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.

The Next Killer App – Google Calendar

Wow – Google has done it again. I’ve just started playing around with their new calendar app. It will be (nearly) as big a tool as search!

I have always wanted to organize (and trust me – I need to organize), but the idea of carrying something like a PDA everywhere seemed a little overwhelming. And, let’s face it – unless you’ve got your calendar everywhere, it’s pretty much worthless.

Because Google’s site holds all your information on their servers, you can retrieve the calendar data from anywhere.

I’ve only scratched the surface, but it seems to have all the bells and whistles to keep me on schedule. I’m not totally sure how it’s integrated into Gmail, though I know it is.

Say what you will about Google and it’s reach, but they seem to understand where success lies and how to achieve it in a simple to use, nearly universal, application.

April 1st At The Geeks

It is April Fools Day. We have Photoshop. Let the games begin!

My favorite, so far, today comes from the Geeks. Every day I get an emailed ad from these people. I seldom buy, but I always look. I, after all, am a geek. Most days I’d like to be buying what they’re selling.

I began to read today’s ad and immediately knew what it was. The problem is, the product described is getting very close to really existing. When it does, I want one!

No, actually, I want one now. And that’s no April Fools joke.

Toys Will Be Toys

Friday must have been the second anniversary of Helaine and Steffie getting their phones. I know that, because Friday is listed on the Cingular website as their day for new phones.

You’ll notice I didn’t say it was my day for a new phone. That came over a month ago. My new phone allowance went to Steffie, whose phone had been beaten within an inch of its life over the last few years.

I’d looked around and considered lots of phones. Maybe I’d get a PDA type, like the Treo or BlackBerry?

I get email all the time from my friend Farrell’s phone. Each message is tagged:

A BlackBerry Wireless Handheld Message.

Then I thought about the size of those phones. That was the stopper. Too big.

Believe me, the thought of 24/7 connectivity is very appealing. I know a lot of people feel otherwise. Simply, they’re wrong.

I didn’t succumb. Size does matter.

I ended up with a Motorola RAZR V3. It is probably the slickest looking phone you can buy today. It’s very slim, though the form factor is actually larger in length and width than the LG I’m retiring.

When I told my boss I was getting the Motorola he looked at me slyly and asked if I knew there was a community of RAZR hackers? Yikes! No!

I started to read. Most of what they’ve accomplished is wasted on me. Remove the Cingular logo – big deal. Same thing with taking away the clock. I want the clock.

It would be nice if someone’s written utilities to better read signal strength or tell me which tower I’m on.

They have done one thing that’s very enticing. They’ve taken the camera on the phone and enabled it to take video! I have no idea how that’s even possible.

The video is small and very poor quality, but it’s video.

Unfortunately, in order to enable this, you have to hack into the programs that make the phone work. I’ll probably do it, but I’ll think long and hard before I do.

The integrated camera is way below state of the art. It is only 640×480 pixels with a really tiny lens. I intend on using the camera a lot on the blog. The pictures I mount here are even smaller!

On the left a sample, featuring the night crew at the Greek Olive in New Haven.

When Steffie got her phone, I went on eBay and found a cable and software to manipulate photos, video and sound. The cable came a few days after she left. Right now, it’s being used on my phone.

First to be changed was the stock wallpaper. I found a nice shot of Helaine, Steffie and me and pushed it across the cable to the phone.

Then I replaced the ring sound. Most of the time my phone vibrates when a call comes in. A ringing phone in the studio isn’t appreciated. But, for those times when sound is called for, I found the old “ABC Contemporary Network” radio news sounder.

I am still on the prowl for the recently retired CBS Radio News on the Hour sounder. Write if you have it.

I’m still playing with putting video on the computer. I’ve made a few attempts but the audio and video are way out of sync.

Helaine has already accused me of buying a toy. Is she looking? Sure it is. I love my toys.

Still on order, a Bluetooth headset&#185, which was mailed from Taunton, MA on Friday and a Bluetooth USB adapter for this computer which ships directly from Hong Kong.

When I look at the phone, it’s tough to believe how far the technology has come in such a short period of time. Imagine where we’ll be ten years from now!

&#185 – Bluetooth is a very strange name for a short range wireless technology.

Cell Service: Like A Bad Marriage

We are getting set to firm up our cell service for another two years. In many way our relationship with the cell company is like a bad marriage, kept together for the sake of the kids.

This installment of the “Cell Phone Saga” comes about because of Steffie’s phone. It’s been dropped on its head enough that it should be bandaged, or have its antenna in a sling. Sometimes it spontaneously shuts itself off. On other occasions some of the keys don’t work.

Since I had some questions about this month’s bill, I gave Cingular a call. Is it possible they’re trying to obfuscate what the bill contains? I was always good at math… even on the math team… but their bill baffles me – all 24 pages of it!

There is no bill we receive which is more detailed or confusing… or voluminous.

After we straightened out my billing misunderstandings I asked about getting some new phones. It seems my line is eligible, but Helaine and Steffie’s are not – at least not until September.

How can that be? We all got our phones at the same time. I’m not going to complain because like Monopoly’s “Bank Error In Your Favor,” I think September probably is the correct time.

With a little “creative accounting” Steffie can get my new phone and I’ll wait until September to get her scheduled replacement. Helaine, who is ambivalent about the whole thing gets a new one too. She and I currently have tiny LG G4010’s.

I have written about this phone before.

The manual is so beautifully designed and printed that when I originally had trouble following what it was saying, I though the problem was mine. This seems like a manual that might have been written in Korean and then poorly translated into English. Whatever the story, it’s a puzzle. I’m surprised Cingular let this get by since it increases their support costs.

Steffie wants a Motorola RAZR phone – in black, thank you very much. She’s paying – it’s her choice. It’s a very stylish phone which gets good marks from most reviewers. Its camera isn’t quite up to state-of-the-art resolution and it plays back video though it can’t record it.

The RAZR is Bluetooth enabled and, looking at eBay, well supported with after market products including a data cable and software (eliminating the need to run up your phone bill to move photos to your PC).

We headed to the Cingular store to pick one up, but they are in demand and out of stock. There will be some next week, which is when Steffie will return. Then, I’ll watch Steffie’s experience and see if that’s the phone for me.

There are times I think I’d rather have a PDA type phone, like a Blackberry or Treo. I like the idea of email and IM from anywhere, but there is the geek factor. Those are hip holster phones you wear, not pocket phones.

Helaine says with one of those on my belt I will be as nerdy looking as is humanly possible. She does not mean that as a compliment!

Meanwhile I have time. No new phone for me until September.

It looks like getting a new phone might be as difficult as understanding the phone bill.

Atlantic City and the Weather’s Awful

I’m writing this midday Sunday. There hasn’t been any sun or even the glimpse of the nighttime sky since we’ve been here. Sort of depressing.

As opposed to Las Vegas, this isn’t a good place for Steffie. The hotel, beautiful as it is, is very kid unfriendly. We are removed from the Boardwalk and midtown Atlantic City, though that would make little difference.

Helaine took Steffie to the Boardwalk yesterday, but they stayed only a short time. She was disappointed by the whole honky tonk, sleazy, scene. Of course that’s what Helaine and I like about it. More than anything, we enjoy the people watching, because there are characters of every sort.

We had dinner at the buffet at The Borgata with my friend Peter. I first met him in the early 70’s when I was working in Cleveland. He was the first person I ever met who owned a calculator! He still has it. Later, Peter became my boss – the program director at WPEN radio in Philadelphia. We have been very good friends for 30 years.

The buffet is definitely a Las Vegas contender. There were carving stations and lots of interesting, well prepared, dishes.

A chef was making some spaghetti sauce, I believe using vodka. I tried to take a photo, but was too late. So she put some vodka in a pan so I could have a photo op. Very appreciated.

Unfortunately, she was on the high end of service employees who don’t reach the same level as in Vegas. I’m sorry to do all these comparisons, but it’s only natural. And, time-wise, from where I live in Connecticut, Las Vegas isn’t that much farther away.

We had tickets to the comedy show at the hotel for 9:00 PM. I figured, since it was crowded, that I’d go down and register for poker before we went. That way I wouldn’t have to wait as long. As it turned out, my name wasn’t called until 11:30!

The comedy show, in the same room that Helaine and Steffie saw Rick Springfield the night before, was pretty good. There were three comics, “The Coach,” Jack Fontana, and Pete Correalle.

We all agreed Pete Correalle was the best. In some ways he was reminiscent of Seinfeld. He was in control and laid back.

I thought Jack Fontana, an ‘old school’ joke teller ,was better than “The Coach,” but I was alone in that impression. Either way, both were worse than great, better than bad. Entertaining, but not special.

Last night, the casino was as crowded as any casino I had ever seen. And the crowd was younger than any casino crowd I’d ever seen. Many of the women were dressed in that tawdry, slutty way that’s OK for women, as long as they’re not in your family.

I headed down to the poker room to wait out my table. When I say down, I really mean it, since the room is in the basement.

Like the main casino floor, the poker room was astoundingly crowded. I did get a chance to see what the floor people were carrying. They each have some sort of HP PDA with 802.11b access to the poker room system. So they can work the lists and do nearly everything that can be done from the podium.

I sat at a $6/$12 Hold’em table and slowly began to lose money. It wasn’t long before I was down $100. But I was playing decently (though not as tight as I’d like)&#185, so I figured I’d be OK.

My losses stabilized for a while and then I went down again. I had lost $130 or so when things began to turn. I won a few small pots. At least two times everyone laid down their cards to my bet on the river. I think I won because of my earlier semi-tight play. Then I won a few bigs hands.

By the time I went to cash in my chips, I had won $176. So, three sessions for $96, $5, $176. I’m happy.

As I walked through the casino, after 2:00 AM, things were still jumping. In the elevator, yesterday’s Rear Window had given way to Lost in Translation.

&#185 – It’s reasonable to ask, if you know you’re not playing right, why not just do it? The brief answer is, while you’re at a table, you’re always looking at the hands and evaluating them. But you’re also there to play, which is what you don’t do when you lay your cards down. This is less a problem on-line. Even though I can intellectualize the problem, I don’t always act with my intellect.

The Borgata

The Borgata is a beautiful hotel. It is Las Vegas like. Unfortunately, it’s not in Las Vegas. Looking out my window, seeing the marshes surrounding Atlantic City and the gray, threatening skies, you know it can’t be Las Vegas.

Like the newest of the Vegas Strip hotels, The Borgata has a huge grand entrance. The lobby is bright and oversized, too. I’m surprised by how close the casino is to the common areas. I remember, in the original Atlantic City casino hotels, it was more segregated.

Unlike Nevada, in New Jersey minors cannot walk through the casino.

Our room is on the 35th floor with a view north toward Harrah’s, Trump Marina, and Brigantine. The room itself is very nice with two very comfortable beds. The bathroom has an oversized glass walled stall shower and nicely designed sink. The porcelain stuff is behind a door in a miniature room within the room – if you get my drift.

The common areas, like the hallways, are modern and bright in appearance. The elevator (at least yesterday) had one very strange quirk. At the rear of the car is a video screen. All day yesterday it was playing scenes from “Rear Window,” Hitchcock’s thriller with James Stewart.

We had dinner at Metropolitan, the 24/7 coffee shop. I had a very good, very large bowl of clam chowder. My Chicken Caesar wrap was dry. I didn’t think the actual wrap was particularly tasty.

Helaine and Steffie went to see Rick Springfield at the Music Box. They said his show was great – though they’ve never said otherwise, and probably never will. They were able to finagle their tickets to 2nd row, center.

While they watched, I played poker. Actually, I played twice – before and after dinner. In the early session, playing $6/$12 Hold’em, I won $96. After dinner I won $5. So far, so good.

The players seemed younger than any casino poker room I’d ever played in. This might be as much due to poker on TV than anything else, though I believe Borgata aims for a younger crowd.

The poker room, in a basement area, but nicely designed and appointed, was very computer dependent. That’s really unusual. The lists for each level of game were displayed on huge plasma screen TVs (and, unfortunately, plasma suffers from burn-in). The floor people walked around the room with some sort of wireless PDA and wireless microphones. On the corner of the podium where table sign ups took place were 4 802.11b antennas with the name TELEX in them.

As the night wore on, the disco upstairs opened. As soon as it did the poker room vibrated to the bass line from upstairs. It was really loud. But, other than that, the room was very nice with lots of drink service and decent action.

On a more somber note, while Helaine and Steffie went out for a while this early afternoon, I settled in and took a test in my Radar Meteorology class. Not the way I want to spend a vacation day, but you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do.