Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Why my Blackberry Tour is awesome...

I can recall discrete points sprinkled over the timeline of my existence where I knew that something that I encountered would be life-changing. Examples: when a grade school teacher told me about a device called a "modem," the first time I opened in Netscape Navigator 1.0, the first time I heard of a DVD player, when I first met Noell, etc. (Noell, you should be honored to be listed among these other items :) )One less dramatic instance of this phenomenon was when I upgraded to my new Blackberry Tour.

Before upgrading, I had two iterations of the Palm Treo (650 and 700), which I loved. It was tough to make the move away from the Treo, but when my contract was up, I decided to give Blackberry a try. The verdict: why did I wait so long?

The Tour is awesome. And I will tell you why:

1) Form-factor - the Treo was one of the best phones I have ever used from a perspective of form-factor. I could walk around and use it with one hand and it had a tactile keyboard. The Blackberry is *almost* as good. The keyboard is great (nice textured keys) and I can use it with one hand, but I often get the urge to tap on the screen to select something - the Tour does not have a touch-screen.

2) Applications - I will do a separate blog post about some of the apps that I like, but here are the highlights:
- Google Talk
- Google Maps
- UberTwitter
- Facebook
- Bloomberg
- Pandora

3) Message aggregation - All alerts (IM's, email from different accounts, Facebook alerts, etc) are visible in my messages screen. This weirded me out at first, but I have grown to love going to one place to see all alerts.

4) Battery life - I can get about 36 hours of good use out of a charge

5) The browser murders the Blazer web browser that haunted the Treo

Things I don't like:

1) BIS email - I hate that I can't set the interval of mail checking. It kills me that my email shows up around every 10 minutes or so. This will hurt my aspiration to keep up an email response time similar to my friends Al and Ira (around 2 min, on average [but it's only that high if you average in sleeping time]).

2) That it doesn't have or that I can't find speakerphone. I need that for conference calls.

3) That I cannot find a Yelp app for it

4) That the trackball thing can be a little unresponsive sometimes

5)And the biggest one, that Verizon attempts to charge monthly fees to use the device's built-in GPS and visual voicemail.

Overall, it is a great phone and I will certainly be posting more about it. I *highly* recommend that Tour if you're looking for a new phone.

Oh, man, I cannot tell you how much I love being able to Twitter anything that I find interesting as soon as I think of it (I live in perpetual fear that others will be deprived of my constant stream of clever thoughts). And, how much I love being able to IM while walking between buildings. And, how much I love listening to Pandora at the gym while answering email. And,...


Friday, July 10, 2009

Priceline and BetterBidding

The Web, and the information it renders accessible, have a near-infinite amount of applications, the greatest of which is facilitating cheapness - er, frugality. With just an Internet connection and a little savvy, your run-of-the-mill cheapskate can grow into the uber-miser (the miser meister?). Today, I am going to give a quick lesson on one of my favorite methods to save a bundle.

I am big fan of traveling. There is not much I would rather do than pack up and go on an impromptu trip with the wife. Unfortunately, one of my least favorite things is paying for said vacation. Enter Priceline has been around since the time of the Stegosaurus, so you have probably heard of it. In addition to more traditional methods of booking hotels, flights, etc., they also have their signature model. Let's take a look at this model with regard to hotels.

In the Priceline model, you select the city you would like to go to, the dates when you want to go, the section of the city you would like to stay in, and the level of hotel (up to 5 stars) that you would like to stay at. Then, you enter the price you would be willing to pay for a room meeting the aforementioned parameters and enter your credit card info. If Priceline accepts your bid, your card is automatically charged and the hotel where you will be staying is revealed. If your bid is not accepted, you have to wait 24 hours to bid again or change your search parameters. This is to prevent you from starting your bid at $1 and incrementing by $1 until you find the sweet spot.

Pretty simple. But, how does one know that he or she is getting the best deal? It KILLS me to think that I got a good deal and to later find out that someone else got a better one - kills me.
OK, so we need some help.

Enter BetterBidding is a simple discussion board where you can search for a city and find see what others were able to bid successfully for hotel rooms. It has three real uses: 1) to attempt to predetermine what the mystery hotel is, 2) to find out what others were able to successfully (and unsuccessfully) bid for a room, and 3) to brag about the deal that you got so that others can attempt to replicate it.

Give it a try. Go to and search for some city. Check out the posts and you will get a better idea of what I mean.

Now that we have a rough idea of the range of successful bids and the possible hotels we could be dealt, we are in a better position to make a bid on a room. I usually try to adjust for day of week, season, and these days, for the sagging economy.

Recently, I was able to get the Sheraton Centre in downtown Toronto for $50USD/night (usually over $200) and the Hyatt in Buffalo for $40USD/night. Not bad.

In conclusion, I believe that some guy said that "variety is the spice of life." Rubbish. Competition is the essence of life and what better way to compete than to save a bunch of money and get to brag about it all in one fell swoop? I highly recommend that you attempt this method if you're going on a trip and you don't care at which specific hotel you stay. Obviously, this wouldn't be preferable for traveling to a conference where you want to stay at the hotel where the conference is being held.

Good luck, and let me know if you are able to score any good deals!


NOTE: If you know of other innovative ways to cheap out, I would love to hear about them - really, please contact me ASAP. I could be wasting money as we speak!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Borrowing CD's

Good morning, everyone. I now fully awake and blogging from the balcony again. I saw an interesting ad on the way to the shore on Saturday. There was a little CD store with a sign offering "CD test-drives." You could, for $4, "borrow" a CD for 15 days and then either purchase it or return it.

Now, here is why this is interesting. I believe physical media to be dead, or at least on its deathbed awaiting its inevitable fate. I hate the idea of having put a physical disc into a media player to listen to music or watch a DVD. I find it to be the definition of primitive. So, what does one do if one runs a business predicated on an antiquated technology? Let people borrow CD's, take them home, and rip them to digital form for less than the cost of buying the album on iTunes.

Sure, this isn't what is explicitly advertised - but I'm pretty sure the intent is painfully obvious. Right, it's not legal - and I'm not condoning or endorsing it with this post. I am just saying that I understand the thinking behind it, it's clever, and it's interesting.

If we compare this model to other methods of obtaining music, it seems to do pretty well when graphed on the risk-to-reward Cartesian plane, mainly because there is about zero chance you will receive a pre-litigation letter from the RIAA.

Anyway, just thought you might find this interesting. (Again, I'm not endorsing this model so don't comment about how I am a jerk - well, to clarify, you can call me a jerk, but not for this reason.)


Sunday, July 5, 2009


I have a first-generation Macbook Pro (2006) and it has always run pretty hot. The underside gets pretty warm and the thin strip of casing between the keys and the display could cook a strip of bacon.

This hasn't been a huge inconvenience for me until recently, when I had to start running Second Life on my laptop for a work project. The problem with SL is that it is extremely graphics intensive, so the laptop reaches temperatures comparable to a solar flare. One of my friends told me about smcfancontrol, an application for the Mac that lets you control its fan speed. So, you can actually increase the fan speed to cool your computer faster, if need be.

Now, I am not usually a fan of overriding hardware controls, but in this case there definitely seems to be something wrong with how the fans are tuned. I usually only override fan speed when I'm running SL and the temp gets up around 70C.

One of the cooler things, I think, about SMC is that it displays the current internal temperature of your Mac, along with the current fan speed, in the menu bar. So, you can actually see what's going on inside your Mac.

Anyway, if you have a Mac that tends to run hot, this app might be of use. However, I make no claims of knowing the effect of using such a tool on your warranty. :)

Thursday, July 2, 2009

I'm back (again)

I figured, given that it's been almost a year since I have updated my blog (!), that I should update it before some sort of Blogger inactivity script shuts down my account. I'm getting ready to teach a course on how technology affects privacy and reputation ("Privacy in a Networked World").

While working on my syllabus, I came across a great quote in the book that I am using ("The Future of Reputation" by Daniel J. Solove). This quote is from Perry Barlow's Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace. I love it:

"Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of the Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave me alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather.

We have no elected government, nor are we likely to have one, so I address you with no greater authority than that with which liberty itself always speaks. "

Here's the full text:

I think that is one of the more powerful pieces of writing I have seen in a while. I can't wait for the class to read it.

Anyway, good to see you again, and I will really try to keep the blog updated.