Tuesday, December 23, 2008

New iPhone App for NPR

One of the things missing for the iPhone is the ability to access NPR in order to listen to All Things Considered, Fresh Air, etc. AOL Radio is a great tool for broadcast radio, but it doesn't include any NPR stations. Public Radio Tuner, a new iPhone app, is a step in the right direction to fill that need. While it focuses a bit too much on classical music streaming, and not enough on news and commentary, it is definitely a giant step in the right direction. Unfortunately, many regions of the country are poorly represented. As an example, this app is still missing WXEL and/or WLRN from south Florida, which is where I live.

Personally, I think the folks who run NPR are missing an obvious bet in not enthusiastically and aggressively pursuing the iPhone as a distribution mechanism. I'd pay a modest subscription rate to hear either of the south Florida stations streamed to my iPhone. Another alternative is to stream it for free, with a :30 fund raising plea every time you start it up, which would be removed once you agreed to subscribe or became a member.

As to additional features, this app could really benefit from a location finder (the nearest NPR station would be helpful for those of us who travel) as well as a favorites list in order to return to a preferred list of stations.

For now, a valiant effort for version 1, and certainly the best out there. Let's hope that NPR wises up to the potential that iPhone distribution holds, and that the developer keeps plugging away at this much-needed app. As for me, I'm not going to renew my public radio membership until the two south Florida stations wise up. How else can I get their attention other than to speak with my checkbook?

BTW, Public Radio Tuner is a free app, so it's worth a try to see what you think!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Let the Big Three fend for themselves

I've watched my 401K evaporate over the last couple of months, and the problems of the economy will irrevocably change the remaining years of my life. Nonetheless, I am convinced that we need to let the unsavory part of capitalism play out, just as we do during the boom times, and not bail out GM, Ford or Chrysler. It's part of the price we pay for embracing our economic philosophy. In the long run, we'll be better without the Big Three if they can't be competitive in a world marketplace, even if the short term pain is great. Remember Pan Am and Eastern Airlines? They were the giants of their industry as well, but the airline industry became stronger and more competitive without them.

It is the excesses and poor management decisions that have been made for the last two decades that have led the Big Three to this precipice. Simply giving them money will elongate the pain, not solve the problem, and it won't suddenly instill a vision of how to restructure their companies to be profitable.

While the issue of flying to a Congressional hearing in a private jet to claim you're broke is largely symbolic, it shows poor judgment at the very least, and at worst demonstrates that GM, Ford and Chrysler honestly don't get the message that they're out of step with the times and the current global economy, and in particular, their competition. No doubt the type of changes that would have to be put in place for them to be competitive in the global automotive market are draconian, and would clearly have a dire financial effect on their current employees and pensioners, and hence the economy as well. So would going out of business, which is what they're threatening will happen. The Big Three need to take these very painful steps to once again become competitive. Let them show their sincerity and intent by biting the bullet and restructuring their companies regardless of the horrible pain it would inflict. Then, and only then, should Congress even consider any financial assistance.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Symantec Anti Virus versus Intego Virus Barrier

I use my Mac in a corporate environment and so don't have a choice of whether or not to run an AV client. With thousands of computers on our network, the security folks don't want to take even the slightest risk, and I don't blame them.

Symantec Anti-Virus (SAV) Corporate edition is our standard, and I dutifully ran it on my MacBook for the last two years. I came to hate the way it would trigger AutoProtect and start consuming CPU resources for apparently no reason. That in turn would heat up the CPU and start the fan going, which on the last generation MacBook sounded like a jet plane APU. This was especially true when I did a SuperDuper backup. I'd come back to the computer and the fan would be going at full speed until I either disconnected the backup drive or shut off AutoProtect.

I just upgraded to the new 15" MacBook Pro and decided it was time to try another AV client. After doing my research, I decided to switch to Intego. The difference is night and day.

This is a totally non-obtrusive product that just lives in the background. In my research, I read comments that state that there's really nothing to find on a Mac and that the Mac doesn't suffer from viruses or trojans like Windows. That may in fact be true. If, however, you're required to run an AV client, or you just plain don't want to take chances, my initial reaction to VirusBarrier X5 is that it's a better designed product. What I'd really like to see is an empirical study as to which product identified viruses most effectively. What I read in most reviews of SAV and VirusBarrier was simply anecdotal evidence that they found viruses. If I'm going to run an AV client on a Mac, at the very least, I want to know which one is really the most effective at identifying and wiping out the few viruses that may exist on a Mac.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Apple Wireless Mighty Mouse

I've owned two of these mice for over a year now. I keep one at home and the other at my office, and I really like them. They're the right heft and feel for a mouse, and the best implementation of Bluetooth I've seen for an input device. They look pretty jazzy too! I found them to be a great accessory for my old black MacBook and now my new late 2008 15" MacBook Pro.

I have two things I'd caution potential buyers about that you might not know. The first is that the scroll ball eventually picks up dust and oil from your fingers and will stop working. Since this mouse can't be disassembled, the only way to fix this is with a lint free cloth and a bit of alcohol. The ball needs to be aggressively rubbed in all directions to get it and the underlying contacts clean. On one mouse this worked, but on the other it still has something that is keeping it from being optimal in the down direction. It works, kind of, but clearly not as well as when I bought it.

Second, if you're older and/or arthritic, the side keys, which by default are programmed to use Expose, are a bit stiff and require some force. If you have weakness using your thumb and third finger, you'll have difficulty using this feature.

One last hint. If you do as I did and buy two of these mice for two different locations, you can pair both of them with your Mac. Only the last one used, however, will automatically mate at logon. If you need to change from one mouse to the other because you're changed location, simply left-click the mouse at the logon screen, wait one second, and the mouse will be auto-paired with the computer. I can't tell you how long that took me to figure out, and no one in the Apple discussions group could answer the question!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The New 15" MacBook Pro rocks!

I've only had it since Friday, but my first impression of the brand new 15" MacBook Pro is all positive! This is a laptop that finally has the right horsepower combined with the right graphics cards. I can now run lots of applications simultaneously, including a virtual machine, and not have the fan kick on. That noise made my old MacBook sound like an auxiliary power unit on an airplane. The same good news is also true for watching Flash files: the computer handles them beautifully without any strain on the graphics card and no fan noise. I installed Vista Ultimate in Boot Camp to see how it would run, and it is blazingly fast. In short, performance is as good as I've ever seen on a MacBook, approaching the iMac. Lastly, the LED display is beautiful and the construction, fit and finish set a new standard for excellence.

More to come after I've had a chance to play with it for a couple weeks, but my initial opinion? This was one upgrade that was worth it!

Monday, September 15, 2008

The iPhone 2.1 update

I've had the weekend to live with the 2.1 update, and offer the following comments.

1. Searching for Contacts is improved, but if you have a lot of entries--I have about 3,000--there is still a great deal of latency in either searching for a contact or addressing an email. Ironically, Google app is far faster in finding someone than searching Contacts. Go figure!

2. Battery life is somewhat improved, but not by a lot. If you're a heavy phone and email user, and you're stuck using 3G, count on the fact that you're going to run out of power in a short period of time. One trick is to shut 3G off if you're just making phone calls. Assuming you are just waiting for mail to arrive, shut off wireless and 3G and live with Edge. Your battery life will be greatly improved. Then, when you're finished, turn only one or the other back on, depending on your location and access to wireless.

3. I realize that the iPhone is a new paradigm in computing, but there are still some important, essential features missing.

Copy and paste: essential
Voice dialing: essential
Autotext: essential

4. Someone has to come up with a way to synchronize the notes created on the iPhone with the notes in either Entourage or Mail. I've used a Blackberry for years, and love that the notes I've created in Outlook sync perfectly. What's the point of having this capability on the iPhone if you can't have them on your computer and handheld.

5. AT&T continues to be the biggest problem with the iPhone. I still have to carry a Verizon phone because I can't afford to be out of touch. Time and again I'll find a location where AT&T shows no bars, and Verizon has a strong connection. I rarely see the opposite. (More bars in more places. More bullshit.)

My comments are based on extensive use in S. Florida, and NYC and Westchester County. I travel extensively, however, and find my statement above to be true regardless of where I am.

We're movin' in the right direction...I just wish the train were moving faster!

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Beware of giving your credit card to DirecTV

Make absolutely sure you do not have a credit card on file for DirecTV. If you do, you are putting yourself in real jeopardy. You'll stand the chance of being auto-billed for charges that you don't agree with, and reversing them is time consuming and contentious. Read on.

After having DirecTV High Definition service for the last 18 months, our HD reception stopped working. The picture would pixilate, or worse, display a "Searching for satellite, 771" error. At first we thought something was blocking the dish reception, or that we had moisture on the LMB, none of which proved to be true. I called DirecTV Customer Service and they dispatched a technician.

After the tech analyzed the problem, he claimed that it was our DirecTV DVR that was the problem, and swapped it out for a new one. One week later the problem was back. The technician returned to our house and claimed that the problem was actually with our Samsung DLP TV, not the DVR, and that it was putting out an "...unacceptable amount of voltage" and destroying the functionality of the recorder. He refused to replace the DVR again, and referred me to his supervisor. His supervisor repeated the same story and said he would not keep replacing the DVR until we had the TV fixed.

I didn't buy his story, but decided to at least call Samsung and check it out. "Poppycock", they said. If the output connections were carrying excess voltage, the TV simply wouldn't work. Based on their explanation and DirecTV's refusal to fix the problem, I reluctantly decided to cancel DirecTV. After all, they were unable to deliver the service we paid for, even though it had been working just fine for 18 months.

Here comes the shocker.

They agreed to cancel the service, but claimed we owed them an early termination fee of $460 due to the fact that they had just given us a new DVR 1 week ago. I should note here that we paid monthly maintenance on all this equipment so I assumed that it was covered. It turns out it is covered, hence no charge for a new DVR. Nonetheless, without being forewarned, accepting a new DVR obligated me to a new 2 year agreement.

Of course, I'm disputing the charge with DirecTV and American Express. I just want to make sure that everyone understands how deceptive DirecTV can be. Had I been told that I was obligated to 2 more years, I never would have accepted the new equipment.

Caveat emptor!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

What's Up With Technical Support and E-Mail?

I'm really baffled that vendors of all sorts accept e-mail support requests but take days to return and answer them. Not only is e-mail a great way to communicate when you don't have time to hang on the phone, it's a truly great way for a vendor to save money. The person responding just needs a computer, access to the company's knowledgebase and a data connection to the Internet. No office space, no free coffee, and home workers cost less than on-premise workers. Distance workers are willing to accept less money than their commuting cousins because they have the privilege and convenience of working from home. In fact, the savings can be even greater since they don't need to be in the same state as their employer so they can hire people at the lowest possible wage differential. It costs less to hire someone in Boise than in New York, but they're just as trainable and just as smart.

So how come e-mail technical support is so poor? Why is it that at worst it takes an hour to get a technical support rep on the phone and it takes days to get one to return an e-mail? These are people who've asked us to purchase their product, and when we try and contact them in a manner they should be excited about, they ignore us. What am I missing?

The problem gets even worse with shareware or freeware. In this case the phrase caveat emptor comes to mind. If a developer gives out their e-mail address for technical support questions that aren't answered by FAQs or other documentation, why don't they answer e-mail support questions from your users? Really, what gives?

I sell on Ebay, and when I get an e-mail with a question about an item, I answer it immediately. Not only am I motivated to make the sale and get their money, but I want to demonstrate that I'm acting responsibly and professionally and that if they buy from me they can have a certain level of trust that the item is what I say it is. When software companies and shareware developers don't answer e-mail, it just indicates a level of disdain or unprofessionalism. Either way, I scratch them off of my vendor list for any future purchases.

If you've had the same experience with vendors, maybe you need to do the same.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Mac Office 2008 a major disappointment

I am just appalled that after 4 years, Mac Office 2008 is the best that the dedicated Mac business unit at Microsoft could offer. Other than the fact that it now runs native to an Intel Mac, the lack of improvement is stultifying! Entourage is the biggest disappointment. Here are some examples.

The following is a little thing, but indicative of the carelessness that went into the interface for the program. Why would you offer a toolbar icon for Mark Read and not offer an icon for Mark Unread. In Outlook 2007 Mark Unread is such a used feature that it is now hard-coded on the message ribbon!

Why is the Remove button still dimmed even though the command to Remove All Attachments exists under the Message menu.

There is still no support for archiving using PST files.

Still no Notes compatibility with Exchange.

There is still no Insert Item choice as there is in Outlook. Each item attachment has to be done in a separate e-mail.

Many alert sounds don't work in Leopard. The newsgroups are awash with complaints about this. How could that problem have gotten through beta?

How about the sync problem with Blackberrys? E-mail deleted from Entourage will not delete from a Blackberry device as it does from Outlook. To add insult to injury, Pocket Mac will no longer sync with Entourage, and this is apparently by design! Does MS expect everyone to migrate to Windows Mobile?

Another surprise is LDAP. Outlook tunnels LDAP over port 80. That means if you try and address an e-mail to someone not in your Contacts list, Outlook will still be able to resolve it with the GAL, even if you’re connected to Exchange over the Internet. This same functionality was missing from Entourage 2004 and is still missing from 2008.

As detailed by David Pogue in his review of Office 2008, macros no longer work. It is now necessary to use Applescript to accomplish whatever shortcuts you created with macros in 2004.

Entourage still doesn’t support forwarding for complex HTML. If I have an e-mail that contains a lot of formatted HTML, it will be reduced to nothing but links and text when I try and forward it. This is particularly surprising considering that Outlook has no problem doing this, and has had the capability for the last few releases.

Lastly, I'm experiencing sudden shutdowns of Entourage. (We're sorry, but Entourage...) In other words, PC behavior on a Mac! Considering that it is now running native to the Mac OS and not in emulation, Entourage should be more stable than the previous version, not less.

I haven't had as much time to review Word, Excel and Powerpoint, but if they're anything like Entourage, they're going to be major disappointments. For now, if e-mail functionality is important in your computer usage, you'll still need to use Parallels or Fusion to run Outlook. The new version of Entourage is barely more functional than Entourage 2004.

What a shame.