Monday, August 23, 2010

All Things iPhone

After a week "off" (read: no blog) I feel a bit better. When I reviewed my last two weeks' worth of tweets I found a lot of stuff relating to the iPhone, so I thought I'd share my thoughts about what's happening. After all, the iPhone continues to dominate everyone's thoughts - it is my duty to provide alternate viewpoints or news on alternatives in order for you to be able to make informed decisions...right?

Right. You'd still buy an iPhone, wouldn't you?

Maybe not. According to a recent article in InfoWorld, the quality (or lack thereof) of AT&T's network is starting to have an impact on iPhone sales. Of course, the article goes on to describe the underlying survey's implication for Verizon since, of course, everyone assumes that the elimination of the exclusivity contract would mean that Verizon would be the first carrier to...uh...carry it. The article does note that the survey respondents probably didn't consider that current users would have to buy a new phone if they wanted to switch from AT&T since they are a GSM provider while Verizon is CDMA.

I still claim that Apple's contract with AT&T is going to run its course fully before any switch occurs. This is counter to all 5 million articles that have been written that swear up and down that an iPhone running on Verizon's network is due out "any day now." (One of these articles may be found in PC World, but it's funny that the second word in the article is "mythical.")

In the meantime, if you really want an iPhone on a network other than AT&T, you can try this nifty gadget. It is a "docking station" for your iTouch that turns it into a phone. All you need is a SIM card (which means you're stuck on GSM so Verizon is still out of luck since CDMA doesn't use SIM cards). More details on this device may be found on CNN. (Note that my tweet on this device incorrectly noted that you'd be able to use your iTouch on Verizon.)

The only thing I don't like about this: I didn't think of it first. Where was that lightbulb when I needed it? If this isn't a money press then I don't know what is. In fact, since Apple is so hung up on sticking with AT&T, then this gadget may be the only thing that truly stops (at least in the short- to mid-term) the onslaught of Android phones. Don't believe me when I say that Android is worth a look? Watch this video on the Motorola Droid 2 (with Android 2.2 pre-installed) to see what I mean.

In the "I like Mobile Phone Applications" department, it was ironic how Apple is constantly berated for refusing to allow certain applications (formal guidelines yet to be determined since Apple isn't providing any specifics on what they will allow and won't) yet the head of their App Store himself has several applications for sale - written after he joined Apple - that have the same "features" of other applications that have been rejected. How's that for hypocrisy? (Worse, the applications are still for sale after that article busted him on it, but he tried to hide his affiliation with Apple. Ah, the inability for one to escape their past on the Internet is such a good thing no?)

If you do have an iPhone or iTouch you've probably played Angry Birds. It's a fun game - not terribly difficult - but now it wants to be the next Buzz Lightyear. Personally, I'm ambivalent about the concept, but from a practicality standpoint I don't think anyone can unseat Woody et al from the store shelves.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Education

In late February of this year, I wrote about a forward thinking school district where, among other things, it installed wireless Internet on one of its school buses. This type of thinking, I claimed, was allowing students to get more done rather than abuse the privilege as people suspected would happen.

Education has been a steadily under-appreciated topic in this country, in my opinion. Granted, there are the stories of teachers who are relegated to the "rubber room" in NYC (which has since been abolished); the teachers union who protects the under performers simply because they have tenure; etc. But I personally know several good teachers who are paid ridiculously low salaries considering the importance of the work they do. (And yet they still do it because of their love for what they do especially given how much of a positive impact they can have on today's youth.)

An Op-Ed piece in the NY Times yesterday highlighted exactly the amount of damage our neglect and perverse ways of protecting the institution at the expense of the overall quality of the result has done. The piece discusses the precarious drop in the number of people with college degrees (especially among the all-important 25-34 year old demographic) to 12th place out of 36 developed nations.

This is, as you can imagine, scary to say the least. Given the state of the economy you'd think that people would do whatever it took to secure a college degree in hopes of it providing some degree of financial and career stability, but it would seem (at first glance at least) that we are doing just the opposite. Worse, the government are doing nothing to help the situation given that funding just isn't being made available with the view that it is a long-term investment in our country's future. Consider, for example, the state of Hawaii where (according to the article) schools were closed 17 Fridays last school year for budgetary reasons.

Let's not hold the students blameless either. I recall working for 7 months out of every year (starting with my junior year) and going to school for 1 semester only. Part of this was due to the fact that I wanted the work experience, but I also needed the money to survive while attending that one semester. Those 7 months' of wages funded my automobile, insurance, books, etc. so that I would be able to complete my education. Yet there seems to be an attitude of laziness that prevails now where "just good enough" is all that people strive for.

Consider, then, one school district's answer: the Mount Olive, NJ district school board last week adopted a policy where the grade of D is no longer in use. Instead, students either get an A, B or C or they get an F. The minimum passing grade, then, has been raised by an appropriate number of points thus forcing them to get beyond the "just good enough" attitude and actually put some effort into their learning.

In college calculus, we had a professor who, one semester, would not allow anyone to leave the final exam until they got every answer correct. We would turn in our exam; he would grade it; and if there were incorrect answers he would even provide a small hint to help us solve the problem. We were annoyed - after all, there were other finals to study for - but in the end we were better for it because he forced us to truly comprehend the previous 3 month's worth of instruction.

Such an attitude would not hurt today, but we need to get everyone on board: the students, the teachers, and the government's budgetary captains.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Who to Believe?

It's like a deluge...of tweets. When I first signed up to Twitter, I tweeted about everything. I had a lot on my mind so I felt the need to climb the highest e-mountain and shout it all at the top of my lungs. That mountain, of course, was Twitter.

Then the love affair faded. After venting my frustration with the business world - "I cudda been a contendah!" - I went back to doing what I did before, namely playing my guitar and BF:BC2 at night after the baby went to sleep and the wife and I watched our daily shows on the DVR.

But this week, my tweeting has roared back to life. It has a mind of its own, and it seems uncontrollable. It's almost as if...as if...my level of tweeting has double dipped into the realm of hyperactivity.

Speaking of double dipping, it should be no surprise that I'm still reading articles about a W...or is it just a V? The answer to that depends on who you ask. MSNBC claims (in an article in the Politics section, go figure) that any double-dip recession eventually experienced will be the result of a self-fulfilling prophecy, i.e. if enough people scream about it then the masses will keep their wallets under lock and key.

I don't know about you, but a) if people are unemployed then they aren't going to spend a lot of money no matter what shape the economy is in so fix that first and get back to me and b) I've been keeping a tight lid on my family's expenses for quite some time and I'm sick of doing it (contrary to my wife's claim that I am a Financial Nazi), so I will happily spend more if given a justifiable trend allowing me to do so. So I'm going to pooh-pooh that article as a gross misunderstanding of psychology and the effects of repression of the masses.

Another article - this time from FOX Business - says that economists...

...wait...are these the same economists that MSNBC talked to?...

...originally underestimated the depth of the recession that we are supposedly no longer experiencing. They make it seems superficial by claiming that the GDP only rose by 2.4% instead of the projected 2.5%. But when you consider that the GDP is in the area of 14 trillion dollars, 0.1% is actually a lot of money: 14 billion dollars. That's a lot of Ramen noodles.

I'm sure those of you that follow that jump will state that I'm being unfair because the article goes on to state that consumer spending fell from 1.9% to 1.6%. However, if you dig a little in Google to find out what "consumer spending" really is, you'll find that it is a static percentage of the GDP. It is, in fact, 70% of the GDP but that also includes healthcare spending by the public and the U.S. government. So if your cough is really bad, you could be contributing to the recovery of our economy!

This week's obligatory Facebook commentary is brought to you by the letters H and X and the number 4. (The leet speakers out there will recognize this as h4x which is a computer savvy way of spelling hax or hacks.) Apparently, someone wrote a simple computer program that combed Facebook looking for data that was not hidden by proper security settings. The result was an aggregation of 1.5 million users' worth of personal data.

Do you think a real hacker wouldn't want this? How about a real company? If you said no, think again. The data, which was put on the Pirate Bay website, has been downloaded by several names you'll recognize: Disney, Lucasfilm, Proctor and Gamble, and The Church of Scientology to name a few.

It may be coincidence, but Facebook also announced this week that it is delaying the possibility of an IPO until 2012. Apparently, this is "allow Facebook to bolster its user base beyond the 500 million mark, and clear up mounting criticisms over privacy issues." (The emphasis is mine.)

Imagine that.

If you're looking for some place to talk to your friends, share photos and videos, etc. try using Multiply, the largest social networking site that you've probably never heard of. When I last spoke with David Hersh, one of the cofounders of the site, in mid-Spring he told me that they had 14 million subscribers. While this is a mere drop in the bucket compared to Facebook's 400+ million users - it's less than half a percent - it is about as inconsequential as the 2.4% vs. 2.5% GDP that I mentioned earlier.

Look for an interview with David to be published in the next few weeks.