Mobile Telecommuting Redux

I’ve been always looking for how to be a truly mobile telecommuter.

When I say mobile, I mean anywhere, anytime, for as long as you need to.

I attempted this experiment back in 2011 for
a period of time. My results weren’t great.

Some of it had to do with cell tower 4G coverage limits. Some of it had to do with unreliable service and data caps. Some of it had to do with Android phones that were still maturing and battery limitations with laptops.

So, I’m trying it again. Why? I found myself in a situation where I worked during the holidays from the hotel room, while the family enjoyed the resort. The day for us to return home required me to be on the road during the work day.

How did I plan to deal with it? I planned to use my Android smartphone as a wifi hotspot using my 4G data plan.
For power, I decided to use my work laptop battery to continuously charge the cell phone. Nothing kills an android battery faster than using it as a wifi hotspot. I decided on a basic wired stereo cell phone headset to reduce the power and data draw on the android.  
Unlike previous work laptops, this one’s battery life could provide about four and a half hours of juice.
The drive was planned for about two hours, but that didn’t count disconnect time from the room all the way to reconnect at my destination. And knowing how murphy’s law prevails, I expected a few hiccups.
The time came, I unplugged my laptop and strolled through the resort with my laptop on the hotel wifi. About thirty minutes later the family was loaded up, the better half was driving and I had my self set up with wifi on android while my android was being powered by my laptop battery.
Let’s jump to the end result. Very satisfactory. The android smartphone was able to provide a wifi connection almost the entire distance, which was not possible just two years earlier.

My status on arrival?
The total elapsed time was a little more than two hours allowing for a pit stop or two. The laptop had about an hour and thirty minutes left, which makes sense given that the android was continuously drawing on the laptop battery.
The android phone was break even as far as charge is concerned.

I was able to make cell phone calls while maintaining wifi without problems, losing wifi only once while on the move due to service dead zone.
Final judgment – it’s definitely do able and satisfactory. With an inverter plugged into the car, the laptop and android could have performed for a much longer period. All in all, a good tactic when needed.

Clearly Clear.com is a FAIL


Once upon a time there was a great service called Rover. They sold great little 4g Wifi Hotspots called Pucks. Funny name, but it’s exactly what they looked like.

I loved this service because I only paid for what I used and wanted. I used the service for work, travel and on my boat. I was able to accomplish all this by paying for exactly what I wanted. I could buy a day at a time, a week at a time or a month at a time. I could do all this via a reliable web interface using my credit card. The device had a web portal that allowed me to monitor my useage, dates for expiring service etc. etc.. The few times I called Rover customer service, they responded with straight forward customer service reps  that spoke clear English as their first language.  

Then along comes Clear.com. Maybe they were the parent company, I don’t know. They sent notices saying there would be a seamless transition that would allow for the same services but they would be integrated with Clear. My account would “automatically transition” to their new version of “pay as you go” services. So I was supposed to anticipate that my Puck experience would have no problems at all.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

August 7th after the transition. I power up my puck and looked for the automated prompt for paying for another month. No such prompt. After 20 minutes or so of exploring the options, I try their live chat option. No one responded for 20 minutes (I clocked it). So I pick up my cell and called the customer service line. After being shuffled around because “you have no account sir” with lots of hold and no answers in an hour and a half, I quit for the night.

August 8th – Day 2 of my experience with the transition. I try again. I put three more hours into the effort. Again, I got the run around that “You have no account sir, we can’t help you”. They transfered me to a “Rover” specialist who were just as helpful. They ran me around to download new firmware and confirmed they could ping my device. I was reassured that I would be able to connect because of some “manual” account set up they initiated and it would take an hour for my account to be active.

August 9th – Still no service and no account. I start the evening off again with a call to customer service. After being run around for another two hours of “chicken and egg” nonsense, I finally got someone who said “your only choice is to start over and set up an account” to include all the start up costs. I was fuming but gave it a shot.

Instead of a “smooth transition”, it turned out to be a “you are a brand new user and have to pay a sign up fee”. NOT what the company promised or advertised. I was told that to pay on a month by month basis I would have to call back and stop monthly billing and then make arrangements to pay was I go.

The service started immediately.

August 27 – I’m in an area that has no Clear service and traveling to areas that also won’t have coverage. I call customer service to stop the auto payment as I was told I could and they tell me that my only choice is to “pay my bill in advance or cancel my account”. Fuming I of course canceled my account.

I believe in the 4G Wifi technology because I experienced it at it’s best. Rover as a service was great.

Clear as a service – Complete Fail. I will NEVER do business with them again.
The service and company, incredibly sub par.

Digital Prism 7 Inch LCD Portable TV review

I was wandering in an Office
Depot
looking for office supplies when I happened to be drawn near the
electronics area and saw a display for small LCD TV’s.

Suddenly, the idea of having a portable TV for nights at
anchor on “Fashas Dream” or in my home office area or as a part of the
hurricane kit seemed like a great idea. And the price was awesome at $89.99.
Knowing the corrosive nature of the salt air, I opted for the
replacement plan and walked out for less than $120. This all played in nicely
with plans for three days on board “Fashas Dream”. The forecast was chilly and
I pictured at least experimenting with the TV to see her performance.
I got her home and dutifully followed the charging
instructions with the provide AC adaptor to ensure the built
in batteries are
fully charged before the first use. Also included were a remote, AV cables, an
antenna that mounts in the cable connector jack, and a 12 volt cigarette
lighter adaptor for power while traveling. The unit itself is simple.
The remote layout is odd to say the least, but it works. Not
that I intend to view it from a long distance, but to prevent having to pick
the unit up every time you want to adjust the volume, channel, etc..
On to the practical stuff. It’s a basic black unit with
silver push buttons on front. On the left side is the power switch and jack for
a power supply. On the right is a threaded coax jack, three AV jacks (right,
left, and video), and a head phone jack. The external antenna threads into the
coax jack for the portable function.
I first tried it with the external antenna. I used the menu
and scanned for stations. Remember we now have only HD channels. So after about
ten minutes there were a half dozen stations available. The channel selection
was limited of course. The picture quality was good for its 7 inch screen. The
strongest signals locally were from ABC with a weather channel and their normal
broadcast channel.
I then tried it with a DVD player and it worked fine. Audio
is what you’d expect for a small TV, so I used external PC speakers for
bringing out the sound.
With cable in place of the antenna the broadcast resolution
is excellent for its little 7 inch screen. I often use it on my desk with
plenty of space to spare for all my other stuff since it’s just about the size
of a decent sized picture frame. 
The biggest limitation is what stations you can receive with
your particular antenna in your area. I like this unit and use it nearly every
day. It’s nice that it has the threaded external coax to allow you to connect
to any decent coaxial quality antenna system, cable or even satellite system.
All in all a thumbs up.

Postscript: The biggest weakness is the digital channels that can be received. Maybe 1 or 2 at most when in the past it could have been as many as ten. It’s pretty obvious that our “technological leap” forward in TV bandwidth virtually eliminates true broadcast tv. ugh. 

Quicken Online Review – A First Look after two days

Quicken’s Online services intrigue me as a potential non-OS specific platform that could allow me bank balance access from any net connected system. It’s also a free service, which is always worth checking.

I have a history with Quicken’s stand alone so that’s obviously where much of my comparison will be.

The registration process was simple and straight forward. The ability for the service to acquire my banks multiple accounts was very impressive compared to downloading to my own desk top.

As I tried to check my balance in the evening of the first day, the service was unavailable for more than an hour. Time was limited, so I gave up.

The service by default automatically updates accounts once a day. From the time stamps I see about 6:15 a.m..

Unfortunately, the current date was the 6th of Feb and the most current transaction was from the 4th of February. I logged into my bank and verified that transactions were present for the 5th that didn’t make it into the updates. Current date transactions I could understand since the last update was before the work day, but none of the transactions from the 5th?

Later on the 6th around 11 a.m. I logged into the service again and found the transactions from the 5th were present. A bit slow to show a complete picture, but it finally arrived.

Now to the user friendliness. It’s not bad, albeit a bit awkward. To designate categories for transactions I sometimes had to click multiple times to get the category assigned to an entry.

Initial Impression: If your looking for something on a limited budget that has the basics with a little more and you don’t cut things so close that instant access is always a requirement, this could be a viable alternative for you.

I will be continuing with the service for a while to see how it goes. Check back in the future.

********

8 April 2009 Update. Well, the service was frequently slow or unavailable and the updates to the account were many times days behind. Hitting refresh didn’t always help. Making entries was nice, but there was no automatic or manual reconcile function so you had to watch closely to delete an entry when the item finally cleared the bank. Not the best functionally. I’ve given up.

Beer and Wine Labels –

For those that have known me for a while, you’re aware that I make my own wine and beer periodically. A batch or two of Zinfandel Blush is my tradition for the holiday season. Mostly because when I got so many positive compliments I decided to stick with something that everyone loves.

However, there is always this plain unadorned bottle left at the end of the process. Why not take the opportunity to create something unique, different and possibly meaningful.

I’ve experimented with pre-gummed label making paper, adhesive labels, and several other variations.

I have to say the simplest and best results are with a quality color laser printer, appropriate paper and a simple word processer like “OpenOffice”. The creative process can be as easy or drawn out as you desire, so I won’t expand on that.

The first thing to do is set the page format to remove as much of the header, footer, and margin space as possible that your printer will allow.

Next, start a table. For wine labels, I set a two columns and and two rows. For regular size beer bottle labels I set a two columns with three to four rows. The goal is for every cell to be identical in size and cover as much of the printable page as possible or as you desire.

Reduce the margins, header and footer by as much as your printer or word processor will allow. Play with the dimensions until you have something close to the size you need.

In your table options you want cell bordering with a very thin line. This will help with straight lines when it comes to cutting the labels out.

Once you have your cells set up, it’s time to fill your first one in. The simplest way is to pick a picture as a background & then type in your text with contrasting font colors. Once you’ve created the label you like in the first cell, it’s a simple matter of copy and paste into the other cells.

You can also use a quality graphics program to play with a huge variety of whatever your mind can imagine. Just consider the dimensions of your labels to ensure fonts and graphics are legible.

Play to your hearts content. Print, critique, edit, revise, print again. Repeat until its the way you like it.

What to use for label paper? I personally use a decent printer paper and a simple glue stick. It’s the cheapest, most available alternative. You can mix it up with variations on the color or bond quality. It’s also incredibly easy to clean the labels off when it comes time to recycle bottles.

They don’t give you the glossy look of a commercially available wine. For those, you’d have to talk to a print shop.

What about special label papers? Nah. They’re costly. They are moisture sensitive so they can stick together like a lump or the sticky stuff isn’t strong enough to do the job. Adhesive labels? Generally they use such strong glue it takes some effort or solvent to remove the label and all the adhesive. Both types of labels still provide the same finish as plain paper. ** Note: When cleaning bottles to remove old labels, keep a small can of Goof Off around. *

In summary, sometimes simplest is the most flexible and easiest for home label making.

Chinese Martial Arts Tournament 2008

Memorial Day Weekend – My son Daniel has been participating in Kung Fu for the past two years with the Chinese Martial Arts Academy in Dunedin, Florida with Master Scrima.
In June of 2006 he competed in the 2006 International Chinese Martial Arts Tournament at the Gaylord Palms Resort in Kissimmee, Florida with a single form, Gong Li Guan. He had no idea what it was all about or what he was in store for. In mid form he lost focus and wasn’t as solid as he could have been.
In fall of 2006 he competed in some smaller tournaments and it motivated him as he medaled against a variety of competitors.
In 2007 he was training at forms and at San Shou, Kung Fu’s name for full contact fighting. Just two weeks before the competition he broke his foot sparring. He was devastated, but he still went to observe the event.
In the fall of 2007 he increased his training from two times a week to five times a week. When the Chinese Martial Arts Tournament came up Memorial Day weekend of 2008 he was prepared for six different events.
Below are his gold medal performances Liuhe Bafa, Ba Gua, and Xing Yi Saber.




MagicJack Review

I ordered a MagicJack after my niece recommended it. Hers is registered as a US phone number local to family to allow her to make calls with no long distance charges while connected via a broadband connection in Korea. And her cost was approximately $40 initially for her MagicJack and a year of long distance service.

Before I bought mine I did a little homework checking reviews on line. I consider myself a fairly knowledgeable user. I wanted to get a clear idea of what issues might be real versus those that were simply non-technical users or impatient users.

One key element everyone must understand, you can’t make phone calls unless your device is plugged into a PC operating on a broadband ISP.

I ordered mine on a Friday and it was delivered by Tuesday. The device itself is incredibly simple. It’s like an oversized memory stick about double the standard size. The top side has a clear top so you can see the printed circuit board and a blue power led. The sides are silver chrome colored. The back is a simple sticker pointing to the USB plug and the phone jack. Included was a usb extension for those with small access areas to the port.

The device came packaged in foam about the size of a large greeting card sandwiched between heavy gauge paper and fits in standard mail boxes. It was well packaged and unlikely to suffer in shipment.

The instructions are straight forward. Plug it in and wait for it to install. I have a laptop with Windows Vista Home Premium.

That’s what I did. I plugged it in. I followed the instructions, plugged it in and let it go. I closed all my other windows so I could see any prompts that pop up. Magicjack caused Vista to prompt for installs and I watched the graphics. I followed the prompts and everything installed easily.

Now that the install is done, you go through some interactive screens and are assigned a phone number.

This is supposed to be followed up by a registration prompt for your Userid and password. In my case, the prompt never came. I went to the web site and discovered Vista requires and update. And then there is an upgrade required to be installed.

I was still unable to receive the registration prompt. The Java interface seemed to be bogged by server problems along with the registration servers. I went through the FAQ’s, and nothing addressed the prompts I received. FAQ’s are incredibly sparse.

So, I tried clicking on the prompts to reach someone live. Those clicks were an infinite loop. It didn’t go to any interactive interface, irc chat or anything. I tried with both IE and Firefox with the same result. Is this a design flaw? I think so. I would have expected an error screen or something to indicate a broken flow or something. There is no contact number to call directly for support. I did find a contact e-mail buried in internet forums. Dan@magicjack.com is reportedly the inventor and is available for issues, but that’s it. The forums all show a lack of quality customer support.

Being the patient type, I unplugged and retried several times. I used the menu prompt under advanced users where there is a restart function. Eventually, I was able to click on the center of the MagicJack console and the registration prompt appeared correctly.

I had difficulty registering but it was my own fault because I messed up my password. Fortunately the site has a method for sending your e-mail address your password. However, I found no method on the site for changing the password. It may exist through adding the same e-mail address a second time and deleting the original entry. I’ve had to use the same password I initially set. Not a comforting thought if you’re security conscious.

Once that was done, I made a few calls to my existing lines to see how it worked. One of the MagicJack software console options allows you to use a pc microphone and speakers instead of an analog phone plugged into the MagicJack device.

For those that don’t leave their PC’s on at all times, their calls can be forwarded to another line like a mobile phone. I can picture using this from any free wifi location using a headset and microphone.

Call forwarding and voicemail with forwarding to e-mail work well. There is an option for an “Outlook Add-in” that should allow for a software prompt to dial directly from your Outlook contacts entries. One unusual item is there is no shutdown or exit function. I’ve been simply plugging mine in and out several times while the PC is on and it doesn’t seem to suffer detrimental effects. Granted, I’ve only been using mine for a single day. Feature set and use-ability are good.

The next point of testing for me: would it work through my corporate VPN? MagicJack was unable to register to the proxy server. No luck for me.

Pros – Simplicity and cost.

Cons – Live customer support missing/flawed, password change function.

Overall Review: Bang for the buck it’s a good buy. Compared to standard land line costs the annual savings is a minimum of $600 not counting long distance charges and the lack of features like voice mail. Compared to other VOIP solutions the savings are around $300 with similar feature sets. I can see this used by any number of users considering how inexpensive it is. Just be patient if you need help.

Follow Up: I e-mailed Dan@magicjack.com regarding the password change problems. I like to have control of my Passwords. After e-mailing back and forth with informing him I’ve tried all his suggestions the final response was ”

What is the new password you want and we will see if we can add it manually from this side.
Sincerely,
Richard
magicJack Tech Support Manager”.
Truly substandard and unimpressive.