallic part is just the connector. It’s mainly hollow. The electronic guts are all inside the black piece!

That minuscule sliver of plastic contains a radio transceiver, antenna, diplexer, and the computing power to run the show! It separates and sends multiple datastreams, audio, signaling and control.

Are you kidding me? That’s crazy.

So often our perception of the miniaturization of electronics is based on the packages we see, but they are often artificially large because we control them with our fingers. Too small and they’re useless!

Without the USB connector this device wouldn’t be much bigger than a multivitamin.

This little dongle isn’t doing much more than replacing a wire and plug and freeing the headphone wearer to move around a little. The big deal is it’s cheap enough to make replacing that wire no big deal.

Expect to see more (or actually see less, but experience more) of this miniaturization making electronic control practical in smaller and cheaper devices–places where we historically don’t expect them.

We live in truly amazing times.

Not Yet To Bed

I was relaxed about what I was doing. Helaine and her family looked like they were on their way to a firing squad. All the pressure is with the bride.

I’d like to think I’ve remembered everything. I just went downstairs and signed a few anniversary cards. That’s important. I think everything I’m responsible for is packed. God–I hope so.

I have packed too much gear. I’ve got my camera, plus five lenses and a tripod. I wish I knew how to cut back. On top of that there are all these wall wart items that need a discrete one-of-a-kind plug. Phone, camera, computer, GPS–there’s a small bag full of electronics.

For the past few years we’ve been bringing a strip plug extension when we’re on-the-road. I told my mother–bringing one too! When do hotels start adding on electricity surcharges?

I’m trying to remember back 25 years ago. This night before our wedding was reasonably quiet. There had been a beautifully fluffy early season snow which quickly melted away. I was relaxed about what I was doing. Helaine and her family looked like they were on their way to a firing squad. All the pressure is with the bride.

There’s an immense amount of coordination taking place today. We should land in Las Vegas about the same time as Stef, who is flying non-stop from JFK. My parents get in a little earlier, non-stop from Ft. Lauderdale. Our California cousins have an early morning court date (they’re attorneys) then drive through the desert.

We have to get a car, check-in at the hotel (if they let us check-in early), freshen up, then drive to the chapel. As the Sun goes down we’ll be getting re-married.

Our weather looks quiet until Las Vegas where rain is expected. We are changing planes at Chicago/Midway–always a wild card, though we’ll be early and the weather non-threatening.

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.

Great Day For My Dad

Let me talk about my father as if he wasn’t reading this… which he most certainly is. At 82, my dad’s totally sharp, but some of his parts are definitely out of warranty.

Botched cataract surgery left him with one working eye. The good eye has cataracts too, but he’s petrified to do anything about it. I can’t blame him.

Over the years his hearing has also begun to fail. If my parents are watching TV, anyone within a few hundred yards knows and when the telephone rings… holy crap, it’s like noontime at a cuckoo clock factory.

Of course the problem with my dad’s hearing loss is he really has no way of knowing what he can’t hear.

He wears a hearing aid in each ear, but why? They do nothing, except squeal when he removes them. It’s been frustrating for everyone involved, my dad included.

When we were visiting a few weeks ago, I asked my folks to check. Maybe there’s a better hearing aid available now, or his could be adjusted? It couldn’t hurt to ask.

They went today.

Yo, Costco. Shout out from Geoff. You rock! My dad can hear again. Let me kiss you on the lips.

My dad and mom went to Costco this afternoon. He met with an audiologist who gave him a hearing test and then adjusted the electronics in his hearing aids. It’s not just volume that gets tweaked. A good hearing aid should compensate differently at different frequencies.

“You don’t need new hearing aids,” the audiologist said. In fact, as it turns out, there’s still plenty of room to adjust them should his hearing continue to change. And did I mention – since he bought them at Costco originally, no charge.

My dad put them in and… oh my God, he can hear clearly. It’s the first time in years.

My mom was so excited she left a message on my cellphone. I could hear her voice bubbling as her voice played back.

When I finally spoke to my dad, I’m certain I could actually hear him grinning. “I can hear the microwave,” he said from the kitchen. “I never did before.”

I started to cry.

Actually, the most telling evidence came when my dad walked out of the bedroom. He complained to my mom the TV was too loud.


Cell Phone Saga

I left my cellphone unplugged with its battery removed for a little over a day, hoping (but knowing otherwise) that being powerless would convince it to start working. No such luck.

Tonight, back in Connecticut, I rummaged through my cabinets of old electronics and found two LG G4010s. Nice phone, back then. One had been Helaine’s, the other mine. Guess which was in better shape?

There’s no Bluetooth and, so far, I’ve found no way to move the phone numbers from the RAZR to the LG.

Hey, at least I have a working phone!

Of course any phone number that’s been changed, or newly acquired by me, is not in this old phone. I’ll survive.

Now I can go about my new phone plan acquisition at a more leisurely pace.

Out Of Touch

I have a Motorola RAZR phone from Cingular AT&T. It’s a nice phone and it’s served me well. I anticipate getting a new, more fun phone really soon. My contract is up next month (though at this point I’m guessing they’d be glad to renew my business for another two years).

For the past few months I’ve been studying what phone to buy. There’s a new Motorola Q (Q9h) due in a few weeks. That looks appealing. The same goes for a new version of the Samsung Blackjack.

Like I said, neither is available yet, but I’m willing to wait… except last night my RAZR died. Oops.

It’s a death that others have reported. The only key that works is the one that turns the phone on and off. I can watch calls come in. I can’t answer them. I can’t dial.

It’s frustrating.

Some forums report success in leaving the phone unpowered for a day or two (no one says exactly how long). That seems far fetched, though I’m trying it.

Based on my scanty knowledge of electronics and this phone, it seems like a switch has failed closed. In other words, it’s a key that gets pressed in normal operation, but now is ALWAYS pressed. If that’s the case, there’s little I can do.

I’m hoping I have an old GSM phone at home that can take my SIM card and stretch my usability before having to sign a new contract. I’m not sure.

In the meantime, if you need to reach me – email.