Saturday, July 31, 2010

Controlling Cell Phone Bills

A couple of years ago some of the cell phone companies came out with some rudimentary "parental controls". One example was T-Mobile's Family Allowances. They have not been marketed, and do not seem to have caught on.

Now I am seeing more and more kids with Android phones, and soon the Android marketplace will allow charging to your phone bill (instead of Google Checkout). More and more kids are getting Android phones, so this brings back the old concern about your kids running up the family mobile bill. I imagine there may be some, highly un-publicized way to shut off the ability to charge apps, if you take the initiative to call T-Mobile customer service. I hope I am wrong, and they build this right in. They really should. People need reasonable protections against excessive, unexpected charges.

On that note, I hate the idea of being able to spend (often, donate) money by texting a special number. I know the causes are often good, but I just do not like money flowing automagically out of my account, just by pressing a few buttons. It actually seems RIPE for a phishing scam.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Huge Missing Feature in Google Calendar: Snooze

There appears to be no snooze whatsoever in the browser. There is a rudimentary snooze in Android, but it has all the functionality of an $8 alarm clock (hard-coded 5 minutes). This is really a big miss.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Lawyers and "Confidentiality"

Another good "(many) lawyers are evil" (my interpretation) article.
Lawyers, in short, have carved out a role for themselves as the privileged keepers of much information that is important to the public interest. Historically, lawyers have liked to think of themselves as defenders of individual liberty against an overbearing state, primarily through traditional advocacy—that is, persuasively asserting a client's rights. Today, however, lawyers' typical efforts to mediate between clients and the state rely less on advocacy and more on information control. This is a disturbing development; lawyers have brought to their new role as information guardians a powerful predisposition toward needless secrecy that suppresses and distorts information about many matters of public importance.
In a world that increasingly seeks transparency in government and business, the legal profession stands out for its frankly uncompromising commitment to opacity.  Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis's principle that "sunlight" is the "best of disinfectants" is a major influence on contemporary public policy nearly everywhere except in his own profession.
Lawyers can give clients something that other professionals, with the exception of doctors and priests, cannot: strong confidentiality rights. Although the legal system routinely requires accountants, bankers, and business consultants to disclose ostensibly private communications with their clients, attorney-client privilege protects most communication between lawyers and their clients from involuntary revelation.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Teach Confirmation Bias

In this age of internet memes and cable news, is there any more important concept that should be taught in the schools than confirmation bias?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Review of Rental Cottage at 671 Bosma, Holland, Michigan

We just got back from a great week at the Atlantic Ocean of the midwest, Lake Michigan. It is a jewel of "flyover" country. With temperate summer waters, white sandy beaches and water as far as the eye can see, it is every bit as good as the ocean. The cottage we stayed in was terrific, here is a short review:

The very short review is that everything about the cottage exceeded expectations. It is newly and delightfully decorated. The proximity is superb--less than 10 minutes for a very pleasant walk to an un-crowded, private beach. The physical location is great, too--in a cute little neighborhood, just north of Lake Macatawa and east of Lake Michigan. The yard is spacious, and there is good privacy on the lovely patio. The cottage is really a recently re-modeled, very-well-kept and well-decorated house. It has everything you would want, including extended cable, wi-fi, laundry, air-conditioning, a gas grill, and a handy outdoor shower for rinsing off the sand. Everything, without exception, was in excellent working order.

The cottage is advertised as sleeping 8, but we asked the owner, Mike, if two families totaling 9 persons would be okay. He candidly replied that the sleeping arrangements would work fine, but we should be aware that there is only one bathroom. We said we could make that work, and it was not a problem at all. As to sleeping, there are 3 spacious bedrooms. Two equipped with double beds, and one with 2 pairs of bunks. So if you, like us, are vacationing with another family, you can turn a good deal into a great deal, by splitting the cost, very easily and very comfortably.. The rooms of the cottage are also very large, so there is plenty of room for 8-9 people, even on an unlucky rainy day.

The greater Holland location was also very good. There are all kinds of stores and restaurants within an easy 10 minutes' drive, if you want them. As for us, we hardly go in the car at all. Kayak rental is a 3-minute walk. Boat rentals on Lake Macatawah are just 1 mile down the road. There was just hardly any reason at all to leave the immediate vicinity. Bottom line--this is a great cottage rental, and at unbeatable price.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Chrome-to-Phone (Android)

...One Froyo benfit that has been somewhat overlooked is the Chrome to Phone application and Chrome extension. Chrome to Phone  is one of the most useful Android features I have come across, and it’s a really simple idea that provides the ability to have a continuous stream of information no matter where we happen to go.

Chrome to Phone is a simple combination of a Chrome extension and Android application that allows you to click one button in your browser, and sync what you were viewing right to your Android phone to be check out at a later time.
Reading a news article but need to head out the door to drive to work? Simply click the Chrome to Phone button on your Chrome browser, launch the Chrome to Phone application on your Android device at work, and it immediately takes you to the webpage you were viewing at home so you can pick up right where you left off.
This sounds good. In keeping with my desire to do as little inputting on the phone as possible.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Kindle for Android

I downloaded Kindle for Android a week ago, and have been dabbling with it. My first impression is about what I expected--a nice option, but the phone is really not a very pleasant platform for reading a book! High points:
  1. Works very well, and is pretty quick.
  2. Well-integrated with the Amazon website--allows my preferred smartphone paradigm of doing as little data-entry as possible on the phone.
  3. Has a very broad selection of font sizes.
The single biggest disappointment? Does not enable one-handed reading by providing a good Page Down option. The Dolphin browser remains the only Android app I have found that implements this very obvious feature, which provides parity with the Palm Pilot c. 2000!

I Like Dropbox

I have known about Dropbox for over a year, but haven't gotten around to trying it until we bought a new laptop. Part of the reason I hadn't tried Dropbox was I didn't see a real need for it in my own computing life. My work computing of course is taken care of by the corporate infrastructure, including nightly backup. I use a Shared Drive to store ALL my work, so everything gets backed up regularly. (I am a big fan off Windows Offline Files, which, come to think of it, is very comparable to Dropbox functionality, within the context of corporate-managed IT assets.) For personal use, I have become enamored of Google Docs and cloud computing, so I just don't generate many local files to worry about.

However, this laptop will be my wife's primary computer, in her role as an independent contractor. And in my role as her Tier 1, 2 and 3 tech support person, I worry a lot about the reliability of her data. So, I thought it was time to fire up Dropbox, and so far I have not been disappointed. A secondary benefit will be the kids, who also insist on using M$ Office, even though I beg them to go the Google Docs route, so that if they have some kind of emergency (forgetting a printed paper, for instance), they can access their docs from schol.

Toshiba Satellite L455-5000, First Impression: Worth Every Penny of $329

As noted, last week I purchased Beth a Toshiba Satellite L455-5000 laptop, running Windows 7.0 Hope Premium, for the shockingly cheap price of $329. Early impressions are extremely favorable. For starters, there was no crapware to remove. I think it was all rolled into the Best Buy Software Installer, which I simply removed.

It is an utterly un-sexy machine, but it seems very solid. Keyboard is not bad, at all. Performance out-of-box seems excellent. We haven't experimented deeply yet, but it seems capable of supporting at least 3 simultaneously-logged-in users. Startup, logoff and user-switching all seem very snappy. All the infrastructure stuff, such as logging into the home network, and mapping to the shared printers, went well.

A Shock - Best Buy Price Beats Amazon

I have just about written off Best Buy for consumer electronics purchases. Their price if usually not even close to the online price. So I was quite surprised when I went to price a new, super-cheap laptop for Beth. Best Buy had the lowest prices, by a wide margin. I wound up getting a Toshiba Satellite L455-5000 for the shockingly low price of $329. The best price on Amazon was $385 (a partner price, not Amazon's, so also no option for free Super-Saver shipping).

As is often the case, in retrospect I have a theory. I think the laptop is a loss-leader. I think Best Buy hopes to sell you highly profitable extras, such as Extended Warranty coverage, ridiculously over-priced cables, and outrageous services such as crapware-removal, to make their profit. Needless to say, they get no such business from me.

Major Facebook Fail: Logging on from Unfamiliar Location

I don't use Facebook often. Maybe 1-2 times/month. While on vacation tonight, I thought I would do a quick status update. After entering my correct User ID and Password, I was dumbfounded to be greeted with a message that said I was logging on from an unfamiliar location, and I had to answer a bunch of questions to authenticate myself. That was bad. Worse, were the questions--they pertained to a bunch of photos of people I didn't recognize. They seemed to be photos of random of my "friends", some of whom are high school people I haven't seen in 25 years, others of which were children of passing acquaintances. I literally couldn't answer ANY of the 7 photo-identification questions.

I am surprised I have not read about this phenomenon. It is unlike anything else I have encountered. I did a little research. Maybe my search-savvy was not tuned in, but this is the only first-30 result I found that was somewhat useful--but no comments or follow-up.

What gives, FB?

Friday, July 02, 2010

Soccer Improvement Idea: Deter Exaggerated Falls

The theatrics surrounding faked and grossly exaggerated fouls in soccer has been a topic of significant discussion during this year's World Cup. Occasionally, the referee will penalize the actor, and instead give them a yellow card. But it doesn't happen often.

I have an idea. Why not use replay to assign those exaggeration yellows, after-the-fact? They wouldn't necessarily have to affect the current game at all--the deterrence factor would come in with the fact that a player receiving 2 yellow cards in a stage must sit out the next game.

The beauty of this approach is that it would leverage the power of replay, without disrupting the prized flow of the game. And it does seem like it would have a lot of deterrent power. When all the Actor has to worry about is the position of the on-field ref, they can make a calculation that their exaggeration will be undetectable. But with TV cameras at all angles, there is no calculating that you can get away with it.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Office 2007 UI - Capricious Changes

I have used MS-Word for Windows since the pre-Win 3.0 days, going back to 1989. For all that time, the icon to "reveal formatting" has been the paragraph marker. I could find it in my sleep. A couple of months ago, my daughter was having formattting problems with Office 2007. I told her to turn on formatting marks. She responded "Huh?" I told her "Click the Paragraph Marker". "I don't see one". I came over, searched high and low and didn't find it. I finally gave up, and went to the dialog box to accomplish my purpose, of turning on the formatting marks.

Just now, I stumbled.across the "new and improved" icon. To me, it doesn't at all suggest what the function is, if anything, it looks like a font-size or color picker. Argh!