Archive for the 'Miscellaneous' Category

Published by Kenneth on 26 Jul 2009

Is a landline necessary?

News Article: “How to Cut the Beastly Cost of Digital Services

Right now I live in the Kansas City metro area. My internet services is currently through Time Warner Cable, and I love the service we receive. It’s much better than the DSL service I had previously through Qwest while living in the Des Moines metro area.

While with Qwest, I was paying about $43/month for a 7Mb down/896K up DSL service bundled with DirecTV with DVR and a home phone line. The total package came to about $130/month, plus I had a family cell phone plan covering my phone and my fiancée’s phone.

Since moving to Kansas City, we have Internet through Time Warner, we don’t have any advanced television service (cable or satellite), and we don’t have a landline. We only have our cell phones (through AT&T wireless). One thing that worried me with only having our cell phones was 911 service – as anyone should be.

But after securing an apartment in Kansas City and starting some essential services, like power, I held off on starting landline service because a basic landline couldn’t be ordered online through AT&T’s web site. I would have to stop into an AT&T store or call in to start service. So I held off. We were still in the middle of a move, I had my cell phone, so I wasn’t worried.

I’ve had to call 911 from my cell phone before. On December 2, 2005, I was involved in a minor traffic accident in downtown Des Moines, and I was the one who summoned police. No injuries in that accident – well just injuries to wallets…

But the one event that told me that going with a landline was likely not going to be necessary occurred during the early morning hours of March 22, 2009, on Interstate 35 southbound toward Kansas City outside Cameron, Missouri. I witnessed a car roll over into the median and stopped to offer assistance. My fiancée pulled out her cell phone and summoned emergency services.

Now being on a cellular phone, 911 might be a little flaky depending on where you are. AT&T’s Terms of Service includes a disclaimer that connection to a 911 service in a timely manner cannot be guaranteed. My parents live in the country, so I would not be trusting 911 on my cell phone out there, let alone trusting my cell phone at all.

Being on the Interstate, if 911 could not be connected through anyone’s service, someone would have to drive into town and find a phone. Since we were only a mile out from a reasonable size city, not connecting to 911 would’ve definitely said something about AT&T’s service.

But since my fiancée was able to connect through to 911, and sirens were within hearing distance within 5 minutes later, lights not long after that, my only reservation about not going with a landline was settled and I opted against the landline.

So unless you have problems connecting to 911 on your cell phone – your provider can probably help you assess this without you potentially breaking the law by dialing 911 “just to check” – you can probably do without a landline. And for those of you on pre-paid plans, calls to 911 do not use your minutes.

Published by Kenneth on 25 Jul 2009

Developer’s notebook

Every developer, programmer, engineer, whatever title you wish to use, should have a notebook of some kind. How can you progress without having the ability to jot down what’s on your mind?

Oh what’s that you said? You’ll just open a word processor or OneNote and jot down your ideas that way? Oh you fool!

A notebook on every engineer’s cubicle desk with a pen to go with it! That should be the chant of the modern activist programmer, more so than “Free that software from the confines of its proprietary masters” for those of you who are almost religiously loyal to the GPL…

What? You prefer pencil over pen? Oh dear God, I’ve got my work cut out for me…

So why the emphasis on a notebook? Well because I use one, and like any good person with a blog as an outlet for that occasional thought or rant… I’m going to rant a little.

Now if you don’t have a notebook, what have you been using to jot down ideas?

On my first day at Cerner, I was given a Mead two-subject, spiral bound, ruled notebook. Not the standard size notebook, but a medium sized notebook. About my only complaint with this notebook is that its cover is… pink. How did I get unlucky in that lottery?

But it has been with me since that day, and it has collected a lot of ink. Most engineers probably use their notebooks to jot down little quips, tiny notes, things to remember. They don’t necessarily write what’s important.

At home, I’ve become a Moleskine convert, and I like it much better than the sketchbook I had been using previously. And currently it’s being used only for ideas, notes, and the like. I’m not writing down what’s “important”.

So what is important if you’re keeping a developer’s notebook? Well, everything. Any idea, any question, comment, criticism, whatever is on your mind about whatever you’re working on is important. Details for test plans, awkward observations while running the application, anything that could be remotely considered important should be considered important enough to not only note in your notebook but also commentary.

Basically your developer’s notebook should be a very detailed developer’s journal. Now I know some will be apprehensive because that notebook would likely have to be turned over to the company if you’re laid off or decide to leave of your own will, meaning it then becomes bedside reading for someone higher up in the company, and that is certainly a valid concern, which is why you shouldn’t sound off about your coworkers in your notebook, only your projects.

Or make sure you drop it in the shred bin on your way out the door.

Just something to think about next time you look at your notebook. Could you be doing more with it?

Published by Kenneth on 24 May 2009

People just don’t understand at times…

Every once in a while an article on Yahoo! Tech catches my attention. This time, it’s an article about a cellular customer who incurred a $62,000 cell phone bill. Now we’ve heard of cell phone bills in the past reaching into the thousands of dollars – typically because of texting plans where usage ended up being much, much higher than the allotment. A father in Cheyenne, WY, smashed his daughter’s cell phone after she incurred a huge bill for texting her friends like mad.

But the case of the $62,000 cell phone is one of entertainment and international roaming. According to Yahoo! Tech, quoting a CNN report, the customer downloaded a copy of the movie Wall-E, about a 1 GB download, across his wireless data card while in Mexico. Having a wireless data card is nice, but one thing most don’t realize (because they don’t read the fine print) is that you are capped at a maximum download usage of 5 GB for each billable month.

Plus use your cell phone for anything internationally and you will incur additional fees. Why is this? It’s the same concept as roaming: you are using someone else’s network and not the network of your cellular provider. When you do this, your provider incurs charges from the network you “borrowed”, along with expenses for patching through the call you made. When you borrow a cellular network in another country, let alone another continent, things can get expensive fast, for you and your provider.

And one concept that should be very familiar to everyone is that all costs incurred by a business are eventually passed on to their customers.

Now in today’s world where you can get an unlimited family text plan for a reasonable price (I’m paying $25/month through AT&T) and unlimited data plans as well, with unlimited call plans coming down the pipe (they’re still prohibitively expensive, in my opinion), many of the commenters to the Yahoo! Tech post were complaining about corporate greed. One commenter mentioned that because most do not use a majority of their talk time, something that, arguably, cell phone providers bank on, that there is no reason for cell phone providers to not lower their prices.

An argument similar to this has been used in regard to the oil and pharmaceutical industries without regard to what those companies do with that money (hint: they don’t line their pockets with it). So what do these companies do with their profits? Simple, they invest it.

In the case of cellular companies, the investment has allowed for significant upgrades to cellular systems throughout the United States and abroad. While there have been significant advances in wireless phone technologies, the cellular systems providers are responsible for actually providing the ability for those phones to work, and that requires periodic technology upgrades, which requires capital, which tends to come from previous years’ profits that have been sitting in a bank somewhere.

One commenter called for the Federal government to institute caps to overage charges. The reasoning behind this is that the cellular providers, who are still subordinate to the FCC in the United States, must license bandwidth from the Federal government, so the FCC should institute a rule providing caps on overage charges. Ah, just what we need, more government intervention…

The cellular plans existing today are proof positive of the effectiveness of free markets. Now I’m not talking your standard contracts where you walk into an AT&T store, pick up an iPhone, and set up your plan. Actually what helped bring cellular plan rates under control was the introduction of pre-paid plans.

The first pre-paid plans I recall seeing were offered by MCI in 1998 or 1999. The phones were older model phones, but they still did the job, and you paid for the time you used – but you still had to purchase a certain minimum over a certain period to maintain the phone number, much like every other pre-paid plan today. Stop using the phone and you lose the number, and the minutes you’ve bought.

Today, arguably, the most prominent cellular pre-paid service is Tracfone. But did you know that Tracfone piggy-backs on the other cellular networks? My mother has Tracfone and her phone number is provided by US Cellular. AT&T offers a couple options, and there’s also Net10, among others. When pre-paid plans started becoming more popular, the major providers started offering more to bring back customers they lost, including reducing prices.

The problem with the plans, though, is that they are inconvenient. You have to remember to buy a card, then you have to go through the steps of redeeming the card with your provider, then (depending on the provider) you enter codes into the phone to actually have the minutes available. If this is no longer the case (I know it once was with Tracfone), I’d like to hear some feedback as to how it is now.

Tracfone, several years ago, offered a monthly automatic payment plan, which took away the need to remember to buy a card, but you still had codes to enter into the phone. And it only gave you so many minutes as well, so you were still limited or you still had to buy more, which meant buying a card.

But given all the complaints about the big providers, few seem to remember what cellular plans used to be like. The inadequate supply of plan minutes, meaning the constant risk of overages, especially once texting and mobile web were first introduced and started gaining popularity. Complain all you want, but things are improving. And while it seems that all of these companies are taking in excessive profits, it is what they do with the money that is more important, but most don’t look beyond the numbers.

And it is only through reinvestment of profits that allows things to improve. Price caps will reduce profits, which will in turn reduce the amount of investment can be made. Reduce the investment and you won’t see expansions or improvements to existing cellular networks as quickly.

Plus bear in mind that it is due to new innovations that what was previously expensive no longer is, and what is expensive now may not be in the future. And don’t expect anything regarding that to change at Internet-pace.