Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Broadband in the Boonies

Look Ma! I made a news. Jackson West over at Web Worker Daily picked up a guide I wrote for Work.com called "Getting Internet to Your Business in the Boonies". Hopefully it will help out some of the rural entrepreneurs who are struggling to make locating in the new or growing businesses outside the major metro areas.

I personally live on one of those rural areas and love the fact that my cost of living is now 1/3 - yes, a 66% decrease - what it cost me to live in cities like Dallas and Atlanta.

Like me, many folks locating in rural areas have to pre-plan what they will be doing for broadband. It's usually not as simple as getting a phone line and ordering DSL or calling up the local cable company for a cable modem. In most cases there is no cable company anywhere near the location. And if the local central office does have DSL, you're too far out to get it. Those are the breaks that come with country living.

Are the trade-offs worth it for a techie? Absolutely! My living costs are dramatically reduced. My commute to the metro airport here is exactly the same as it was to the airport in Dallas or Atlanta. And my internet connection still works the same - it just costs a lot more (which is offset fully in my case by the decreased cost of housing). The only things I miss are nice resturants and quick access to tech toy stores like CompUSA, Best Buy, Fry's Electronics and MicroCenter. But... on the flip side, I'm now on a first name basis with the UPS, FedEx and DHL guys thanks to online shopping.

(PS... If you live in a rural area, Amazon Prime is a steal! I know I've more than gotten by money's worth on the free 2-day shipping and $3.99 overnight shipping. I can't figure out how they don't lose their shirts on it... b/c I keep ordering stuff that ways more than a pound or two and they keep shipping it to me overnight for $3.99.)


Wednesday, October 25, 2006

60 days til Christmas... What do I want?

Ok, it's that time of year again. People are asking me what I want for Christmas.

I told my parents I wanted a ThermaPen.

Other things that always interest me... let's see:
- Square faced watches. I have tiny wrists and always have to take links out though (so a nice gesture would be including a $20 bill for me to pay the jeweler to do it).
- SD card flash memory.
- Fancy food that doesn't contain dairy or eggs - i.e. no mayonnaise either. (Cheeses are usually ok though.)
- A good peppery olive oil from unexpected Mediteranian countries like Turkey.
- Gift cards to office supply stores.
- Chocolate. Not a big fan of filled chocolates though. Cherry and amaretto filled stuff is a good bet though.

I'm sure something else will strike my fancy but that's a good start.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

First Impressions with Presto Preview

Well... it's been a week on the Presto Preview - aka the HP Printing Mailbox powered by Presto. I have good news and bad news.

Bad news first: I don't have any juicy dirt to sling about the product. Darn!

Here are my takes so far concerning the service:

- The product is too hard for their target market to setup. They're targeting Baby Boomers - or anyone in the 60 to 75 year range for that matter. No way could my grandmother have set up the unit by herself without someone helping. She read the setup poster, looked at me with a blank face and said "Do what?" I proceeded to setup the unit without any instructions. It's the same problem we had with VCRs... if it's not intuitive to someone with no technology experience, it won't be used.

- The technology is great and does exactly what was promised. But not enough work has gone into turning the actual equipment into something that doesn't require a big, six way folding, double sided poster to setup. I'm going to lay the blame for the hardware itself not being made "idiot proof" squarely on HP's shoulders. Over the years they have - in my professional opinion - tried to simplify printer setup but have yet to break through the intelligence barrier yet. I'm betting it's because they have too many engineers working in the product teams and not enough normal people.

- Instructions for the unit read like an engineer is trying really hard to explain something to a normal person. They need another level of abstraction so things come out like a normal person is explaining it to another normal person. Most technology companies suffer from this same problem. More time is needed to get the important things up to the surface and the technology related stuff hidden under the surface.

- My generation takes a lot of technology things for granted. Even simple stuff. For example, the instructions said to purchase "printer paper from your local discount store". My grandmother had never heard of "printer paper" or "copy paper" for that matter. I fished around with a few other explanations and the one she finally understood was "typing paper".

- The back-end of the service is still a work in progress. This was experienced firsthand when one day last week I sent an email that got rejected. Later in the day, the Preview support staff sent an acknowledgment that I had emailed during a transition to a new server.

- Along the same lines, a few things are still missing from the back-end. There are only 2 email templates (and 1 for Halloween) to chose from and only 2 "subscriptions" (think of them as electronically delivered newspaper or magazine clippings). According to the documentation, eventually there will be templates for most holidays and special occasions.

- Scheduled checks for new emails work as promised. Although I have had a few occasions where emails I sent near the check time weren't delivered until the following check. I'm not sure how long it takes there servers to process incoming emails into the format the Mailbox uses but in once case I emailed 20 minutes prior to the scheduled check and the email didn't make it on that check.

- Speaking of scheduled checks, there's a glaring feature omission - no button to initiate a check at that specific moment. As a regular email user, I would have expected the equivalent of a Send/Receive button so that a check could be made in case you were expecting something to be sent right then. There is no such button. So you just have to wait for the next scheduled check. If you have all 3 daily checks set up it's not an issue... but if you're using the default single daily check that might be a problem. (Yep, the default is for the unit to check for new messages once a day.)

- The biggest surprise for me was that HTML emails actually retain their formatting and picture placement. I've copied and pasted a few web pages into emails for my grandmother. They come out the other side with formatting and web page images in place as I would expect. That's a welcome feature since it means no one has to print web pages off for her anymore when she sees things on TV.


Thursday, October 19, 2006

Problem w/ IE7 - Windows has detected a significant change in your machine configuration.

File this under capital A for annoying.

I took the plunge last night - after backing up of course - into IE7. I hadn't bothered with any of the betas because I've grown averse to being on the bleeding edge of Microsoft technology. Cutting edge will do for me, thanks.

Well, I got cut. After installing IE7 it wanted to reboot. Which I let it do. Upon reboot, I got the dreaded Windows has detected "a significant change in your machine configuration" message. Whoopie. Now I have 3 days to reactivate.

And oh fun... the internet reactivation declares I have exceeded my permitted number of activations for my license. Of course I have b/c Windows insisted I reactivate every time I added more RAM, upgraded the hard drive or swapped out the DVD burner for a faster one in this machine. So here goes a call to Microsoft's 866-Call-India activation help line. After reading off my series of digits to the gal, she quizzed me on about 10 different things. Finally she gave me an activation code... at the excruciating pace of 3 digits at a time - and she waited for me to acknowledge the receipt of each 3 before giving me any more.

So the question still remains... WHY did IE7 trigger the Windows hardware change reactivation? The world may never know.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Getting ready for Presto Preview

On Tuesday of this coming week, a new test will begin in our family... a test that will mark a new era for a certain grandmother. Thanks to HP, our family will be testing one of the HP Printing Mailbox units for Presto!

For those who haven't heard of what Presto! is about, here are a couple links:
- Presto puts digital photos in the hands of your grandma
- New printer delights the tech inept

Presto Printing Mailbox from HPThe short version is... The Presto! service combines a dedicated HP printer, modem and the Presto! service to make a hands-off unit that someone who is unfamiliar with technology can use to receive emails and photos. The unit looks like a slightly overgrown HP printer and has a place to plug it into a phone line on the back. Just install an ink cartridge, insert some paper and plug it into a phone line. When the little blue light blinks, you've got mail. That's it. Their target market is the Baby Boomer generation... specifically the 50+ year old folks who don't already have an internet connected PC or are timid about getting online with what they already have.

As the account manager, I get to pick and chose who can email the Presto Printing Mailbox. Each Mailbox unit gets a personal email address that can be given to anyone who has regular email. The trick is those folks can only send email to the Mailbox user if the account manager has added them to the allowed senders list or the Mailbox user has called an 800# and had the person added to their list manually.

During the preview, emails will be limited to email/html (the HTML being semi-unknown at the moment b/c I haven't seen how well they render it yet), JPGs and GIFs. That's enough functionality to allow photos to be easily emailed to the Mailbox user as well as family update emails and general cheer type messages.

I'm hoping they will expand the service to support PDF attachments and maybe Word docs. But for me PDFs would be perfect.

If this works well, it will revolutionize the way our family keeps in touch with the grandmother in question. Right now we all share photos and stuff via email with each other but she never gets to see them. This is the grandmother who swore she would never type after leaving a career as a librarian.

One of the coolest features of the service I'm waiting to validate is their auto-sensing of the account and hardware ID based on the caller ID of the phone line into which the Printing Mailbox gets connected. Supposedly, if I have setup the account before the Mailbox is plugged in and connects to the Presto! service the first time, everything will automatically configure itself and email from the Presto! account will just start flowing in w/o any further interaction from me.

Should this little piece of technological mash-up work as promised, I know what I'll be buying a few other 50+ year old family members over the next months.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Listen up AT&T: Protect the BellSouth Engineers!

Most people don't know it... but Bellsouth is home to the most experienced hurricane response team in the world. Bar none. Bellsouth - and pretty much any utility company in the south - has almost yearly experience recovering from some sort of natural disaster. They have successfully recovered from hurricane after hurricane, tornados, flooding, ice, etc.

After Katrina, it’s amazing that Bill Smith, Chief Technology Officer for BellSouth Corporation, and his team have yet to be guaranteed their positions once the SBC(ATT)/BellSouth merger completes. While Bill would be the first to tell you they have procedures that need improvement, the BellSouth response to Katrina and Rita's large scale crisis was professional and (relatively) effective.

Keep in mind that disaster preparedness is not revenue generating! And even in the best cases recovering from a distaster costs the company millions to billions of unbudgeted dollars. So we all need to remind the folks planning ATT/SBC/Bellsouth's 10,000 layoffs how crucial protecting these skills are.

The FCC Commissioners recently introduced a new Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau. The new bureau will presumably continue the often complimented job (yeah, it's ok to laugh) of the FCC getting regulations out of the way during Katrina crisis. Regardless, D.C. bureaus and committees are not enough. Real public safety requires the most skilled professionals at the companies involved.

Hopefully part of the merger approval negotiations that are ongoing will include a quiet conversation between the FCC Chairman, Randall and Ed. A simple comment that the commission will continue to watch the staffing and level of investment in disaster preparedness should do the trick. AT&T has plenty of good reasons to take advantage of the BellSouth engineering talent. Let's hope they actually do the right thing.

CircuitCity.com coupon: 10% off $199 or more

Get a jump on Christmas electronics shopping! CircuitCity.com offers dealnews readers 10% off most orders of $199 or more via the link in this post. The discount shows on the page where you enter your credit card information. It matches the best percent-off discount we've seen from CircuitCity.com this year. Excludes all Apple items and iPods, all PCs, and several name brands. Coupon ends October 14.