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Cell Phone Downfall March 12, 2010

Posted by shwaldman in Family, Society, Technology.
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I wrote about cell phones almost exactly one year ago. And now, here I am after a year trying to figure out how I am going to handle the end of my contract. The technologist in me is dying for a new fangled little machine in my pocket. But the conservationist in me is not finding any justification for it. In case you are wondering how the cell companies can afford to advertise as much as they do, keep reading.

To start, there are three levels of phones out there now. And Verizon Wireless has decided to make a very clear distinction by forcing them into three specific contract plans. Number one is the smart phone market that gets the greatest advertising dollars. These phones cost upwards of $600-$800. Of course, average consumers rarely see those prices since the cell carriers subsidize the price with their 1 and 2 year contracts. To do this, they charge typically $30 per month… $720 over two years on top of their standard voice plans, which run $40 to $70/month depending on your minute needs. Just so you don’t have to the math… the cost of owning a two year contract runs you $1,680 to $2,400. That seems fair, right? Oh, wait, to walk out the store, the top smart phones are still going to cost you another $150 – it is not a complete subsidy. For that, you are essentially carrying around a small computer with constant access to the Internet with no usage limits.

Granted, that is your most expensive option. Option #2 is the mid-range phone. It still gives you basic Internet access and email functionality. But lumped into this mid-range phone is the basic usage plan, only $240 over the two years, but you only get 25MB per month. There is no good measure of what you can really do with that on the web and email. Of course, the provider would be happy to upgrade you at any point to the more expensive plans. Don’t forget, you are still going to pay for the voice, too, at at least another $960 for the two years.

And option #3 is called the “feature phone.” Ironically, these phones have the least amount of actual features. These are these phones the carriers will basically give away just to get you on the basic $960 for two years contracts. They may have limited “modern” features, but nothing like the above options. But that is not why you get these phones – you just want a PHONE.

The cell phone carriers are racking in the money. And because of this, they can control how you get and pay for their services. If you want basic voice services, you can not get the option 1 or 2 phones. Above is the current phone I want, but am not willing to pay the extra $240 for. If you have to pay for the extra data services you don’ t want, the company is taking advantage of its customers. To me, this violates monopolists regulations… forcing you to pay for more because they can and just because you want a specific device.

Arrrgggh! So, this is why I am now waiting. I can barely justify the cost of the voice plan – which is why I am on a family share plan with someone who can justify the expense. In this new economy, I hope everyone is looking at the expenses they think they need versus what they really need. Everything comes at a price, you just have to know what it is.


Gadget Review: Nike+ sensor March 5, 2010

Posted by shwaldman in Fitness, Technology.
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Let’s start by saying, running and walking are the simplest of all fitness activities. Absolutely no special equipment is necessary to participate and it can be done almost anywhere. Now, that being said, there are plenty of special equipment out there for sale to make the activities more productive, more interesting, more fun, more motivating, more informative. I started running as a kid to get in shape for other sports – soccer, basketball, and even baseball, but I never participated on a running/track team.

Now, I keep running to stay in and improve my fitness. I run to relax, to get away and to clear my mind. Six years ago I got a Garmin Forerunner 201 GPS watch. For five years, it was a motivational factor in getting me outside to run, including my second marathon. For me, working full time and having two young kids, I feel pretty good about putting over 1,000 miles on it. Then last year, I upgraded to a Forerunner 305 that has the same (though more accurate GPS, but it adds a heart rate monitor, foot pod, and cadence monitor as possible accessories.

It made it so much easier to track and monitor my runs indoors as well as out. It is also great to be see my heart rate as I ran and then be able to see it graphed alongside my pace and cadence in Garmin’s Training Center software. I even used it a couple of times to see what my heart rate looked like as I slept.
But is missing from Garmin’s system is a sense of community. It is all good to motivate yourself, but if you are up for a little friendly competition, you need to look elsewhere.

And when my wonderful wife won me a new Apple iPod Touch last fall, I decided I would get the Nike+ sensor. I finally picked one up (for $20) in January. The sensor is just a small disc about the top digit of your thumb. It can fit into specific Nike shoes or can be attached to the top of ANY shoe in a little pouch (another $7). Essentially, there is a iPhone/iPod application that works like a sophisticated pedometer. It can be digitally calibrated, it stores past runs, and displays pace, time elapsed and calories burned. But after all that, it uploads runs to the Nike.com website when you Sync your iPod.

The website provides a way to track and display runs. It provides suggesting training regimes, it allows you to set up goals and share your runs with other Nike+ users. However, what is the most inspirational here is the ability to create and join challenges. Who can run the most miles in the next month? Who can run the fastest 5K in the next year? And these can be done at the team level – my state or country against yours. I am in one for the most active blood types (A+ is in a distant second place to O+).

So far (I have only put 73 miles on the device since January 21st), I am enjoying this extra motivational tool. It keeps me wanting to get running and recording distances for my challenges. There some minor bugs in the iPod app and it could use a little more functionality – like I think it should download current challenge standings when the system syncs. It couldn’t be up to date unless they also sync’d over the network, but at least it would not tie you to your computer. And the challenges have some built in biases that are difficult to overcome. But they are still very motivational to anyone who is a little competitive. And the app does let you play playlists while you run and of course works fairly accurately to record distances. All in all, this is a cool product that is fairly inexpensive if you already have an iPod.

Musical Show Review: Love by Cirque du Soleil March 5, 2010

Posted by shwaldman in Fitness, Society.
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There are so many shows on the Vegas strip, including at least three Cirque du Soleil shows, it is hard to choose. On our recent trip, we had an extra night were we decided that if we found a good deal, we would take it. Now, we were not willing to waste our time going through one of the many timeshare offers, but outside of that, we wanted to find a good deal. I searched online and TicketMaster and other online sites were not that great of deals of the face value.

The place to go is Tix 4 Tonight. There are six of these counters along the Vegas Strip. We checked it out and managed to get 40% off the face value of our tickets. The way they work is for shows that night or in the next couple of days, you look into seats within one of several categories. They offered Category 2 or 3 tickets for $93 (the likely value was around $123) or Category 1 was only $110. I opted for the latter and we ending up sitting in the second row. For this show was nice, but any seat is probably good given the layout of this show (more on that later).

This is the second Cirque show we have seen in Vegas. In 2003, we saw O. I was enthralled by that one. Acrobats flying every which way and landing into pools built into the stage. It was amazing visual experience. But every Cirque du Soleil show is different. This one was both a visual and audible party. It has incredible characters and clowns going this way and that. But throughout the two hour show, a fantastic story was set to the memorable music of The Beatles.

Not to sound like a cliché (or tying into the current technology movement of the television market) this show comes at the audience in a complete three dimensional way. Artists are spinning from the ceiling, climbing out of the floor, flipping around on a see-saw fifty feet in the air, four roller bladers soaring off half pipes. The only downside of sitting as close as we were, we had keeping looking around to see everything. And one of the amazing parts of the show was how these ATHLETES were able to perform, non-stop for two-plus hours. It was a feast for the eyes and ears – quite an enjoyable show!

Movie Review: Michael Jackson’s This Is It March 5, 2010

Posted by shwaldman in Society.
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Michael Jackson is and always will be a great icon of music. The fact that his life was marred by stories that could never be fully understood is a sad footnote to his life. What I hope will stand the test of time is his tremendous library of incredible music.

I got to see him in person at the age of 12 during the Victory Tour in September of 1984. But being on the opposite side of RFK Stadium in Philadelphia was like being in another building. What made the concert worth while was the ambiance. It was a celebration of The Jackson 5 and their family of musicians. This DVD, too, is a celebration. It was an eye into the planning of the tour that Jackson was planning to be his last.

Obviously, watching these recordings of him practicing was a little eerie, but once you get past that it was amazing to see this amazing performer. He has an impeccably clear vision of how he wants his performance to be. Everything from the clothes to the music to the dancers to the stage design. It is such a shame that the world did not get to see it. Admittedly, I am sure we would not have gone to see it, but as the saying goes, you don’t know what you have until you lose it. And on June 25, 2009 the world lost someone that was arguably the greatest entertainer of all time.

Super Bowl 2010 Ads – the only time we watch them February 8, 2010

Posted by shwaldman in Society, Technology.
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I love Hulu!

Hulu Commericals

Microsoft always playing catch-up… marketing! September 8, 2009

Posted by shwaldman in Technology.
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Zune vs iTouch

This month, Microsoft will release a new personal media player, the Zune HD. It is the equivalent of Apple’s move from iPod to iTouch. It is touted to be technically superior to Apple’s iTouch hardware. Of course, it will likely not fair nearly as well in the mass market all because of marketing. Microsoft has the most widely accepted operating system and office productivity software. But developers and hackers do not like Microsoft. Therefore, there will not be nearly as many applications developed for the Zune stores.

Apple will anounce their new line of updated media players on September 9th, generation #3. Microsoft finally releases its Zune HD on September 15th. So far, it looks like there will be nearly $75 difference on the highest 32 GB models (in Microsoft’s favor). They both will obviously have wireless networking and touch screens. Word on the street is the iTouch will add a digital camera. But for me, the big draw in interest to the Zune is the HD output as well as the HD radio. I think that is huge. There are very few portable HD radios on the market and this is essentially a computer plus the HD radio. Now, let’s hope the Zune supports flash and java players so any online content can be relayed onto the big screen!

(Note: a few hours after I posted this, Apple dropped its prices – the 32GB iTouch went from $399 to $279 (practically the same as the proposed Zune HD 32 GB) – in preparation for it’s big 9/9/09 annoucements.)