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Michael Gracie

Is mobile data usage a productivity deterrent?

Or is it just that productivity is a mobile data usage deterrent?

The following graph shows my mobile data usage by month over the last year…

mobile data usage

I’ve never been a data hog, but recently I made a change – I dumped my Blackberry for an old Nokia flip phone. It was a simple decision. RIM has had more than a year to update their drivers for 64-bit OS X, and when I made the switch recently I found the Blackberry would no longer sync. And there were no drivers available. It seems RIM is too busy fiddling with their half-fast attempt at a tablet computer (and walking out of interviews), because, you know, there is no need to pay attention to existing customers when you have a new product flop coming down the pike.

Nevertheless, when I dumped the Blackberry I also dumped my data plan (yep, the carrier loses too). But before I did, I checked to see how much data I was actually using – a little due diligence just to be sure I was making the right decision. Interestingly, I found that the more work I had on the plate, the less data I used. I’m almost in over my head – in a few more weeks I’ll be drowning – and [would have been] using virtually no data at all.

Funny thing is…none of my colleagues are complaining about any lack of communication either.

Thoughts?

MG signing off (wondering when I’ll feel like I need a mobile data plan again)

Thumbing it to Andros South

It’s about quality over quantity. Unless you’re standing on a flat with an empty fly box.

With all the chatter about what a pain in the rear it is to fly nowadays, I decided to stack the deck in my favor by doing FIBFest with the minimal amount of stuff possible. I’m carrying just one bag, a 2,600 cu.in. duffle, and going as cheaply as possible on everything besides rod, reel and line. The goal is to do the entire week without borrowing a single item from either the other FIBFesters or our gracious host (other than maybe a little CPU time). Here is the packing list:

bonefishing gearThe Essentials

  • Scott S4S rods(1) in #6, #8, and #10, in a heavy duty postal mail tube
  • Lamson Litespeed reels in 3X, 3.5X, and 4, plus some spare parts for each(2) (’cause I often leave reels directly behind the tires of trucks that are about to back up)
  • RIO Bonefish 6(3), Rio Tropical Clouser 8, Rio Redfish 8 (for when I trash the Tropical Clouser in the mangroves), and Rio Saltwater Tropical F/I 10(3)
  • Roughly 1,100 yards of 30# gelspun backing (don’t be a sissy, you fingers are going to get cut anyway)
  • A leader wallet with roughly a dozen tapered flouro and Toothy Critter jobbies in it, and spools of CFX flouro in 6#, 8#, 10#, 12#, 15# and 20#
  • A hundred flies in a five buck Plano box that doubles as bass bug storage, and another small ($3) Plano box for when we’re on foot

I’ll note that I’m carrying way more flies than I’ll probably need, but it’s a pretty wide assortment, including some weightier stuff for deeper water. Last time around Norman gave me a nice ribbing for not being prepared when we shot over to the West Side, and goodness knows I cave under pressure as it is.

(more…)

Handheld device upgrade agita

blackberry upgradeBlackberry came out with a new version of their OS for the Curve. I received notification of said fact a few days ago, and went for it.

If you use your phone, any phone, as the primary point of contact, you probably shouldn’t try upgrading over-the-air. Even if it doesn’t fail, you bound to feel some heartburn. In this case, the upgrade was done via the Blackberry Desktop Manager, and on the first run the process failed to get everything backed up. I gulped, thinking I was going to have to fiddle with all manner of settings after the fact, but the upgrade stopped on its own.

Back up everything beforehand, the manual way, then start the upgrade process. And pour a cocktail – you’re going to need it because the restarts can take a while. Over here there were two stiff drinks, as the boot seemed to stall at the halfway mark.

What’s new? Not a heck of a lot. The texting interface now looks and acts like Blackberry Messenger. There are also a bunch of application icons scattered around for social network applications and such that actually prompt for download – highly unnecessary, and I’m not sure how to get rid of them. Oh, and the alarm setting has been updated.

MG signing off (to find some Tums, despite still being hungry)

Why “social” applications are no longer present on my phone

Yesterday morning I deleted Twitter for Blackberry from my phone. This follows elimination of the Facebook application a few weeks back. I do not have nitpicks against either software – both worked just fine for their intended purpose. I won’t denounce others’ use of this software, or any like it, either. This is a personal choice, based on trial and error, and reason.

When I’m away from my desk I’m usually doing one of the following: fly-fishing, driving, walking the dog, reading, sleeping, eating, or any number of other things that are either escapes from the daily grind or require my utmost concentration (i.e. the fishing). These activities are not particular conducive to mobile phone use in general, let alone receiving and sending updates from social networks.

Further, I originally tested these apps based on recommendation of a friend – one who uses an iPhone. This person’s original premise was it was great to have these social applications available when out. This was particularly the case if and when you were carousing about town and wanted an easy way to let your friends know where you were so they could join you. I hold this person in high regard, but they’ve since moved to a homestead in the middle of nowhere to, uh, be alone. So much for that theory.

Finally, I thank everyone who’s followed or friend-ed me on Twitter and Facebook. I appreciate the fact that you’re interested in what I’m up to, but I don’t think you want (or need) to know what I’m doing every moment of the day.

I’m much more interested in what you are doing – and what you have to say – anyway. It’s just that I can’t really listen when I’m behind the wheel.

MG signing off (to shut up and pay attention, except when casting)

Back in Black(berry)

A year and a few months after dumping my Blackberry for a Nokia flip, I’ve turned back to the dark side. Part of the reason was simply needing email in my pocket again – I’ve got several projects going on right now and I’m feeling the heat every time I step away from the desk for more than five minutes. Also, RIM finally released a desktop manager for OS X, so I knew I could keep things in sync (or at least have someone to complain to about it).

After two days I’m impressed. The Curve 8900 connects to the neighbors’ wifi, so I can carry on with my surreptitious mobile activities, anonymously, and the interface has the clean and easy feel I became accustomed to last go-round. I was, however, surprised to find so many available applications that are actually useful. While Skype chat is still missing, I’ve been able to dig up an RSS reader, various IM clients, and of course the usual…apps for Twitter and Facebook.

Yep, I’m impressed. And while this post is not particularly impressive in its own right, I did type and publish the whole thing with WordPress for Blackberry. What will they think of next?

MG signing off (to walk the dog, fully connected)

Blackberry lost me (UPDATED)

It doesn’t mean I’ll never go back, but they’ve lost me for now. While I enjoyed using the Curve, the poor Mac support (for sync-ing and file exchange) combined with what might be the most overlooked security issue from an otherwise highly regarded system I’ve seen in a while (notwithstanding Microsoft Windows), forced a switch.

I’m back to the Nokia S60 platform, with a 6650. It’s roughly the same weight as a Curve, but with a measurably smaller feel in the pocket. And while AT&T has cavorted with Nokia to wrap in as many proprietary features as possible, the fact that there are still plenty of folks hacking Symbian means I’ve been able to find work-arounds or substitute applications for most anything I disliked.

I’m not missing the constant email pings, and I hope I’m providing more thoughtful responses from the desktop too. Yea, I feel a little out of place sans a qwerty keyboard, but my thumbs will adjust – the Blackberry’s phone reception (you know, the ‘talking’ function) was also great, but the Nokia’s just as. Additionally, AT&T customer service was superb throughout the move.

UPDATE: Not a bad move after all (at least if I want reception) – the 6650 is 3G.

UPDATE 2: Kara Swisher says goodbye too (although I’m unimpressed by the justification for all the iFarts).

The day after ‘Brown Monday’

After a chaotic weekend, Lehman filed for bankruptcy and Merrill sold itself to Bank of America. The Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged 504 points on the news (and roughly 20% of that loss occurred in the last hour or so of trading). It will forever be referred to here as “Brown Monday”. And the news is still coming.

Today we find…

Adieu.

UPDATE: Almost forgot…folks are wondering whether Blackberry subscriptions will take a hit now that Wall Street has been bludgeoned. Maybe those Blackberry addicts will go back to loving their spouses?

Revisiting NewsGator makes a fan out of me

Smart work regarding user experience

I’ve been intermittently testing some new feed reading resources, hence I’ve been spending a little more time on Google Reader and a lot more time on Bloglines Beta (being as Bloglines has been my default reader for years). NewsGator, which I’ve tinkered with intermittently over the last few years, has renewed my interest too. Each has its quirks, but for now I think NewsGator has me wrapped up. The reason…seamless, ubiquitous access.

Read anywhere

[singlepic id=399 w=240 h=183 float=left]I’ve always been a fan of speed, and desktop readers win in that category. Having tested NetNewsWire long ago, and Vienna since, I’ve found desktop suits me for real-time use. I can keep the application launched and hidden, and check the toolbar every now and again for new posts. However, should a person find themselves away from the desk – say sitting in a conference room at someone else’s office with an offering of a desktop in the corner with which to say check email, that favorite desktop feed reader becomes useless since it’s no longer available. You become a slave to whatever web-based reader you happen to keep maintained as a backup. Not so with the NewsGator offering – you subscriptions are your subscriptions, wherever you are. I’m using NewsGator Online to funnel through the large inbox first thing in the morning, and then I use the application to check news during the day – everything marked read is sync-ed between the two. On my latest test runs with NetNewsWire, I also discovered a great feature – Growl notifications. Every time the application polls for new postings, I get a little pop-up window telling me so – it’s not intrusive – and I don’t have “to act” to know there’s news.

[singlepic id=449 w=100 h=75 float=left]Let’s go a step further – a run to the post office and meet an hour long line. I’m one that can’t even talk on the phone without pacing back and forth – I’ve got to have multiple things to do, always. So I get an itch to catch up on some midday reading. I could steer the Curve to the mobile versions of Bloglines or G-Reader, but they are fairly slow and not particularly user friendly from an interface standpoint. And I’ve found (at least with Bloglines) that messages I’ve read remain in the “inbox” when I return to the desk. None of this is a problem with Newsgator Go!. On my Blackberry, said mobile version is an application – it’s simple to install (they even identify your device and operating system for you ahead of time), and almost as easy to use as the desktop unit. When I read, it’s read – on the desktop app and online.

I believe this seamless integration between desktop app, web interface, and mobile access is what dummies are missing. Everyone in my age bracket I try to explain RSS (and readers) to first looks at me funny, and then exclaims that they either can’t install applications at work, or if they have to open a browser anyway so why shouldn’t they just go to the site of interest. At least I know where to point them now.

My favorite features

  • Sync-ing – Did I say you could sync your feeds between the web-based, desktop, and mobile editions? Yea, I did, and that’s clearly my favorite feature of these products.
  • Blackberry access – After wondering where the RSS for dummies explanation was hidden, and laying particular emphasis on the lack of tools for the Blackberry, I got it. I’ll admit I played with NewsGator Go! when it was still in the beta-ish stages (and even found a bug with the mobile clipping function), but I thought when the final release came the company would be charging for it. That didn’t happen, and the mobile app is now good enough that I frankly wouldn’t even mind seeing an ad now and then.
  • Respecting the privacy – NewsGator went free with their apps some months ago, foregoing direct sales revenue for accumulation of attention data. But you can “privatize” that attention data nonetheless. I know…I should be sharing (and therefore I should also being using Google Reader). Sorry, but I don’t see the point when everyone else is already sharing what they read and doing it a heck of a lot faster than I anyway. Let’s face it – sharing what’s coming through your reader is probably great for journalists and/or professional bloggers, but I’m neither (and 99.9% of the internet using population isn’t either).

Some recommendations

I don’t think the NewsGator “suite” should rest on its laurels. I’d like to see:

  • The online reader allow “mark as read” upon scrolling through the items (like Google Reader and Bloglines Beta) instead of just marked when accessed (like Bloglines classic);
  • The mobile reader allow viewing headlines by folder, versus just feed source by feed source. Everyone using these types of apps likely has an unlimited mobile data plan (so let ‘er rip);
  • NewNewsWire should allow me to set my own refresh time, instead of going with the minimum 30 minutes.

Hardly outrageous demands – in fact they’re fairly picky. Some of feature ideas may seem a bit complex to the RSS newbie, and I’ll admit even I spent a fair share of time tweaking the NewsGator suite as best I could. But to the new feed user I’ll say “don’t worry.” The stuff is plug and play – just create a free account, add a few feeds (the company will suggest some for you if you don’t already have some in mind), download the apps (if you like speed), and just read. I actually found some pretty good news selections on the web-based version too – I’ll have to do a bit more exploring as time permits. For those just catching a clue, simply look for little icons like this ( ) wherever you may surf, copy the URL of the page you are on from your browser’s address bar, and paste into you reader after clicking the caption that says “add new feed.” Good feed readers (like the ones I am talking about here) should take care of the rest.

Still don’t have a clue what RSS is and how it can keep you better informed while actually saving you boatloads of time? An RSS dummy, so to speak? Then click here and you’ll find the best thing since sliced bread for the uninformed, a simple Q&A.

Side note: NetNewsWire is a Mac OS X application. If you are a Windows user, the desktop apps you’d be going after are FeedDemon and/or NewsGator Inbox (for Outlook). I haven’t tested those, but I’d suspect they work much the same. And I am curious to know too.

BlackBerry Giving Encryption Keys to Indian Government

Bruce Schneier:

After months of threats, it looks like RIM is giving in to Indian demands and handing over the encryption keys.

Before Blackberry users throw a tizzy, they should probably ask themselves how long their government has had said keys.

Happy Holidays (and headline hoopla)

Cheer and good tidings first; light reading last

  • Charlie Crist calls for an investigation of “Florida’s subprime-tainted fund.” It’s really a SIV tainted fund and a sub-prime tainted SIV, but I’ll spare you the details. More on the Florida Fund fiasco here, here, and here.
  • Research In Motion: no slowdown. Is it a consumer thing? Personally, I’m very happy with my Blackberry, although I consider it a business tool.
  • Myspace. Facebook. Go WordPress!? This may sound a little outlandish now, but the open source blogging application has the install base and the development community to really put a hurting on the “traditional” fare.
  • A Home Price Heat Map, compliments of Stephen Heise. Data runs from 1975 to Q3-2007. Very interesting – hit the pause button along the way.
  • A reminder: next time you look into that camera someone might be recording the color of your eyes, among other things.

Again, happy holidays!