Friday, June 29, 2007

If It Ain't Broke, Why Fix It? The Treo 680

I bought my Treo 650 in late 2004. Despite the occasional lock up and reset, I really enjoyed it. When people asked me how I liked my "phone," I'd usually reply, "Great! Except when it acts like a computer." It survived a number of drops and was pretty banged up by the time I replaced it. The case was cracked on either side of the screen and the limited memory was starting to fill up. I wasn't going to replace it though. Treo's are expensive and I was hoping that if I held onto it long enough I could skip a generation. Alas, it was not to be! I accidentally dropped it at The Mission Inn

driving range and it stayed out overnight. It was found but it had some water in the case --- not a good sign. It seemed to work fine except that one entire column of keys typed the letter to the left of the key pushed. I couldn't type "i", "k", or "m" and at least one other key had failed earlier. It was time for a new phone.

I picked up a new crimson Treo 680. Why crimson? Why not? I was tired of boring grey. I've had it for a couple of weeks and I'm a little disappointed. On the positive side, I haven't had any lock ups and I haven't had to reset it. The new screen is also a big improvement. Although some commentators complain about the camera, I took the picture of the brownies below with it and it seems better than the 650. I was surprised to read that the 680 lacks a reset button. I guess you have to remove the battery now for a reset. That's an example of what I meant when I said, "If it ain't broke, why fix it?" The reset button worked fine on the 650. Likewise, I liked the interface of the 650. The changes to the 680 interface seem to be different for the sake of being different and not for improvement. Now the "Favorites" are one long scroll showing 7 buttons at a time. On the 650, the "Favorites" were arranged in pages of about a dozen buttons per page. You have to edit the "Contact" entry in order to assign a unique ring tone to a caller. Again, this seems more difficult than on the 650. The method for making a call is also subtly changed so that placing a call seems more cumbersome. You have to dial the number and then press send, but I keep wanting to push the button with the phone icon or the center button of the 5 way navigation button for some reason.

Now a scroll bar appears across the bottom of the screen. There are 5 buttons for the phone keypad, "Favorites", "Main", "Contacts:", and "Call Log." The keypad is particularly boring and doesn't provide information like time, number of new messages and emails or next appointment. The "Favorites" is a long. boring scroll. The "Main" setting let's you set your own background picture and shows the time, dates, next appointment, messages, and email. This is my default setting. The "Call Log" has some nice clear icons to show if the call was incoming or outgoing.

On the positive side, the 680 lacks the antenna protuberance on the 650, seems a little lighter, a little thinner, and easier to hold. The form factor is much improved. I was thrilled to discover the 680 comes with a car charger. The 650 was the only phone I've ever owned that didn't. The USB cable that you use for hotsyncing with your computer will trickle charge the phone while it is plugged into your computer. The USB cable also seems to be more sturdy as do both of the chargers. A lot of people have complained about a lack of battery life. That was never a problem with the 650 and hasn't been a problem yet with the 680. There are 3 ways to charge the phone (car charger, wall charger, and hotsync cable). I plug in my phones every night and that seems to be enough. Now I can also keep it plugged in while driving. Maybe the people who complain are like my wife, who never plugs in her Blackberry and is always running out of battery power.

Bottom Line: I like it, but I wouldn't have bothered to upgrade if the 650 hadn't reached the end of its useful life. If you've got a 650 in good shape and like it, then you might want to keep it. By the way, I checked out a 750 but I don't know Windows mobile and the interface seemed crowded and clunky. I've always liked the simplicity of Palm. We'll see how much longer Palm lasts.

For some longer more detailed reviews try The Gadgeteer,, or C/Net.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Who Will Read Your Blog? You'd Be Surprised!

I recently added two site counters and some code for Google Analytics to this blog. Before I added these, I wondered whether anybody ever read this blog. I assumed it was pretty obscure, and it is. I don't get a lot of traffic, but now, thanks to the site counters and Google Analytics, I know that people do read it and I even know how they find it. I no longer write something and then helplessly wonder whether anybody will ever read it. The fascinating thing to me are the searches that lead people to this blog.

For example, someone searched the words "Veronica Belmont precocious." I've never called Veronica Belmont precocious. However, I have mentioned Veronica Belmont and I called Nancy Drew "precocious." So, if you search these words in Google, my blog comes up as the fourth item. Whoulda thunk it? Someone else searched for the exact phrase "tips for living in Florida" and up came this blog as item number two of two. I'm actually surprised that searching for the exact phrase "tips for living in Florida" only produces two items. One of the first referring pages that showed up on the counter was someone from the United Kingdom searching for brief reviews of Spiderman 3. So somebody from England read my review of Spiderman 3. Pretty cool!

The random ways that people find my blog are amazing. Of course, some of the randomness is the result of the totally unfocused idiosyncratic nature of this blog. I write this blog primarily for my own amusement and to learn about blogging. Now I have a greater understanding of what professional bloggers mean when they talk about the key search terms that lead people to their blogs. I didn't understand exactly how they knew this until I installed the site counters and discovered what is tracked and that you can see the search phrases people used and the search page they viewed. This is pretty powerful information if you're trying to attract people to your site or buying ads via Adwords. In fact, I'm going to ask the webmaster of my office web page to add Google Analytics to my professional website.

By the way, as I was typing this, someone came to my blog because they searched for "Floridian spider" on the Dell search page. "Floridian spider"? Whoulda thunk!?

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Happy Dad Day!

My daughter made me brownies for Father's Day complete with M&M decorations. Yum!

This photo was taken with my new Treo 680. I think it looks pretty good for a phone camera.

Spot the Product Placement

As I mention in my review of "Nancy Drew", Nancy uses a Mac Book for her online sleuthing. It is a brilliant bit of product placement. The Apple notebook shares several scenes with Nancy and can't be missed. Apple seems to be seriously pursuing product placement in movies. Ever noticed how you see more Mac Books in movies than Windows notebooks? Seems to be the reverse of the real world. Nancy also uses a video iPod. She even manages to seal the bad guy's fate with her iPod and an accessory. According to the "Washington Post" newspaper, Apple does not pay for these placements, but it was one of the first company's to employ an agent in Hollywood to promote the use of its products in TVs and movies.

Product placement on TV and in movies amuses me more than it annoys me, as long as the product is a seamless part of the show and not out of place. I'd rather see movie and TV characters drink Coke and Pepsi than black and white cans of who-knows-what. It is actually much less jarring. When characters drink from blank cans, it is obvious that the producers are just trying to avoid giving a soda company a free plug. Besides product placement has to be the way of the future. Thanks to Tivo I only watch the most amusing commercials or the first few for a new product or show that I'm interested in.

Nancy Drew: Cluelessly In Pursuit of Clues

The movie "Nancy Drew" answers the question nobody asked: What would Nancy Drew be like if you plucked her straight from the pages of her books and plopped her down in 21st century L.A.? The answer is a plucky, precocious, pretty young sleuth cluelessly pursuing clues. Calling Nancy clueless is not an insult. It is part of the quirky charm of the movie. Nancy is brilliant, business-like , and perfect. She just doesn't seem to have a clue (most of the time) that she is a walking , talking anachronism. She even drives a Nash Metropolitan, which is the most uncool convertible ever made and possibly even more uncool than Steve Urkel's Isetta. But nothing, not even the disdain of the cool girls, dissuades her from pursuing the mystery of the mansion that she and her father have rented in L.A.

This movie uses the same device as the "The Brady Bunch Movie" where the Brady's are plucked from the '70s in their polyester britches and deposited in the '90s. Nancy, her Dad, Carson, her best friend/boyfriend, Ned, and the town of River Heights all seem to exist in a '50s time warp while the rest of the world has moved on. But this doesn't keep Nancy from driving a rented Ford Escape, using a Mac Book for online sleuthing, or carrying a nifty GPS enabled cell phone. The end result is a quirky and loving send up of the Nancy Drew series.

Look for the ever ironic, self-deprecating Bruce Willis playing himself in a cameo.

Some critics worry that you can't take the kids back to River Heights after they've seen the CG special effects of Harry Potter, Narnia, and countless others. Well, they're wrong. Kids still enjoy the occasional simple movie with a story and acting. Speaking of which, Emma Roberts does a great job of playing Nancy straight up without a hint of irony or condescension. Someday she may even be as pretty as her Aunt Julia. Lucky for her she looks a lot more like her Aunt Julia, than her father, Eric.

This is a worthwhile movie for the whole family. All four of us enjoyed it. And that's my bottom line for any movie --- did I enjoy it? I'll leave the nitpicking of cinematography vs. direction vs. plot to the critics. I only worry about enjoying the movie and not comparing one movie to another.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

A Peek Behind the Beauty Scene

I'm the proud father of a beautiful eleven year old girl. She's naturally pretty thanks to Mom's genetics. But every little girl is bombarded with unrealistic visions of beauty every day. You've probably never seen a magazine cover where the model's image wasn't artificially enhanced in some way. Even Cindy Crawford gets this treatment. Have you ever seen a supermodel photographed without make up? Ugh! You wouldn't give most of them a first glance never mind a second. Here's a film every little girl should watch. It demonstrates just how much work goes into these images of "natural" beauty.

Outsourcing Legal Jobs

It’s being done with customer and technical support services, software development, engineering, and even the reading of X-rays and MRIs.

And now a Florida Bar member wants to know if it is ethical to outsource legal research to India. The Bar’s Professional Ethics Committee will take up the issue when it meets June 29 at the Annual Convention in Orlando.

So begins a front page article by Senior Editor Gary Blankenship in the June 15, 2007 edition of "The Florida Bar News", which is the official newspaper of the Florida Bar. Frankly, I don't believe that outsourcing should necessarily be "unethical", but maybe it ought to be unpatriotic. Yes, I know that we're capitalists and outsourcing is good capitalism at work and capitalism is what makes us perhaps the greatest economy in the world. But I still can't help but worry about where this is taking us. I've mentioned before that I'm concerned we're becoming a nation of "haves" and "have nots" where the "haves" control the outsourced goods and services and the rest of us buy from them. As one wag put it (possibly John C. Dvorak on the TWiT podcast), outsourcing makes millionaires into billionaires. And that's what bothers me --- is outsourcing driven by short-term greed? Will all the displaced lawyers and paralegals really find "better work" elsewhere? After all these are well paid office jobs and not factory jobs.

Large law firms are most likely to embrace outsourcing. Partners at those firms already earn substantial six figure salaries. Their newest lawyers start at or near six figures in some cases. They've bid up starting salaries to silly levels by insisting on chasing the same handful of lawyers, which is the top ten percent of the class at certain schools. Outsourcing would allow them to leverage those high priced young lawyers even more. Thus, they could move from six figures to seven figures. But at what price to America?

I recently questioned a friend about the wisdom of his daughter's decision to become a radiologist. I wondered whether she had considered the fact that radiology was increasingly outsourced. He advised that he had already had that same discussion with her. It is tempting to think that the answer would be to become a surgeon. After all, doesn't someone have to physically stand at the table and do the cutting? Not anymore! You may have read about telesurgery performed via robot. This is touted as increasing the precision of the surgeon who uses the steady and tiny robotic limbs to perform surgery. It can also be done remotely. Surgeries have already been performed where the surgeon was on a different continent from the patient. How long then until the surgeon stands in Calcutta, Rio de Janeiro or Beijing while the patient lies on a table in Tijuana or Nassau? Surgical tourism is already burgeoning. I picked locations outside the U.S. on the assumption that the AMA's lobbyists will prevent this from being done in the U.S. unless, of course, the doctors who run the AMA think they'll make more money and too bad for the new doctors. Certainly hospitals would love the idea.

In Episode 100 of the TWiT podcast they bemoaned the decline in students majoring in computer science. I think John C. Dvorak nailed the reason when he opined that there was no incentive to major in computer science in the U.S. when all the jobs were being outsourced to India. You'd have to be nuts. How many times have you heard of programmers, computer designers, and technical support employees being laid off because their jobs were outsourced? How many times do you have to read that before you get a clue and major in something else?

They also discussed H-1B visas and the push to get more of them approved. Large computer companies whine and moan that the they can't get enough skilled employees so they need to import workers from India, which is what the H-1B visa program let's them do. The fact that an imported engineer thinks he's getting rich on half the money doesn't have anything to do with their desire to import him though. Of course not! This is a use of legal immigration to depress wages just as illegal immigration does the same. Big businesses love of illegal immigration has a lot more to do with a love of cheap labor than it does a love of America's immigrant heritage. Milton Friedman the free market, libertarian economist derides H-1B visas as a government subsidy to IT companies. It is a way for the government to supply lower wage non-U.S. workers to industry. Thus, huge CEO salaries are subsidized at the expense of citizen workers.

As much as I love capitalism and love to think that a rising tide raises all boats, I'm not sure that I can embrace this trend. If you/'re young and worried about your own future, I guess the best thing you can do is find a career that requires a physical presence and can't be outsourced and buy the stock of outsourcers with any money you can save.

Blogged with Flock

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Another Take on the Unauthorized Use of a Computer

Here is another take on the issue of unauthorized computer use. I earlier wrote about a Michigan gentleman who was charged with a felony for checking his email on an open wifi connection without first buying a cup of coffee. See, Keeping the World Safe From Email Checking Leeches. Now we have a Florida case in which a man used his employer's computer network to steal from the employer, but Florida's Fourth District Court of Appeals ruled that the unauthorized use of the computer network was not one of his crimes. The full text of the Florida Statute can be found here. The Florida Statute is much more detailed and explicit and, therefore, better written than the Michigan statute. The Florida court focused on the issue of "authorized access", which the employee had, versus exceeding the authority granted, which is what the employee did. The Florida court contrasted the language in Florida's statute with a Federal law. The Federal statute added the language "exceeding authorized access" to the proscribed conduct, which was not in the Florida law. The Florida statute also had a clause that read, "This section does not apply to any person who accesses his or her employer's computer system, computer network, computer program, or computer data when acting within the scope of his or her lawful employment." § 815.06(6), Fla. Stat. (2003). This clause excused the defendant's use in excess of his authority. In contrast, the Michigan statute is so broadly written that the mere "use" of a computer network "without authorization" is a felony. The Florida statute requires maliciousness or harm and not mere "use."

Admittedly, we're not comparing apples to apples here, but isn't it ironic that the Michigan man faced jail for merely checking email with no malicious intent while the Florida man committed no "computer crime" while stealing from his employer? I think both legislatures need to revisit their statutes. The Michigan legislature needs to rewrite their obscenely overbroad statute. The Florida legislature needs to consider an exception to subsection (6) so that the deliberate use of the employer's computer for theft is a crime. On the other hand, it wasn't like the state didn't have the defendant for his theft anyway. A crime is a crime whether committed with a computer or not. Misuse of a computer does not carry the same potential for harm as the misuse of a gun so maybe there is no reason to enhance the already stiff penalty for grand theft.

This case was brought to my attention by Matt Conigliaro's Abstract Appeal blawg.

Outsourcing: Boon or the death of America?

Henry Ford knew that for the Model T to be a success his workers had to be able to afford it. He attacked the problem from two angles. First, mass production reduced the cost of the product. Second, he passed along some of the profits in the form of above average wages so his workers could afford their own Model Ts. What if Henry Ford outsourced Model T production? Would millions have been sold in the U.S.? Would there have been anyone in the U.S. who could pay for them? Maybe. After all, Model Ts would have been even cheaper if assembled in China. This brings me to my quandary.

A local business owner recently told me he is thinking of outsourcing some engineering for his business. He can hire Indian engineers for peanuts compared to what he would pay a U.S. engineer. He would fly the Indian engineers here for training and then fly them back to India to do the work. That's one less decent job for a well educated American locally. One less home sold, one less new car, one less family shopping at Publix, one less client for me.... It gave me a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.

I doubt I'll pay any less for the company's products after they outsource the engineering to India. The owner of the business is already quite wealthy so the savings probably will make no difference in his lifestyle. Locally at least he keeps a low profile relative to what I am certain is wealth and income that puts him in the top 5% to 1% of all Americans.

Coincidentally, I am reading John Stossel's book "Myths, Lies, and Downright Stupidity" and one of the topics he addresses is outsourcing. He argues that outsourcing is good for the American economy. It brings consumers cheaper goods, which is a good thing. Consumer dollars go farther and inflation is held in check. He also argues that the displaced factory workers often secure better jobs after the initial shock. After all, manufacturing jobs aren't really all that wonderful. We romanticize factories and farms. The factories are put to other productive uses as art museums (e.g., Mass MoCA in North Adams, Massuchusetts) or as colleges (the example in the book). Meanwhile, the standard of living in the desperately poor third world is improved increasing demand for what we do produce (music and movies?).

But what about the phenomenon of white collar jobs being outsourced. Those are good clean jobs, and isn't engineering one of those "creative" jobs that outsourcing frees us to do? I can outsource the transcription of dictation to India thanks to QuikSek. Hospitals are already outsourcing the review of medical scans and the creation of 3D renderings to India. There is even talk of large law firms outsourcing their research, drafting, and writing to Indian lawyers thus reducing the need for highly paid associates. I tend to be an optimist and I believe in the great resilience and productivity of Americans. We've survived massive losses of factory jobs in the '70s and '80s. We survived Japanese investment. (Remember when the Japanese were going to own the U.S. lock, stock, and barrel?) I'd like to believe that outsourcing will be a net boon to the U.S., but I can't help but wonder whether this is true. Will we survive this and prosper or is outsourcing the final nail in the coffin? Where is the incentive to become an engineer, radiologist, or lawyer in America when you have to compete with an Indian who will do the same work for less than what you need for a lower middle class lifestyle?

Maybe all the concern over outsourcing is just the usual alarmist negativity or, maybe, we're creating a third world nation right here. Could the end result be a nation of "haves" who own the businesses and the output from the outsourced jobs (i.e., they sell us the goods and services produced elsewhere), and of "have nots" who scramble to work at WalMart so they can buy the goods and services produced abroad from the "haves"? Have we lost sight of the lessons of Henry Ford? Only time will tell. The jury is still out for me.

Post Script: By the way, that local business owner who is thinking of outsourcing his engineering is embroiled in a local political fight over increased fees. The fight is portrayed as a battle between the "working man and woman" and the well heeled privileged politicians who already "got theirs" and don't care about pricing everyone else out of a house and a job. How ironic that he would consider undercutting a hard working engineer by outsourcing his or her job to India. The political fight focuses on the ripple effect that will be created if the local housing market is killed by high fees. What about the ripple effect of moving a job that pays well from here to India? Who will buy the house that the business owner's products are incorporated into?

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Aarrrggghhhh! It be Pirates III

The family went to see Pirates of the Caribbean III recently. I was the only family member who loved Pirates II. I pronounced it the best pirate movie that I'd ever seen. The other three family members yawned in reply. As we were leaving Pirates III, I announced that it suffered from the same disease as Spiderman III; i.e., an excess of length. The family agreed weakly, but pronounced it nonetheless the best Pirates of the Caribbean yet and "much better" than Pirates II. I enjoyed it but I still think II was better. It is nearly impossible to keep track of the crosses, double crosses, and fake crosses, and three hours is just too long for a movie these days. Look closely at the pirate who is the "Keeper of the Code." There's a good reason he looks like Captain Jack Sparrow's older brother. You could say that he had a great influence on Jack. Bottom line --- It is worth seeing and a good time was had by all.

Now for an entirely different take on it I found this review Rick apparently didn't enjoy it all.