I don't know if you were aware, but some sort of computer company released some sort of new phone yesterday. Haven't seen any coverage about it in the news, I wonder how it slipped through the cracks.

OQO update: Working well, but I haven't been using the Sprint service very much. Been working with OQO support, who guided me through some driver updates. I think the issues still exist and will likely be reaching back to support next week, as I get more time to pound on the mobile broadband service.

OQO + Sprint Mobile Broadband woes?

So I love my OQO with its integrated Sprint Mobile Broadband service...

...when it works. Too often lately I have strange connection problems that I never had in the past with my previous laptop and an external Novatel USB mobile broadband modem. As you can see from the picture above, sometimes it works great. The signal is usually strong, and the connection speed is perfectly fine for this little device. I've used it multiple times to jump on to the work VPN, run Outlook, and catch up on emails while riding the train.

Except, once in a while, like today, the computer takes on a mind of it's own, and decides to be a complete pain in the ass.

Once in a while you get dumped off shortly after connecting. Invariably it tells you that the device can't be found. It sometimes helpfully suggests that I remove the device and re-insert it, which I obviously cannot do. As you can see from the screenshot above, I do have the device enabled in the OQO Wireless Dashboard control panel. So, why can't it be found?

It takes a reboot (or sometimes two) to make it start working again. And sometimes it'll only work for about fifteen minutes before complaining again. Not good, not acceptable.

It doesn't seem to be a coverage issue. As you can see from the top screenshot, I've got a good signal, and yet, this is where I am when the issue is occurring today.

What I don't get is that the connection manager software is laggy and slow. Every once in a while it freezes up for many seconds at a time. My previous sprint mobile device, the Novatel USB external modem doesn't do this (on the OQO or any other laptop). So, I'm concerned that this is hardware related, or that these things just don't work so well integrated into the OQO.

I've emailed OQO support just now about this issue, and hope they can nudge me in the right direction. The Sprint mobile broadband is a huge part of why I bought this device. OQO, don't let me down here.

Migrating Your iTunes Library

Over the weekend I erased and reloaded my main desktop computer. It's almost three years old, still pretty fast, but it had never been wiped clean before, so I was starting to get paranoid about what malware I might have accidentally installed at some point in the past. The usual anti-malware/spyware stuff wasn't finding anything, but two plus years is a lonnnng time for a computer.

The computer was/is essentially my media hub, including iTunes to manage my iPod. I've been very careful to always back up my iPod and iTunes library. As far as backing up the iPod, I always allow the computer to be the master iPod library, and slave the iPod itself to it. In a few instances when I've loaded songs on the iPod remotely (usually because I'm traveling), I'll re-slave the iPod to the computer, and reload those songs, when I've later returned home.

That, plus allowing iTunes to maintain the iTunes Library folder for me, and having iTunes copy all songs that I load into the library, means that my hard disk has a perfectly backed up copy of my entire music collection at all times.

This has saved my bacon at least once, when my previous iPod was stolen on a business trip. That sucked, but all I had to do was stop at my local neighborhood Best Buy on the way home, pick up a new one, plug it into iTunes, and iTunes loaded my entire library on to the new one. (Which was smaller in size, had a larger drive, and a better screen than the previous one did, anyway.)

In preparation for erasing my desktop computer, I picked up a very large networked drive (one terabyte), and copied everything I cared about to the new drive. This includes my entire "My Music" folder, containing the iTunes folder, all the music, cover art, library data, etc.

After I erased the desktop, reloaded XP Pro, reloaded the anti-virus, installed 900 security patches, and loaded all my usual applications (Slingbox, iTunes, Open Office, Skype, etc.).

Then, before running iTunes, I copied the "iTunes" folder back from the network drive into the "My Music" folder on my desktop. There was no "iTunes" folder there yet because it hadn't been set up yet.

After copying the folder back, then I launched iTunes. Agreed to the EULA, told it not to search my hard drive for anything, and asked it to take me to my library. My library magically reappeared. It took a while to re-index everything, maybe a half an hour or so. I imagine it is reading the "iTunes Library.itl" and/or the "iTunes Music Library.xml" library data files.

Then, I went into the iTunes preferences, and set everything back to how I prefer to keep it -- allow iTunes to manage the library, copy files into the library, etc.

Next, I had to re-authorize this computer to be able to play my iTunes-purchased songs. This is a concern; I just used up my third authorization, out of five allowed. What happens when I run out? It's irritating that moving the library counts as a new computer being authorized. But, that's a rant for another day. To get the computer to ask me to authorize, I clicked on the "Purchased" smart playlist, and clicked on a song I had previously purchased from iTunes. The authorization dialog box popped up, I entered my username and password, and iTunes authorized the computer successfully.

At the end of this long (because of the 80+ gigs of data involved) but simple (did this take more than ten active clicks?) process, I now have my entire iTunes library, all my playlists, all my purchased songs, TV shows, and podcasts, working on my freshly-wiped computer. I couldn't be happier with how easy it was.

ProcCGI for shell script postform handling

Note to self: If you're going to build shell script CGIs, you need ProcCGI. I've been using this thing for years, and it's invaluable. It's a simple C program that will convert postform information into variables that you can access from your shell script. It really is a shell scripter's best friend.

I'm dropping this note here, because every couple years, I start over on a new webhost, or new platform, and forget the name of ProcCGI. As it's invaluable, that's unacceptable! So, hopefully this will help jog my memory, next time.

(And maybe I'll even remember to do " apt-get install build-essential " on Ubuntu first.)

D-Link DPH-50U Skype Adapter

What does the D-Link DPH-50U do? Well, it lets you hook a regular telephone to your computer. Why would you do that? To use Skype, of course. If you don't already know about Skype, it's time to learn. Skype is an insanely neat telephone replacement software for your computer. If you and your friends all have Skype, calls between each other are free. You could be in Tokyo, your friend could be in Iowa, it's still free. I love it. I've been encouraging friends to get Skype accounts left and right.

Both my home and office phones are actually Skype accounts. To make them work with real phones, we use SkypeIn (buying a phone number) and SkypeOut/SkypeUnlimited (calling regular phones). If you want to be able to receive calls from ordinary phones, you buy a SkypeIn number. In any area code you want, or even in any country they have support for. Then inbound calls to you at that number are free. As far as making calls, you can either pay per minute (about 2.5 cents per minute in the US, I believe), or you can do SkypeUnlimited, which lets you call anywhere in the US and Canada with no long distance charges. That's what I do -- I got it for some amazingly cheap price as a starter deal. But even at the "full" price of $29.95/year, that's still an amazing deal.

The adapter isn't necessary to use Skype. You can use a normal computer microphone and headset. If you have a laptop with a microphone and speakers built in, Skype will work like a speaker phone (which comes in handy for meetings at work). There are also various cordless and corded USB telephone handsets available (I'm quite fond of the IPEVO Free-1). But with this adapter, you can talk on Skype over a normal phone, and even use it to dial out (if calling a regular phone).

If you have an incoming call (from another Skype user or from a phone), the thing makes your phone ring. The inbound caller ID works as you'd expect, unless you get a call from another Skype user -- then the caller ID actually shows their user name. Pretty neat.

There's only a couple oddities about dialing this thing that make me wonder, what were they thinking? (Or that it wasn't designed in the US.)
  • You need to dial 001 + (area code) + (phone number) + *. I assume 001 means US, then the area code and number are expected, but then you have to hit the asterisk. I know from a programming perspective, it would be very easy to set a "default" country, so you wouldn't have to dial the 001.
  • And why do you have to tell it you're done dialing by hitting star? Can't it figure it out, say, if you've stopped hitting numbers for 2-3 seconds, then connect the call? Seems to be a no brainer.
  • Out of the box, the thing plays a special information tone when connecting your call. You know, the three beeps you hear before a recorded voice tells you that you call cannot be completed? That's how the device tells you it's working. Very strange. Thankfully, upgrading the driver to the latest version (1.1 as of this writing) seems to address this.
These aren't deal breakers for me, but if you have somebody in your home or office who isn't tech savvy, these little quirks are going to confuse the heck out of them.

Even with all of that, it's still pretty neat to be able to plug in a normal telephone. We'd been having problems with our previous Skype phone (not the IPEVO one) at home, so today we wandered down the street to our local neighborhood Radio Shack and picked up a cordless phone with two handsets to use as our new Skype-based home phone setup. Took only a few minutes to set up, and so far, it's working great.

More on OQO + Sprint Mobile Broadband

Figured I'd break this out to a short, second post with the hope that other new OQO Model 02 users will run across it.

If you purchased an OQO Model 02 with integrated Sprint Mobile Broadband, here's the shortcut path to easy activation.
  1. Completely ignore the activation card OQO sends along in the box. It will send you to a rep at OQO, not Sprint, who will try to do the activation for you. It's not necessary and it adds a third party into the mix.
  2. Make sure you're sitting somewhere that your cell phone would work (based on the assumption that coverage is also reaching the Sprint modem).
  3. Extend the tiny antenna.
  4. Launch the Sprint Connection Manager.
  5. It should pop up a dialog box telling you that activation is required. If not, click on the connect button, and then it will.
  6. This "activation required" dialog box contains a direct phone number for Sprint support. Call this number.
  7. Tell this rep you just bought a laptop with a built in aircard and you would like to activate it. (I started by saying "Sprint modem" and they were confused. After explaining, the rep said, "Oh, you mean an aircard?")
  8. They will ask you for the ESN of the device. The Sprint Connection Manager will provide this to you on the next screen.
  9. The rep may have to "translate" the ESN to the correct data he/she needs. If they ask you if it's in the correct form somewhere else, the answer is no. You can pull the battery off and check, if you like. The ESN number on the back of the unit is written the same as the one provided by the connection manager application.
  10. The rep will take all your details to set you up with an account, or in my case, attach the new service to your existing account.
  11. The rep will give you an activation code. Enter it as directed.
  12. The rep will give you two sets of phone numbers to enter on the next screen.
  13. After this is done, the device will attempt to connect to Sprint, confirm activation, and download whatever account data is necessary to enable service. Make sure you're in a service area when this is happening.
  14. In my case this only took a moment, and I was up and running online while on the phone with the rep.
  15. Make sure you disable wi-fi while testing the Sprint connection; you don't want to confuse them and think you're on Sprint while actually on wi-fi. Kinda defeats the purpose of making sure your Sprint connection works.
Sounds like a lot of steps, but it was actually pretty easy. The longest part was waiting in queue for the reps due to supposed call volume. Grr. Not counting that we were done in maybe 15-20 minutes, and mine may have taken longer than average because I had an existing account and the rep had to look up how to add/transfer service to the new account.

My OQO Model 02 is here!

Well, I did it. I broke down and bought an OQO. I just received it on Monday morning.

My first impression after playing with it a bit is one of amazement over the (lack of) size. Wow, it really is that small! It’s smaller that I ever realized from looking at pictures. And light! It weighs only a pound with the standard battery.

First startup, configuring Windows XP Pro.

Setting up the integrated Sprint service was a breeze – when I called Sprint directly. A card in the box says you need to call a number at OQO to activate that. I called the number on Monday and talked a very friendly rep who was not very technical, and I don’t think she was very sure of the script she was working through. Somebody (from OQO? Sprint?) was supposed to get back to me within 24-48-72 hours with activation info, but that never happened. I waited until Friday, then decided to call Sprint directly. When I did that, it was a piece of cake. Took a little longer on the phone than I would’ve liked, but the rep was helpful and knew his stuff. So now, I’m off and running with Sprint EVDO service, as of a couple hours ago.

This isn’t my first experience with EVDO (or with Sprint Mobile Broadband), so I think I know what to expect. Check in later to see if my expectations are satisfied. So far, I’m excited to have a computer, ANY computer, with integrated EVDO. No more bulky USB modem! No more PC card!

The OQO next to my work-supplied HP Compaq nw8240.

Other quick notes:

  • Lead time was about three weeks from order-to-do for just the computer.
  • I ordered a ton of accessories, including a case, larger battery, etc. These haven’t shipped yet, but the order status recently changed from “received” to “building to order,” so I’m hopeful that they’ll be shipping soon.
  • No pen yet. Doesn’t come with one, I ordered it separately. I used to use Wacom tablets in my past life, so I think I know what to expect here. I have to tell you – currently lacking the ability to use the active touchscreen has not been an issue yet. I might not end up being a heavy pen user.
  • I ordered an extra VGA/Ethernet adapter. Didn’t pay attention; didn’t realize it already came with one. Oops. Anybody want to buy my extra one?
  • No free case included. Not even a felt bag. What’s up with that? Even an iPod comes with a grotty felt case so you can protect it from scratches while it rides in your pocket. I ordered a Stronghold case, which I haven’t yet received, but I’d also like a snug soft case. Short of using a Crown Royal felt bag, what are my options?
  • I chose XP Pro as the OS. Am I going to regret that decision? So far, it’s been fine. Nothing is confusing, everything works, and I’m glad that I’m avoiding Vista. My other laptop came with Vista, and while the eye candy is nice, I found many interface/system changes confusing. My only concern here is that I’m missing out on tablet PC functionality. I didn’t want to order XP Tablet, because it felt like a step backward, OS-wise, in my estimation.
  • Battery life: I don’t know how long the battery lasts yet. Just got the thing on Monday, and have been so busy with work that I haven’t had enough play time to see. I should find out soon. I also ordered a double capacity battery, which I have yet to receive. If I get five hours out of that, I will be very happy.
  • This is my first computer with integrated Bluetooth. Nice. I’ve only tried connecting a mouse to it, so far. Can I use a Bluetooth headset with Skype? I’ll be testing that soon, as I’m a huge Skype user.
  • The small screen size is not an issue. The screen is sharp and clear and easy to read. I wear glasses already, so small type doesn’t bother me. I also love how you can zoom out to emulate a larger monitor. This will come in handy for some dialog boxes and other things that require a larger display.
  • Last but not least, it does really fit in a pocket. I’ve been keeping it in the inside pocket of my sport coat, and it also fits into the back pocket of jeans just fine. I’ve been careful not to sit on it.

The computer has already come in very handy when helping my coworkers check into their hotel here in Chicago a few days ago. The hotel couldn’t find the reservation, and my Gmail account (pulled up on my phone) didn’t have all the necessary details. I needed to log in to Expedia, but their website was too complicated for Windows Mobile to handle. So, I pulled the OQO out, logged in to Expedia, and handed it to the desk clerk, showing him the confirmation number and guest names. He wasn’t impressed, but I was.

After placing my order, and while waiting during the three week period between ordering and arrival, I ran across Hugo’s blog. Hugo had an OQO, loved it, but then went radio silent. It turned out he ended up going through three OQOs, for reasons that still aren’t 100% clear to me. Breakage? Build defects? Some other problem? No issues with mine so far, but it’s only a few days old, so I’m a little nervous. I hope Hugo’s issues were the exception, and not the rule!

PSA: Without funding, CTA fare increases and service cuts are on the way

This is a public service announcement from Chicago Transit Status, and SaveChicagolandTransit.com.

As part of a contingency plan CTA has proposed in the event their budgetary needs remain unfulfilled due to inadequate funding and no changes made by the legislature, CTA, Metra, and Pace are facing $226 million in shortfalls this year.

CTA's shortfall is at $110 million, and, without that gap being filled, the Yellow Line would be abandoned and the Purple Line Express service discontinued (Purple Line Evanston Shuttle service would remain). Also, dozens of bus routes would be eliminated leading to overcrowding on remaining service (including the Red and Brown Lines), and fares would go as high as $3.25 depending on when you board and how you pay.

Visit http://www.savechicagolandtransit.com to learn more about the service cuts, the fare increases, and the situation that led to this proposal. Then, use the site to contact your legislators ONLINE!