Opinion

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I am finally a cell phone owner.  It took about 9 months before something that could justify the exceptional expense that cell phones cost.

The experience of buying and owning a cell phone involves several parties.  The parties involved are the reseller, the service provider, and the phone itself.  I’m going to break these 3 part out for this review.

The provider:

This was the easiest decision for me.  Sprint has the cheapest plans right now.  Plus, I get a 15% discount through an employer perk.   The coverage isn’t that great, but it is good enough.  My overall rating of Sprint is a 6/10.

The reseller:

Best Buy was first on my list of places to buy the phone because they handle the rebates for you, instantly.  No waiting 6-8 weeks, no mailing out 17 pieces of information, they just handle it.  Plus, I will never go to a Sprint store again due to the awful customer service I’ve had with them.

I would have no problem buying a cell phone from Best Buy again.  They seem to care more than the Sprint store does about customer satisfaction.   There were two problems I had with the phone that they helped to clear up with me.  I think that these stories sum up my experience well.

The first issue I had was the phone went on sale three weeks after I bought it.  I was still looking in the fliers after purchase to see if the phone would go on sale.  It did.  The phone went from $179.99 to $99.99.   I was still in the first month of my plan, so I could cancel the phone and buy a new one for the reduced price.  This option would’ve involved quite a bit of hassle, so I was relieved when Best Buy credited my credit card with the difference without issue.  After the horrible experience I had at the Sprint store with the Palm Pre, this was _really_ a nice change.

The second issue I had was a phone issue.  The battery life on the phone wasn’t up to my standards.  I took it to Best Buy and they replaced the battery for me.  No prying questions, no acting like I was the problem; they just took a battery from another phone and gave it to me.

The phone:

I’m going to cover Android here to.  The phone and the software that run it are, warranty wise, inseparable.

The draw to the phone was two-fold.  I wanted a Android phone.  I wanted a keyboard.  The Samsung Moment was the only phone that meets these requirements that Sprint carries.

Android has been good but not great.  The Moment runs version 1.5 of Android.  I’ve found it buggy at times.  The default setup is odd.  For some reason, the GPS is on by default.  This will cause poor battery life out of the box.

Android has a great app store.  The app store is the main reason that the phone and platform are a buy.  I can download a million or so ringtones and wallpapers for free.  There are fun games to play as well to burn all of that spare time we have.  There are apps for Facebook, sports scores, alcoholic beverage creation, and for reading the US Constitution.  The amount of apps is staggering.  The quality of the apps is always iffy.  I’m only installing the top rated and downloaded apps.  Don’t be surprised if your phone crashes when using an unpopular or unsanctioned app.

The phone comes with demo applications that cannot be uninstalled.   Google makes money off of your personal information.  This comes through in their phones as well.  There is no option to not sync contacts.  If you don’t want Google to know about your friends, don’t buy one of their phones.  One of the best examples of Google trickery is the GPS setting.  There are two ways to do GPS, wireless networks, and GPS satellites.  The description under wireless networks reads: “See location in application (such as Maps) using wireless networks”.  The description under the GPS satellites reads: “Locate to street-level (requires more battery plus view of sky)”.  The descriptions are true, but biased.  Clicking on the Use wireless networks setting reveals why.  A consent form appears stating: ” Allow Google’s location service to collect anonymous and aggregate location data.  Collection will occur regardless of whether any applications are active.”  This means if this setting is on, you become a data provider for Google.  No, they don’t pay you for the information you provide.

The phone is mechanically great.  The non-slide backing feels really good in my hands.  The overall build quality is quite good.  I would rather have tactile buttons rather than the touch sensitive buttons at the bottom of the screen.  The screen is nice and bright.  It looks like a bigger screen would’ve fit in the same form factor.   I would’ve preferred the screen to fill out all the space instead of having a border.  The keyboard is good and has nice raised keys, keys for numbers, and a directional pad.  I’ve read some criticisms about the touchpad button.  I actually like it as a concept, but the implementation is poor.  The OS is slow to recognize movement on the touchpad, which makes it difficult to use.

Now for the Achilles’s heel, battery life.  The battery life of this phone is just aweful.  This phone should be thought of as more of a laptop in terms of battery life.  It is that bad.  I’ve followed all of the tips in the forums and still only get about 13 hours of standby time.  It’s bad enough where you have to plan a day around it.  If you stay at work late, or have a long drive home, the phone might die before you get there.  Connecting a personal phone to a charger at work is an annoyance and not the message I want to give to my employer.  Even using the GPS in the car makes me worry about when the next charge will have to come.  Its bad enough where it puts a shroud over all of the good features the phone actually has.  This phone has roughly half of what I would consider decent batter life.

Like I mentioned before, I’m keeping the phone.  It does what I want it to do, and I can cost-justify it.  However; i am, getting three phone chargers for Christmas and await a higher capacity battery with great anticipation.

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The Real Madden Curse is the Game

Every three years for the past decade and a half, I have purchased and played the latest installment of the Madden football franchise.

The game is one of the most popular games released every single year.  It is the only game that you can buy that features real NFL football and players.  This is due to an exclusive license.  For the time being, no competing products are allowed.  I mention this early because I believe this is one of its greatest pitfalls.  There is no competition, no benchmark (other than itself), and, for football fans, no other option.

This year, I purchased the Wii version of Madden 2010.  This marks the 4th console and 6th time I have purchased the game.

The gameplay is really fun.  No, really, it is  a fun game to play.  If this was the only mark of a game, this one succeeds.

I am not that easy to please.  Perhaps, that has do with my profession as a software engineer.  If I was a developer who worked on this series, the shame would be building.  Bugs that have been in the game for over a decade still exist.  The major issues I have are broken out and explained below.  All of these issues have existed for at least 10 years.

1.  The game cheats

There was a game that I played in Madden 2000 where my receivers dropped 25 passes.  The problem wasn’t that they were bad receivers, they were close to the best in the league, the problem was that I was winning the game.

Madden 2010 has the same quirky system.  The players don’t play according to their capabilities.  The players play as well as the game dictates they play.

Examples of this show up in Game of the Week games.  All of the sudden, blockers will just quit blocking, receivers will drop the ball on easy catches, players will fumble the ball more frequently, and the defense won’t drop an interception.

To make this flaw even more annoying.  There is actually a configuration setting to tweak these attributes.  You can modify how much your team fumbles the ball.  The players should play depending on their abilities, not a cheat-based system.

2. The commentating

No, my quarterback did not catch that pass, but that’s not how the commentators see it.  About 1/2 of the comments  the commentators say are incorrect.  It is possible to get booed by the commentators when after making a play on 3rd down to get into field goal range.  I play the game with this feature turned off.  I’m glad they included that feature.

3. The AI

The AI is miserable.  It doesn’t seem to grasp basic football concepts such as clock management and play calling.   The AI will always call a time out and kick a field goal with 9 seconds remaining.  Why 9 seconds?  The other team will get the ball back with a few seconds left.  Why not take a shot at the end zone?

I like the Ask Madden feature, but it doesn’t understand how much time is on the clock either.  When the player is 10 yards out of field goal range, he will suggest to run the clock down.

The AI seems to be really poor on 1st and 2nd down, but is a beast on 3rd down.  This has something to do with point 1 in this list.  It’s annoying and not representative of a real football game.

In conclusion: Madden 2010 possess the same curse that all of the other Madden games I’ve played have had.  The development process produces a buggy game with poorly implemented features, but if you want football, it’s the only way to go.

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The Palm Pre came out recently, and I had to get one.  Or two, depending on if you count the returned ones.

It took 5 hours and 8 visits to 3 different Sprint stores to come up with nothing.

The Pre has a lot of things going for it.  WebOS is excellent.  I never had an issue with the OS.  The problems that I had were to do with the hardware.  In particular, the screen.  Watching NFL Network on the phone was awesome.  The GPS and youtube apps were good too.

The first Pre had the discoloration issue that is discusses in length in other places on the internet.  Do a search for Palm Pre Discoloration and you will see what I mean.  The second Pre had a black spec in the middle of the screen.

The picture below shows it.  It is above the ‘C’ in the text “Premium Channels”.  Also, the lower screen discoloration issue is clearly visable.

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Two tries, and two defective phones.  The rep at Sprint would not replace the second one, as they have a one return policy.

Speaking of Sprint.  I don’t think I’ve ever had representatives mislead me so much about anything like this before.  I was told various things such as:  “You have to have a repair center declare the phone defective before you can return the phone.”  “You can’t return the phone except at the store you purchased it from.”  “You can’t exchange the phone at this Sprint store.”  “We can’t put you on our list of people who want a Pre.”  “We won’t have another Pre in stock for 2 to 3 months.”

I may have well have been handing them radioactive material for the responses they were giving me.  The way that Sprint is handling this realease is unkind at best.  Please be aware of that if you decide to purchase this phone.

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This month, there were a good set of new Linux distribution releases.  The ones I was most excited about was Fedora 9 and OpenSuse 11.  This excitement was driven by a few things:

  1. Improved hardware support with the 2.6.26 kernel
  2. Package manager improvements (especially with OpenSuse)
  3. The new Gnome desktop (2.22) runs snappier than previous versions
  4. KDE 4

My initial project was to install Fedora Core 9 on the arcade system.  The installation was unique in that I decided to install to a flash drive instead of a hard drive.  This was inspired by the Fedora Live USB tools http://fedoraproject.org/wiki/FedoraLiveCD/USBHowTo.

Fedora is in a very interesting point in its life.  It is getting over being trounced in popularity by Ubuntu and learning to implement some of the features that make Ubuntu so appealing to so many.

I used the Windows version of the Live/USB creater tool first and it seemd to complete successfully.  However, the system would not boot fully to the device.  It seemed that the USB stick was assigned /dev/sdb which caused some errors.  I did get it to boot after typing some commands to mount the stick properly.

It was near sighted on my part, but I didn’t reallize that the Live USB stick would want to do hardware configuration on every bootup.  Perhaps a save hardware profile option would be a nice addition.  After realizing this, I decided that a full install to a the the USB Flash drive would be the best route.

The installer that is included with Fedora 9 is lacking when it comes to installing to flash.  There is no option to use jff2 as the file system.  This would’ve helped increase the life of the flash disk.  It took about 10 tries to get the installation going.  There were various problems with the disk partition tool that kept cropping up.  It, of course, didn’t like that I didn’t want to use swap space.  Also, any attempt to use the fat filesystem for the drive resaulted in a failure.

I ended up buying a 4GB drive to be the primary drive.  The Fedora installer fails if the drive does not have enough space (I think it was around 2.3GB) to copy the initial image.  The failure for this happens after the disk partitioning is done, so you have to go all the way back through the installer to correct this.

The Fedora desktop is really good looking and has been for most of there recent releases.  The hardware detection worked well and detected the atheros wireless card and loaded the driver correctly.  It surprised me since that was only recently committed to the Linux kernel.

Fedora package management has been its Achilles heel, in my opinion.  This release is, unfortunately, no exception.  Pup and Pruit have been ditched (yea!!).  The have been replaced with an installer that can only install one package at a time (boo!!).  This is a flaw that may just turn people against the distribution as a whole.  Installing yumex is a good interim solution for this issue.

There are a few ways that Linux distributions separate themselves from other distributions.  Here’s where comparisons should be made.

Type:  Desktop

Release Cycle: 6 months, supported for 1 1/2 years

Package Management:  Still slower than most, the default graphical fronend is missing the feature to install multiple packages.  This is the area where the distribution does the worst.

Feel: Good overall feel.  Theme is pretty and desktop is snappy.

Security:  SELinux is great.  It stayed out of the way while still prividing security.

License: It’s harder to find a “freeer” distribution than Fedora.  They and Red Hat are members in good standing with the open source community

Virualization: I didn’t test this on the arcade, but Fedora 9 does include the new paravirt_ops.

I will still use Fedora and check out the releases as they occur.  They are simply great at moving Linux forward with projects like PackageKit, AIGLX, pulseaudio, and paravirt_opts.  It’s hard not to want to support them.  Just please fix the installer and the package manager.

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Hello World

And then it dawned on me, blogs are public! I don’t write here much not because my mind isn’t coming up with interesting things, it is more that there are a whole lot of people who don’t read words the way they are written. Anything that is written or spoken can be taken out of context by people who are blinded by their beliefs or simply ignorant. There are horror stories about companies who have done research on candidates and discovered things they didn’t like about them by reading their blogs or social network pages. I don’t want to fall into that catagory. Only things that are non-debatable will show up in the public portions of this site. If you would like to talk about debatable matters in an intelligent setting, feel contact me.

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This one comes as a result of Intel trying to stifle a humanitarian effort, OLPC.

From http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Intel#INTEL_RESIGNS_FROM_OLPC.

January, 4 2008 – We at OLPC have been disappointed that Intel did not deliver on any of the promises they made when they joined OLPC; while we were hopeful for a positive, collaborative relationship, it never materialized.

Intel came in late to the OLPC association: they joined an already strong and thriving OLPC Board of Directors made up of premier technology partners; these partners have been crucial in helping us fulfill our mission of getting laptops into the hands of children in the developing world. We have always embraced and welcomed other low-cost laptop providers to join us in this mission. But since joining the OLPC Board of Directors in July, Intel has violated its written agreement with OLPC on numerous occasions. Intel continued to disparage the XO laptop in nations that had already decided to partner with OLPC (Uruguay and Peru), with countries that were in the midst of choosing a laptop solution (Brazil and Nigeria), and other countries contemplating a laptop program (Mongolia).

Intel was unwilling to work cooperatively with OLPC on software development. Over the entire six months it was a member of the association, Intel contributed nothing of value to OLPC: Intel never contributed in any way to our engineering efforts and failed to provide even a single line of code to the XO software efforts – even though Intel marketed its products as being able to run the XO software. The best Intel could offer in regards to an “Intel inside” XO laptop was one that would be more expensive and consume more power – exactly the opposite direction of OLPC’s stated mandate and vision.

Despite OLPC’s best efforts to work things out with Intel and several warnings that their behavior was untenable, it is clear that Intel’s heart has never been in working collaboratively as a part of OLPC. This is well illustrated by the way in which our separation was announced singlehandedly by Intel; Intel issued a statement to the press behind our backs while simultaneously asking us to work on a joint statement with them. Actions do speak louder than words in this case. As we said in the past, we view the children as a mission; Intel views them as a market.

The benefit to the departure of Intel from the OLPC board is a renewed clarity in purpose and the marketplace; we will continue to focus on our mission of providing every child with an opportunity for learning.

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This basically says that Intel is far in the lead and therefore, will sit on their current platform instead of pushing the envelope further.

Santa Clara (CA) – Digitimes is reporting that Intel has decided to adjust its scheduled release of three previous quad-core CPUs due to the problems AMD has been having with their Barcelona architecture and launch. A significant errata in AMD’s processors, the temporary fix of which affects performance by as much as 20% on average, some applications see a 55%+ hit, is the cause of the delay. AMD has been relatively tight-lipped on answering questions relating to the impact, timeframes, etc.

According to Digitimes, Intel believes there will be little benefit to launching the CPUs now that AMD is significantly behind schedule. The three CPUs were Core 2 Quad Q9300, Q9450 and Q9550. The remainder of its 45nm lineup are on track for Q1 2008 launch, though no specific timeframe was given.

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I like movies. Expecially good ones. Rotten tomatoes has just ranked Ratatouille as the best movie of this year so far. Here’s why it’s not.

1. Waaay too much of the “We’re gonna die!!!!!!!! We’re ok now!!!!! We’re gonna die!!!!!” type of excitement. See Finding Nemo for a really good example of this annoyance.

2. Over reactions. A good example of this is when Grandma decided to shoot the rats with a shotgun while indoors. Also, why was everyone sooo mad when they found out that a rat was cooking?
3. Suspention of belief. I’m ok with talking rats. I’m ok with a guy who can serve really well when he’s never done it before. Where I draw the line is controlling a person through pulling their hair.

My pick for the summer is Transformers 🙂 . Ratatouille just isn’t that good.

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