Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Phone wars

Lately I've been thinking a lot about a new smart phone. I wrote this mainly to help get some of my thinking down on virtual paper as that sometimes helps me to consider issues. In my family, I know a lot of eyes will glaze over when reading this. That's okay, I won't be offended. ;-) And if anyone has experience, thoughts, etc., please chime in!

I've been using Palm handhelds for several years now. I can't remember exactly when I started, but since I started on the Palm m515, it couldn't have been earlier than 2002 (although I really thought it was a few years before then... maybe I'm forgetting one before that). I was even proficient in Graffiti, the Palm "writing" system since there was no keyboard. I organized my calendar, my contact list, notes, etc. It worked well for me, because before that I would scribble everything down in a weekly calendar that I carried around. The problem with the paper/ink calendar was 1) I couldn't read my writing at times, and if it was an event several months in the future, I'd forget what it was by the time I reached the date, and 2) I tended to misplace these after a while, or the notes I scribbled down on a post-it would fall out.

Somewhere towards the end of 2003, beginning of 2004 (again, I don't remember exactly when), I decided to get a Palm Treo 600. It seemed so logical. Matching up a PDA with a phone. Why in the heck not? Then in January of 2008 (this one I remember!!), my 600 finally kicked the bucket, and I got a Palm Centro. This has been working well to date.

However, there have been major shake up in the Smart Phone community. Of course there's the iPhone, which has been doing remarkably well. To answer it, Palm did a complete overhaul of their phone and operating system, and came up with the Pre, running the new WebOS. I've been following news on the Pre for about 4-6 months before its release. And I was pretty sure this would be the phone I'd buy as soon as my contract is up (Jan 2010).

However, then Apple came out with their newest iPhone, the 3GS. I figured I'd at least look at it. I can see why many people are using it. Besides being a decent smart-phone, there are a LOT of 3rd party software available. And this is one of the biggest things that I have used with all of my Palms to date. I summarize some of my more often used programs later in this post. Anyway, the Pre doesn't have very much in the way of programs written for it yet. The SDK (Software Development Kit) hasn't even been publicly released (supposed to be released towards the end of August). That's what allows vendors to more easily write programs for the device. So the Pre is already behind on that end.

While looking around, I also looked at Android phones. Android is another operating system for smart phones, which spread in popularity when Google gave it full backing and support. It hasn't been around as long as the iPhone, but because the OS is open source, it's been easier for people to create software for it. A new phone with Andriod on it is supposed to be coming out the end of 2009. (HTC Hero). I also looked at Blackberry, but it just doesn't seem to jive with me.

Below is a list of the most common programs I run on my Centro currently, and my thoughts about if they are available on other smart phones. (roughly in the order of use on the Centro)

ChatterEmail (SnapperEmail) - ChatterEmail is a great email client that works superbly with my email system. It was developed by Marc Blank, who was one of the creators of Zork, one of the first text adventure computer games that captured a lot of gaming interest (including my brother and I) in the early 80's. (It is dark. You are likely to be eaten by a grue.) It uses the IMAP4 interface, which means if I read some message on the Centro, but not others, or mark them in some way, that change can also be seen if I log on to my email through the web interface, or using Thunderbird at home. It helps to keep all my email coordinated. Chatter also pushes email to up to 7 of my folders. That means if a folder receives a new email message, I get instant notification, I don't have to wait for a periodic polling of my email like most other email clients. The push interface is somewhat draining on the battery though, so when I will be away from a charger for a while, I switch to SnapperEmail. It's another good email program on the Centro, but doesn't do push email. The iPhone and the Pre can connect via IMAP, but neither have the multi-folder push that I use so much on my Centro. Marc Blank stated he's developing ChatterEmail for the Android now, so that's a big plus in the Android direction. This program alone is probably about 50% of my Centro use.

DateBk6 - Most smart phones have a calendar. DateBook6 is a calendar on steroids! It adds a lot of functionality, many/most of which I probably never touch, but those I do are indispensable. The biggest is putting icons with events. Sounds like a minor thing? It's fantastic when I'm viewing in "Monthly" mode (which is most of the time). I have icons for work meetings, icons for things with each kid, icons for doctor or dentist appointments, icons for various Jewish holidays, etc. At a quick glance I can gather up a lot of information. Then I can delve deeper in weekly or daily views. The developer of DateBk6 is completely rewriting the system from scratch to be more portable (Java based, I believe). It sounds like Andriod will be early on the development list. The Pre may be possible depending on the SDK, which he hasn't seen yet. He's waiting on the iPhone because Apple doesn't allow 3rd party apps to touch internal things, such as the calendar. Their lost. I rely on this application a LOT.

SplashID - This is an application which securely encrypts and stores information such as passwords, credit card numbers, etc. There is no way I can remember all the passwords I need for various work and personal related things. There are several of these type of programs available, so I'm sure I'd find a comparable program on the Pre, Andriod, or iPhone (in fact I think SplashData already has SplashID on the iPhone and Android, and is working on a Pre version). The draw for me for this particular one is that you can also assign icons. If you remember from DateBk6, I like being able to assign an icon. :-)

Luach - Luach (the Hebrew word for calendar) is a wonderful program. Not only does it give you a Hebrew calendar, complete with all the Jewish holiday listings for the next who knows how many years (I went more than far enough in the future to look), but you can also put in birthdays, anniversaries, Yaritzites, etc., and it calculates those dates in future years. Then you can import everything (or pick and chose what to import) into your main calendar. This is something I check often, usually when trying to pick a date for something in the next 6 months, year, etc., and wanting to make sure it doesn't conflict with a holiday. There is a Luach program for the iPhone, but you can't import the dates (remember what I said before about Apple not letting you play with the internal calendar). One person I know puts all his Hebrew date information into his Google Calendar, and the iPhone apparently can read input in from a Google calendar, but that's a kludge workaround.

Sudoku - My favorite time killer game on the Centro. I'm sure there are implementations (multiple) for the various phones (The Pre might take a little while to get out though)

GooSync - Syncs up my calendar with Google Calendar. My wife can see and edit events on my calendar (family events only, not "business" events), then they would sync back to my Centro. I believe it works on the iPhone, not sure about Android.

Shadow - If DateBk6 is a calendar on steroids, ShadowPlan is a ToDo list on steroids. It's designed as an outliner, but I mainly use it for multiple To Do's, including nested To Do lists. (I have to check off X, Y, and Z before A can be checked off). I haven't even started looking to see if there are comparable applications in the other smart phones.

CacheMate - A database that keeps tracks of Geocaches. (a hunt and find type game, using GPS receivers, probably a subject for another post someday). This is implemented in Android, and Geocaching.com, the "main point" for Geocaching, has their own iPhone implementation.

EshSiddur - If I'm out somewhere and need a siddur and don't have one, EshSiddur is a full siddur (with vowels!!) on my Centro. There is a siddur program for the iPhone, I don't know of any for the Android.

So currently iPhone has a majority of the apps, but Android is catching up with potentially more useful apps. The Pre is just barely out of the gate. While there are a lot of good things about each phone itself, it needs software to really make it shine.

Of course another issue to take into consideration is what provider has the phone. The Pre is currently only on Sprint. The iPhone is only on AT&T. With Sprint, I'd have SMS included, AT&T, I'd have to pay extra (and I use SMS frequently). The Android phones are mostly on T-Mobile which doesn't have the amount of coverage as does Sprint or AT&T. Of course the boards are all speculating on when/if phones will be offered by other providers. The Pre is supposed to go to Verizon and maybe AT&T next year. The Hero (Android) may be offered on AT&T and Sprint, etc.

My current contract runs until Jan 2010. So there is still time... And of course by then there may be something else completely new out there to confuse me even more! :-)

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Eating in Israel

A little while back, Treppenwitz wrote this post: http://www.treppenwitz.com/2009/06/i-cant-believe-i-ate-almost-the-whole-thing.html describing a restaurant in Israel that loads you up on meat. It sounds similar to a Brazilian restaurant near my office where servers walk around with various meats to serve people. Because it's near my office, we frequently have "fare well" parties there. I can no longer attend the parties, because the aroma of the meats is so good, and it's most definitely not kosher.

So I commented to my sister-in-law and her husband, living in Israel, that when I next visited, I hoped I'd be able to eat at this restaurant. My sister-in-law then commented about a similar restaurant (South American) with a similar experience. Bro-in-law then chimed in about taking us to Burgers Bar. And of course I previously mentioned to my wife that I want to go to KFC, Pizza Hut (apparently at a mall in Jerusalem), and Burger King (Ben Yehuda Street).

The time spent in our next visit will be roughly divided up as:

50% - Visit family and friends
49% - Visit restaurants
1% - See the rest of Israel.

I might need to book an extra seat next to me for the flight home... ;-)

We do hope to make it over the pond in the next year or two, depending on when my job here transfers to a new location.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Baby JDMDad - Part 3 - in 3D!!!

JDMDad, Laya, and big sisters Tikvah and Ahava are proud to announce:

Baby JDMDad (Part 3) is here!

Baby was born on Monday, June 15, 2009, (23 Sivan 5769) at 11:59 am.

Weight: 7 lbs. 2 oz.

Length: 19.5 inches

Cuteness ratio (Scale 1-10): 25 (Caution, data may have some internal bias)

Finger Count: 10/10

Toe count: 10/10

_XX__ Has lots of hair
___ Has some hair
___ Has little hair
___ Bald

Crying Loudness (dB): Darn... broke the meter!!!

Mother & Baby are:

_X___ Doing fine
____ Both crying, loudly
____ Baby is trying to get back inside Mother
_X___ Both requesting some ice cream
____ Still enjoying the epidural
____ Trying to sneak out of the hospital
____ In total shock

Father is:

_X___ Extremely happy
_X___ Extremely stunned
____ Regaining consciousness
____ Trying to get feeling back in his hand after mother squeezed too hard during contractions
____ Thumbing through a dictionary, trying to understand all those exotic names that Mother called him this time
____ Wandering the halls, muttering to himself, "Three of them? Mom and I are outnumbered!! What did we do?! What were we thinking?!"
____ Fast asleep. ZZZZzzzzzzz


_X___ is very happy
____ is worried
____ is busy being spoiled by her great aunt.
_X___ is in school, missing all the fun
_X___ Doesn't even know the gender... yet.


____ is very happy
____ is very scared
____ has no idea what's going on with all the commotion
_X___ is busy being spoiled by her great aunt.
_X___ is trying to figure out where Mommy's big belly went
____ is wondering if next week Daddy's belly will shrink, and another baby will arrive
_X___ Doesn't even know the gender... yet.

The doctor said:

____ "I've been studying the Cosby Method. Ready? 'Push him out, Shove him out, WWWWWAAAAYYYY OUT!!!! '" [If you don't know vintage Bill Cosby, don't bother trying to understand this one. ;-) ]
____ "I remember you from last time. I'll be right back!" We are still looking for him.
_X___ "The baby looks fine!"
____ "Next time, I need EARPLUGS!!!!"
____ "Your husband is in the recovery room. The bump on his head from hitting the floor will go away in a few days."

And finally, the baby is a:



Brand new,


(Am I stalling?)


Did I say Cute?



Okay, okay, I give up...

____ Boy (JDMDad is no longer the only man of the house. And loves it!)
__X__ Girl (JDMDad is now outnumbered 4 - 1. And loves it!)

Name to be announced:

__X__ Next Torah reading JDMDad gets to
____ Bris

JDMDad, Laya, Tikvah, Ahava, and the new one. (need to come up with a name, and a blog name, such pressure! :-) )

P.S. June 15th is the 18th annual "Ride to Work" Day (http://www.ridetowork.org/) However, Laya preferred I take her to the hospital in the van rather than on the motorcycle. I should have gotten the sidecar when I had the chance!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Traveling to Savannah

I'll be on the road to Savannah, GA for the 2009 Ride to Remember. I don't leave until Wednesday morning, May 13th. But wanted to put up a map that should (if all works right) track me as I travel down and back. The map should keep updating until I return on Sunday (or Monday, depending on weather/traffic)

Stories and fun stuff when I return!

You'll probably have to refresh to see the latest map. Again, nothing will appear until Wednesday morning (EDT). Those who I know off the blog, I'll be sending you to a more detailed place to see more maps and information, I'll probably send that out late Tuesday afternoon. If you don't get the email, and want that info, shoot me an email.

This map is basically a Google Map, you can zoom in, pan around, etc.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Not forgotten...

No, I haven't forgotten this blog. I've just been crazy with various things going on.

At work, I'm taking training for the "Black Belt" level of Lean Six Sigma (no, not a strange form of Karate). Certification requires 3 weeks of classes (beyond the 1 for the green belt level), and doing two projects. The last of the classes ends this Friday. I'm about in the middle of my first project. If I can get input/data from the right people, I'll probably finish it within a month. But some are really dragging their feet. Plus I need to do my regular work as well. (and of course all the leave time used for Peasach)

On the home front I'm preparing for my trip down to Savannah for the 2009 Ride to Remember. This includes plotting out a route (I have a nice one planned, mostly following Rt. 17 down from Fredricksburg all the way to Savannah. Passes kosher restaurants in Virginia Beach, VA; Wilmington, NC; and Myrtle Beach, SC (where they are also having "Bike Week"). I've also been getting the bike ready. Got new grips put on, and a throttle lock as well. I also have a new fuseblock coming to hook up my auxiliary lights, GPS, and other electrical doo-dads. I also plan to borrow a "SPOT" unit so those who might be interested can follow my progress down and around the south.

More to come!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Ever have one of those days... er... weeks???

Been a busy few months lately, sorry I haven't been able to write much. But after a crazy week, I just needed to share & unload!

Monday I had a tickle in my throat, which for me, is usually a bad sign. By night time, it was an effort to swallow. Oh great. As soon as the doctor's office opened on Tuesday, I called to make an appointment for a throat culture... I'm pretty sure it's strep. Have a 2:30 appointment.

An hour or two later on Tuesday, Laya calls, the furnace is getting very noisy. And if Laya can hear it, it must be really bad. *sigh* I called the plumbing/heating/AC company we have a service contract with, have them come over, and since I'm feeling even worse, I head home myself.

The heating guys come in, open up a panel, turn the furnace back on, and you can see everything bouncing like crazy in there. Not good. The furnace is the original, about 37 years old, no replacement parts available, etc. Time for a new furnace. They do some measuring, calling, etc. Came back with a price of $2,520. Not chump change, but less than I had feared. They said they'd be in first thing Wednesday morning.

Now off to the doctor. The nurse and doctor are both blown away by my enormous tonsils. They are normally big (that's why I don't eat popcorn... gets stuck in the tonsils), so when I'm sick, they really swell up. In fact, all I could get down for breakfast and lunch was applesauce and soup. Anyway, the culture quickly confirmed it was strep, I'm put on antibiotics, and told not to get the rest of the family sick. *sigh*

Back home, I set up portable heaters around the house as it's supposed to get cold that night. I include a heater downstairs by the sofa/bed. I'll sleep down there to keep from getting Laya sick.

Wednesday finally comes, and the new furnace is being installed. Just then, the washer/dryer pees on the floor, either a leak, or the suds overflowed. But it's been a chain of events, (washer doesn't wash well, have to "spin" 2-3 times, have to run the dryer at least twice to dry a load, etc.) Grrrr... fix it again, or get a new one? Discuss, agonize, and finally come to the conclusion that needs to go as well.

So I start looking up stacked W/D's on the net (we have a very small space). Basically there are only two available that fit the space, that I can fine. Sears/Kenmore, which is what we have, or a unit at Lowes. Also have to give major props out to my dad here... I called him to see if he had any thoughts on washer/dryers. He went out and checked several stores out. (There is a shopping center near him that has a lot of the major stores) I head out to Lowes to get more information. The key point when talking with the sales guy there is that it would take 8-10 days between ordering and getting the new unit. Guess I'm getting a new Kenmore then!

Thursday morning I ordered a new washer dryer, and requested an early Friday delivery. The delivery folks call, and they'll be delivering right when Laya will be taking the kids to school. Okay, a little more sick time then. The come right on time Friday morning, haul out the old one, and then.... the hose is stuck on the valve (the one that connects the water to the washer.). "If I turn any harder, I'll break it. You need a plumber." At this point I contemplate dropping to the ground and laughing out of sheer frustration. Nah. "Okay, I'll call them right away." They left the W/D, and gave me a number to call them back after the valves are replaced.

I called the plumbing company. The woman asks if they have ever been to my place before. "Yes, you just installed a new furnace 2 days ago... it's been a bad week!" :-) The plumber came at about 12 pm, so Laya was there, and saw the new valves installed. I called the W/D installers, and they said they'd be by about 3-4 pm. Okay, Shabbos doesn't start until 5:18, we are good.

I get home, and call at 4 pm to see what's up. "We're coming, it'll be a little bit." 4:30 I call again. "They are on their way, they'll call you soon." 5 pm, they call me. "We'll be there in 45 minutes." Oh boy. I said "The Jewish Sabbath begins at 5:15, you can come in, but I will NOT be able to sign anything." The guy said "Will you be home??" I said that I would, but repeated that I could not sign anything. "Okay, no problem."

5:18, we light the candles, and by 5:30, are eating Chicken Fajitas. They arrive right at 5:45. They quickly get everything hooked up, then come up and say "Just sign right here." I said "I explained on the phone, it's now the Jewish Sabbath, I can not sign anything." "Oh, no problem, your wife can sign then!" Oy... I explain that neither of us can sign. He starts getting a little agitated. "Someone needs to sign that we delivered and installed this unit!" I explained again, and reminded him that I told him on the phone we wouldn't be able to sign. Finally he calls his boss. "Yeah, this guy is telling me because of his religion, he can't sign this paper... what do I do?" The boss was on speaker phone, so I heard the answer... "Okay, just head on home then." They quickly left.

Oy, what a week. But since I'm in a class all this week, it's a good thing it all happened last week... although not happening at all would have been even better! ;-)