Tag Archives: Blackberry

Could Apple be making the same mistake that Blackberry did?

Interesting read on the future of smartphones and technology from Marco Arment

Before the iPhone, RIM’s BlackBerry was the king of smartphones. They seemed unstoppable, because by most accounts, they were the best and most successful at what most smartphones were for at the time: email and phone calls.

When the iPhone came out, the BlackBerry continued to do well for a little while. But the iPhone had completely changed the game — it changed what smartphones were for, from basic business-focused email devices to entire consumer personal computers with desktop-class operating systems and rich app ecosystems.

The BlackBerry’s success came to an end not because RIM started releasing worse smartphones, but because the new job of the smartphone shifted almost entirely outside of their capabilities, and it was too late to catch up. RIM hadn’t spent years building a world-class operating system, or a staff full of great designers, or expertise in mass production of luxury-quality consumer electronics, or amazing APIs and developer tools, or an app store with millions of users with credit cards already on file, or all of the other major assets that Apple had developed over a decade (or longer) that enabled the iPhone.

No new initiative, management change, or acquisition in 2007 could’ve saved the BlackBerry. It was too late, and the gulf was too wide.

Today, Amazon, Facebook, and Google are placing large bets on advanced AI, ubiquitous assistants, and voice interfaces, hoping that these will become the next thing that our devices are for.

If they’re right — and that’s a big “if” — I’m worried for Apple.

Cell Phone Down

Yesterday Wendy came to me all upset and said she had dropped both of our iPhones.  Mine was fine but her phone had a smashed screen.  I wasn’t that upset.  Those things happen although two in a month (ahem Mark) was kind of painful.  When Mark broke his screen, I went to Costco and bought him a Acer Liquid Z410 for $130.  I picked up a 16gb Micro SD card from Don’s Photo for $15 and he was set.  For being so cheap, I was really happy with his phone.  It also has DTS Sound in it so even without a Bluetooth speaker the sound is good.

Wendy felt horrible but I was secretly happy.  Our contracts come up this summer with Bell and I had no idea what phone to get.  I was tempted to get some unlocked phones from Costco and save the money on our monthly bill.  I’m happy with Bell (and Mark is with Virgin) but it’s nice to have options.  Now I only have to figure out what I am going to do.  I am personally thinking of a Windows phone but I am always tempted to go back to Blackberry or a Windows Phone.

Acer Jade Z

Instead of picking up the Acer Liquid Z410, I got her the larger Acer Liquid Jade Z.

Features:

  • Display: 5-in. IPS TFT LCD
  • Bluetooth: Bluetooth® 4.0 with EDR
  • Screen resolution: 1280 x 720
  • Operating system: Android™ 4.4 (KitKat)
  • Main camera: 13 MP AF with flash LED
  • Battery: Built-in 2,300 mAh rechargeable Li-polymer battery with up to 7 hours of talk time
  • Wi-Fi
  • Capture 30 fps FWVGA (MP4, H.264, H.263)
  • 720p video recording
  • Processor: Quad-core 1.5 GHz, MT6732
  • Dual micro SIM
  • 16 GB storage
  • 2GB RAM
  • MicroSD™ memory card expansion slot (card not included)
  • In-cell type touch lens with direct bonding
  • Side keys: volume up/down
  • Power key on top of device
  • LED indicator lights for charging, missed call, new message, lower battery
  • Google virtual keyboard
  • GPS Satellite data updates

For $220, it was a steal (way cheaper in store than online). 

The only thing  I don’t like about it is that it was a pain to find a case for it.  I ordered one for Wendy’s and Mark’s from Amazon.ca.  The price is right but they won’t be here until the end of March because I assume they are shipping from Taiwan or China.

One of the biggest issues facing our economy

Our businesses are having a hard time competing globally.

While we tend to celebrate private entrepreneurship, the state is crucially important in driving and shaping innovation. The question of which economies will thrive and which will lag behind on innovation has a lot to do with sound public policy.

With an economy historically reliant on natural resources and one with high rates of foreign ownership, the role government plays is even more important for Canada.

For 30 years Canadian economic policy has been focused on the supposed need to liberate private enterprise from the heavy hand of the state. The focus has been on slashing corporate tax rates, reducing public interest regulation and liberalizing trade and investment.

But has this “pro-business” agenda worked?

Since 2000, the Canadian economy has actually regressed in terms of producing highly innovative products and services for global markets, with major technological champions from Nortel to BlackBerry foundering. Over the last decade, labour productivity in Canada grew at a dismal pace and Canada is running record high trade deficits.

The key to Canada’s falling competitiveness is the fact that Canadian firms are not reinvesting their profits in areas that support long-run competitiveness — human capital and especially research and development. In 2011 the Canadian Conference Board gave Canada a “D” on R&D spending, ranking 15th out of 16 peer nations.

Canadian governments played vital roles in the development of innovative sectors in the past, for example in aerospace and information technology. Since then, however, the Canadian economic landscape has become increasingly dependent on natural resources, with privatization of the profits from its exploitation retarding rather than supporting industrial policy.

While profits may soar when taxes fall, investments don’t. Canadian businesses are hoarding cash at record levels — $626 billion according to Statistics Canada — and the investment that is taking place is in the resource extraction of the old economy rather than the innovative technologies of the new economy.

The combination of lagging private sector investment and public sector austerity puts Canada’s ability to be a world leader in new technologies in doubt.

I have always wondered why provincial governments don’t take the profit out of renewable resources and start incubating new technology or renewable resource industries like other countries have.  I think our resource economies have made us complacent and there is literally hundreds of examples of technologies that we have let stagnate and pass us by that the rest of the world is jumping on and making a lot of money while doing it.

Life in the cloud

As SaskTel winds down CDMA coverage in Saskatchewan, I need to upgrade Mark’s cell phone (a LG Rumor 2) that he loves.  He is on a cheap pre-paid plan with Virgin that I don’t want to upgrade or add data so I will keep with a feature phone, probably a LG Rumor Plus or a Samsung Gravity 3.  It’s talk, text, and email which is really all Mark needs right now.

I have been thinking about what I need ever since RIM’s network when down last summer.  This is how I am thinking.  I had a Blackberry Curve 8530 and like a lot of smartphone users, I have everything flowing through that phone.

  • Two email accounts
  • Blackberry Messenger
  • Text
  • Twitter
  • Flickr (which never worked on the phone)
  • Dropbox so I could send and receive files
  • The Score Mobile App (I have a problem okay)
  • MySask411 which replaced my phone book

I got a fair amount of work done and even wrote a couple of columns with it.  It worked really well for me until that outage.  When Blackberry went down, so did my phone.  I couldn’t get calls, I couldn’t even connect to a Wifi network.  My phone was essentially a brick that I carried around and hoped would return.  While it wasn’t the reason I switched a Samsung Galaxy Ace over Christmas (the cost of the new Curve’s were high on Koodo and didn’t seem to offer a lot more capability as well as my general lack of faith in the Blackberry platform) I essentially swapped out RIM for being totally dependent on Google and this week I had an uncomfortable realization about how totally dependent I am on Google.

I was one of the first bunch of Gmail users way back in 2004, back in the days where invites were limited to five per person and where actually being sold for money.  I got one, used my five invites on Wendy and some friends.  Gmail was so new and fresh it had that new email smell to it.  It served me well until this year when I got a notice that my email had been accessed by someone using an IP address from  Serbia.  It was really unsettling because as I had a decent password and changed it periodically.  Having not travelled to Serbia recently (or ever) the idea that I had been hacked was a horrible one.

As for my ID, you have your drivers license, your passport, your Saskatchewan Health Card, your Social Insurance Number but my email is just as big of a part of my ID as anything.  I have used it to sign up for Flickr, YouTube, Twitter, PayPal, even my bank and credit card uses it to communicate with me.  While I am careful, having everything exposed was not that pleasant and it resulted in new credit cards being issues, new passwords, and really all new everything.

Shortly after that I had a huge problem with email.  Emails were missing and there was about a 1500 email hole from about a year before that I discovered.  I wasn’t the only one that has had this happen to me.  The Gmail help forums are full of users that have lost thousands of emails and no one really knows why.

Since then there is someone that I will email periodically at The StarPhoenix that occasionally doesn’t acknowledge the email.  I am the same way so I never thought of it until Friday when I got a call from my editor to see why I never filed my column except I did on Wednesday.  I resent the column and it appeared.  It’s the second time it happened but I have long had these sneaking suspicions that it was a problem with the @thestarphoenix.com domain.  I checked the Gmail help forum and it tells me that I need to check with the domain name that wasn’t getting my email as they are of course faultless.  Of course the email was never received.

This isn’t the first time this happened.  A friend used to work at USA Today.  An email I sent him took a full year one time to show up.  I was working somewhere else and using their email (which was served up on Dreamhost) was the only server they ever had a problem with and then only sometimes.  It has happened to me before from SaskTel where an email just hung out for month before being delivered.  It happens but how do you know it happens.  I never got a bounce message in any of those situations so I assumed (incorrectly) that it had gone through.  Maybe we need to downgrade to Eudora 3 and start sending read receipts again.

So on Friday, my email was down, my cell phone was acting erratic (I think the problem was Koodo) and I realize that when things go down, they really go down.   What can you do about it?

Gmail

Leaving Gmail is really hard because I think we underestimate how much spam and email that we get and I really don’t want that to make it to my phone.  I know SaskTel has web access but so many friends of mine have had their email account become totally full after a couple of days that it is pointless if you are a heavy email user.   I can set up a 500mb account for myself on Dreamhost but I get thousands of spam a day and Gmail handles it better than anyone else.  I am in the process of putting coop AT jordoncooper.com to rest which will cut back on some of the spam but it’s a big problem when you are have old email accounts.  There are a lot of things that still use it, including some that I am sure I don’t remember but will need someday.

As Wired Magazine published yesterday, Gmail has a pretty big security hole in it.

But since Gmail added OAuth support in March 2010, an increasing number of startups are asking for a perpetual, silent window into your inbox.

I’m concerned OAuth, while hugely convenient for both developers and users, may be paving the way for an inevitable privacy meltdown.

For most of the last decade, alpha geeks railed against “the password anti-pattern,” the common practice for web apps to prompt for your password to a third-party, usually to scrape your e-mail address book to find friends on a social network. It was insecure and dangerous, effectively training users how to be phished.

The solution was OAuth, an open standard that lets you grant permission for one service to connect to another without ever exposing your username or password. Instead of passwords getting passed around, services are issued a token they can use to connect on your behalf.

If you’ve ever granted permission for a service to use your Twitter, Facebook, or Google account, you’ve used OAuth.

This was a radical improvement. It’s easier for users, taking a couple of clicks to authorize accounts, and passwords are never sent insecurely or stored by services who shouldn’t have them. And developers never have to worry about storing or transmitting private passwords.

But this convenience creates a new risk. It’s training people not to care.

It’s so simple and pervasive that even savvy users have no issue letting dozens of new services access their various accounts.

I’m as guilty as anyone, with 49 apps connected to my Google account, 80 to Twitter, and over 120 connected to Facebook. Others are more extreme. Samuel Cole, a developer at Kickstarter, authorized 148 apps to use his Twitter account. NYC entrepreneur Anil Dash counted 88 apps using his Google account, with nine granted access to Gmail.

This is where it gets nerve wracking.

You may trust Google to keep your email safe, but do you trust a three-month-old Y Combinator-funded startup created by three college kids? Or a side project from an engineer working in his 20 percent time? How about a disgruntled or curious employee of one of these third-party services?

Any of these services becomes the weakest link to access the e-mail for thousands of users. If one’s hacked or the list of tokens leaked, everyone who ever used that service risks exposing his complete Gmail archive.

The scariest thing? If the third-party service doesn’t discover the hack or chooses not to invalidate its tokens, you may never know you’re exposed.

The reliability isn’t just a Gmail issue but most of us switched to Gmail because it was run by Google and we never thought that we would have these issues. 

The other issue with Google is that even though they post an Apps Dashboard to let you know how things are going, this is a multi-billion dollar company with no way to contact them unless you are a large customer.  I have had Gmail down and nothing shows up on the Dashboard so it has to be a big outage to report it.  That’s fine if you are affected with others but if you are not part of a giant collective of frustrated Gmail users losing control on Twitter, what recourse do you have.  Google tells you to that they look at help forums but there are thousands of unresolved issues, some that go on for a long time.  This isn’t unique to Google, a friend had a nightmare in getting locked out of his Twitter account because of a Twitter database error.  It look a couple of months to resolve and that was even after it’s CEO got involved.  At least you can contact Dick Costello, who do you contact anymore at Google?

Google Contacts

I download and backup periodically my contacts for a couple of reasons, I need to keep them sync’d across my two accounts (one for work, the other one is personal).  They are also sync’d on my iPod Touch, iPad, and Android phone.  Of course I just read on Kottke this week that stealing your address book among iPhone developers is quite common.

It’s not really a secret, per se, but there’s a quiet understanding among many iOS app developers that it is acceptable to send a user’s entire address book, without their permission, to remote servers and then store it for future reference. It’s common practice, and many companies likely have your address book stored in their database. Obviously, there are lots of awesome things apps can do with this data to vastly improve user experience. But it is also a breach of trust and an invasion of privacy.

I did a quick survey of 15 developers of popular iOS apps, and 13 of them told me they have a contacts database with millons of records. One company’s database has Mark Zuckerberg’s cell phone number, Larry Ellison’s home phone number and Bill Gates’ cell phone number. This data is not meant to be public, and people have an expectation of privacy with respect to their contacts.

So while I am giving all of my contact information to Google intentionally, I (and so are most of you) am un-intentionally  giving up your contact information to developers (sorry about that) which is one of the reasons why there is so much spam in this world.  Thanks Apple.  So even if Google is protecting our private information, as soon as we sync it with our iPhone or iPad, it is compromised.

This brings up my next issue, which phone vendor can we trust? Apple allows people to download your most private of personal information, Google controls and ties it all together in an Android phone, with Blackberry you just have a crappy phone experience and does anyone expect Windows 7 Phone to be any better.  RIM has better security but isn’t able to deliver on their phones.

I was talking to a businessman who has been tied to his phone since AGT came out with the Aurora (such old technology, Google doesn’t even know about it) and he said to me the other day that he was willing to ditch his smart phone and go back to a flip phone (or a feature phone so he could text his kids).  His company email server was down and he couldn’t do “anything” and was frustrated in the same way we all get frustrated.  He said with a regular cell phone, when it went down, all it did was affect his phone calls.  Now when his smartphone isn’t working, it affects everything.  He was actually in the process of heading to Midtown Mall and purchase a cheap phone so as he put it, at “least I can call someone”.  In some ways as I looked at a Nokia C1 by Fido today I wondered if this may be what I really want, an update to the Nokia 1100 which is still the world’s most popular phone.

Koodo

Koodo’s cellular service is okay here in Saskatoon.  They use Telus’ network and do a not bad job of staying active.  I find that when SaskTel is having problems, so is Telus/Koodo which makes me feel somewhat better but not a lot.  In other words when I get no service at my house, neither does anyone else using SaskTel, Telus, or Virgin.  When Koodo’s network is acting up, I can tell by looking at my phone when something is wrong.  My Foursquare check-in options revolve around Carlton University’s campus, my network says Telus or even SaskTel instead of Koodo, and my calls drop more than they should.  Wireless is defined by it’s Ready, Shoot, Aim background and we shouldn’t be surprised with it’s technical difficulties considering the rate that technology is changing but more and more I keep wondering if a step back may be order and evaluate if I want all of my personal information being in a platform that is so easily exploited. 

Even if you can trust them now, can you trust them in the future.  Google’s recent privacy changes spooked millions and may have launched a competitor in Duck, Duck, Go.  These aren’t new concerns as I remember AKMA struggling with how much he should trust Flickr years ago.

I could come off the cloud but that is a lot easier said than done.  I could use Thunderbird for email and contacts and Lightning as a calendar.  I could use Dreamhost’s IMAP server, keep my email off my phone, and ditch my iPad, or at least not sync up information with it.  It can be done but it is a very different 1998 era web that I don’t think I want to go back to either.

When you think of the information you have in your Gmail account, address book, calendar, and other apps (think of Mint and your bank app on your phone), why aren’t we either demanding more security or at least taking steps to protect ourselves.  I know RIM’s the most secure but their phones are terrible right now.  I wonder if the next thing in wireless will not just be the cool apps but the cool apps that protect your data because right now my data isn’t feeling all that safe.

Can a responsible adult please take over RIM

Company says it is taking a $485 million charge because they are selling the Blackberry Playbook at around $200.  The good news is that they are actually selling.  The bad news is that they are sold about about a $150-$200 loss per unit.

A $485 million writedown for the discounting, along with costs related to a worldwide shutdown of BlackBerry service in October, caused RIM to warn that third-quarter revenue would be “slightly lower” than the $5.3 billion to $5.6 billion it had previously forecast.

In a statement, the company also said that it did not expect to meet its earnings target for the year. RIM will announce official results for the third quarter on Dec. 15.

RIM has repeatedly struggled to meet targets this year as it worked to stem a loss of market share for BlackBerry phones in North America. Friday’s restatement sent RIM’s shares down by $1.81, or 10 percent, to $16.77 a share, on Nasdaq.

Its stock is down 76 percent from the 2011 high of $69.86 posted on Feb. 18.

The base model Playbook, once priced at $500, is now being offered for $200. Tavis McCourt, an analyst with Morgan Keegan in Nashville, estimated that the tablets cost RIM $350 to $400 to manufacture.

I heard on the radio today that the per unit cost is around $265 and this site says that they only cost $205 to manufacture if you marketing and research and development costs are not included.  It was odd to look back and read that RIM was going to ship this and that within 60 days of it’s launch and nothing has shipped yet.  It’s what stopped me from purchasing a Playbook a couple of months ago.  The other thing that has to hurt is when you see the Acer Iconia and the Motorola Xoom running Android which actually include Skype, IM, and email.

RIM has consistently overpromised and under delivered which is one of the reasons I traded in my Blackberry for something else, I lost confidence in the company.

Christmas Gift Guide: For Your Husband/Boyfriend/Men in Your Life | 2011 Edition

It’s Wendy again and I am pretty lucky as Jordon does all of the Christmas shopping in our family and over the years he has created some incredible gift guides for his website which have generated a loyal following.  I traditionally write the Gift Guide husbands/boyfriends/fathers and this year I get to kick off the festivities as mine will go first.  How cool is that?  Hopefully I don’t disappoint and as always if you have good ideas, leave them in the comments below.

Leatherman New Wave Multitool | Last year Lee went out and bought Jordon a nice multi-tool and he has used it every day since then.  It’s amazing how many times it has come in handy around the house or when we have been out driving or at the lake.  It’s been used to fix the car, perform first aid, cut down a tree, screw in more than one screw, and open many a package.  You really don’t realize how handy and indispensible they are until you don’t have one around.  We have picked up some less inexpensive ones over the years and we keep one in both of our car safety kits and also up at the cabin.  If the guy you are shopping for doesn’t have one, get him one.
($62 at Amazon.com)

iPod Touch | If the guy you are shopping for has an iPhone then don’t bother but if he has an Android or Blackberry powered phone, don’t buy into the hype that they can listen to music with it.  They can but you can’t use iTunes and it’s a big time drain on the battery.  Get them a 4th generation iPod Touch and let them put their videos and music on it.  For Jordon, his iPod has many of the same apps that his phone does, it means that he can grab it any time he needs it, even if his phone is out of reach or charging.  Plus no matter how easy people tell you it is to get music on your Android or Blackberry, iTunes makes it easier.  While it won’t replace your HD camcorder, there was been a lot of times when we have it with us and it takes excellent HD video.  Photos are generally grainy but the video is good to excellent.
(32gb for $279 at Amazon.com)

Seinheisser CX 500-B headphones | Whatever you do, upgrade his headphones. The Apple headphones may be iconic but they aren’t very comfortable. Instead try the CX 500’s which are high quality, noise-isolating ear-canal phones with a crisp, clear, bass driven stereo sound. They feature a volume control integrated in the cable and come with a new, unique type of ear adapter for an improved fit and an even better passive noise attenuation.
($30 at Amazon.com)

Kindle Fire/Kobo Vox | If a iPad is out of your price range and you don’t want a Blackberry Playbook (not many of us do), why not look at an Android powered Kindle Fire or if you are in Canada, check out the Kobo Vox.  They aren’t iPads but they are not $500 either.  They allow you to install apps, read books, watch some video, install apps surf the web, play Angry Birds, tweet, and check email easily.

Which one should get?  Amazon has a faster tablet while the Kobo Vox is available in Canada.  There have been some pretty annoying issues with the Kobo Vox as Kobo has a reputation of shipping before it it is ready.  They have however released five firmware updates which means that the Vox is getting better with each release.
(Both are $200 at Amazon.com or Chapters)

Steve Jobs by Walter Issacson | Read the summary and tell me that the tech geek in your life won’t want to read this.  Plus, after he is done with it, you can read it.

Based on more than forty interviews with Jobs conducted over two years—as well as interviews with more than a hundred family members, friends, adversaries, competitors, and colleagues—Walter Isaacson has written a riveting story of the roller-coaster life and searingly intense personality of a creative entrepreneur whose passion for perfection and ferocious drive revolutionized six industries: personal computers, animated movies, music, phones, tablet computing, and digital publishing.

At a time when America is seeking ways to sustain its innovative edge, and when societies around the world are trying to build digital-age economies, Jobs stands as the ultimate icon of inventiveness and applied imagination. He knew that the best way to create value in the twenty-first century was to connect creativity with technology. He built a company where leaps of the imagination were combined with remarkable feats of engineering.

Although Jobs cooperated with this book, he asked for no control over what was written nor even the right to read it before it was published. He put nothing off-limits. He encouraged the people he knew to speak honestly. And Jobs speaks candidly, sometimes brutally so, about the people he worked with and competed against. His friends, foes, and colleagues provide an unvarnished view of the passions, perfectionism, obsessions, artistry, devilry, and compulsion for control that shaped his approach to business and the innovative products that resulted.

Driven by demons, Jobs could drive those around him to fury and despair. But his personality and products were interrelated, just as Apple’s hardware and software tended to be, as if part of an integrated system. His tale is instructive and cautionary, filled with lessons about innovation, character, leadership, and values.

($18 at Amazon.com)

The Wire | Season 1 ($21)| Season 2 ($21.49) | Season 3 ($21.49) |Season 4 ($21.49) | Season 5 ($21.49) | Complete Series ($149) | If you haven’t seen The Wire, you are missing out on one of the best shows ever made for television.  It’s more than the acting and the writing, it’s the concept of dedicating an entire season to one story and crime and letting it unfold.  I have watched the entire series twice with Jordon and it gets better wit age.  I really is worth watching and owning.  It would be a fantastic gift to any man on your Christmas gift.
(All seasons available at Amazon.com by clicking on the season link)

Ken Burns: Prohibition |  Well let’s see you have Ken Burns telling the story of prohibition so you have gangsters, smugglers, corrupt cops, good cops, and a government that was comfortable actually poisoning alcohol to keep it from being consumed.  Yeah, this is going to be a good documentary series.
($19 at Amazon.com)

Mad Men | Jordon got into Mad Men last Christmas and while advertising isn’t my passion, I have come to really enjoy the series.  It’s also reassuring that someone, somewhere is making television worth watching again.
(Season 1 is $10.49 at Amazon.com. Seasons 2, 3, & 4)

Tivoli Model One | Old school AM/FM in a timelessly sleek design. I bought Jordon one a couple of years ago and he loves it.  We actually went and bought a second one for the cabin.  It gets great reception in the middle of nowhere and on a hot summer day when the Saskatchewan Roughriders are playing, it’s a great way to listen on the deck with all of your friends.  The Tivoli Model One has a rich, full sound thanks to sound pioneer Henry Kloss, and the radio has come to be a modern design must-have. This gift is perfect for a desk, in the kitchen- anywhere he can listen to the baseball game, CBC Radio One, or the oldies station.  Another tabletop option worth considering is the classic Sangean WR-11 radio.  Different design but same classic look.
(Tivoli Model One is $149 at Amazon.com | Seagean WR-11 is $80 at Amazon.com)

Wooden Pocket Knife | Jordon’s grandfather carried a wooden pocket knife with him his entire life.  Today while in Eddie Bauer he was surprised to see a great looking wooden pocket knife for sale.  Eleven functions in one beautifully crafted tool: scissors, fish scaler, hook remover, reamer with sewing eye, can opener, Phillips screwdriver, bottle opener, flathead screwdriver, small blade, and large blade.
($15 at Eddie Bauer)

MI5 | I fell in love with this long running BBC series along with Jordon.  This is adult, post-watershed drama clearly inspired by the hard-hitting style of shows as 24 and The Sopranos.  I have never seen a show so willing to kill off major characters but the one that remains (Harry) pulls show all together.  It’s a lot of fun, action packed and even controversial.
(Season 1 is $22 at Amazon.com  Seasons 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 & 9)

Defend the Realm: The Authorized History of MI5 by Christopher Andrew | I bought this book for Jordon tis summer and he really enjoyed it.  It’s not a light read as it is a scholarly history of MI5 but it is readable and incredibly interesting.  I found myself fascinated by some of the stories he would read from it as well as the personalities of the people behind the vaunted intelligence agency.  If you loved one is a fan of history, you can’t go wrong with this book.
($18.15 from Amazon.com)

Fuji Finepix XP20 | Jordon bought this camera this summer and loves it.  It’s waterproof and ruggedized design means that it goes everywhere with him, including the sometimes clear/sometimes murky waters of Last Mountain Lake.  It features 14 megapixels resolution with an impressive 5x wide zoom with dual image stabilization to shoot sharp image quality in any condition. The 2.7 inch LCD is clear and easy to see even in bright conditions and the bright LED lights the way in the dark. Also it is equipped with a strengthened glass lens cover providing outdoor protection. Other features include one touch underwater movie recording, Motion Panorama with automatic stitch, Face Detection, HD Video, and more.
($135 at Amazon.com)

The Power Broker by Robert Caro | Both the postman and myself got hernias when this book was delivered.  It is 1344 pages and a Pulitzer Prize winner about Robert Moses.  Who was Robert Moses?  Well he was the urban designer that changed the face of New York City and much of New England forever.  His car centric urban design probably influenced how we live more than anyone else.  He was feared, hated, and admired all at the same time.  Just as it’s a book about Moses, it’s a biography of New York City.  This book is coming out as a movie (or a long mini-series) next year.  Read the book first.
($16.50 at Amazon.com)

Sergio: One Man’s Fight to Save the World by Samantha Power | I haven’t read it yet but Jordon said it was the best book he read in 2010.   The book is about Sergio Vieira de Mello’s who was a Brazilian United Nations diplomat who worked for the UN for more than 34 years, earning respect and praise around the world for his efforts in the humanitarian and political programs of the UN.  He was killed in the Canal Hotel Bombing in Iraq along with 20 other members of his staff on 19 August 2003 while working as the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Iraq.  While the book was quite compelling, it has also been made into a HBO movie.
($6.80 at Amazon.com)

Survivorman: The Complete Series | A couple of years ago Jordon was surfing the television and stumbled upon Les Stroud surviving a week in Alaska and all of us got hooked on the show.  We own all three seasons (Season 1, 2, 3) but you can get the entire series in one box from Less Stroud’s online store.  If you are interested in the cultures Stroud interacted with on the show, make sure you check out the complete series of Beyond Survival
($69 from Les Stroud.ca)

Tabletop fountain | It depends on the office environment that your husband works in.  At the Salvation Army Community Services, Jordon’s office was both too hot and too dry.  A tabletop fountain added some humidity into the air and cooled it down a bit.  Just make sure you get him a plug in version, not one that runs on batteries.  It’s one of those things that once the batteries run out, it never gets used again.
($37 from Amazon.com)

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 | I never bought Jordon video games but he has made a sacred vow never to let Mark beat him at a game and so every once in a while Jordon takes a couple of days and beats a game.  This year he beat Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Battlefield: Bad Company, and Call of Duty: World at War and InFamous for the Playstation 3.  While he talks of the sacred vow, deep down he does it to escape and unwind.  If Jordon was creating this list, he would add Infamous 2 and Battlefield 3 to the list.  Depending on how old the game is, you can get them for a really good deal.
(Call of Duty is $59 at Amazon.com)

Kodak Zx5 Playsport | Jordon is a big fan of is Kodak Zi8 camera but Kodak isn’t making them any longer and has instead brought out the Zx5 Playsport.  It’s ruggedized, water proof (even has underwater white balance and shoots stunning video).  While we have a camcorder, you would be amazed at the amount of time we shot great video with our Kodak because we had it with us.
($109 at Amazon.com)

Creative Vado | The third generation of the Creative Vado may not be ruggedized but does have an external microphone port which means that with a lavalier or a shotgun microphone, you are going to get much better audio than you would with most standard camcorders.  Not only is the price right but along with Kodak Playsport, it offers up a wide variety of video options as well.
($79 at Amazon.com)

Note: If you are looking for some inexpensive video editing software, check out this list from PC World.

Christmas Gift Ideas and Gift GuidesIf I missed anything or if my suggestion made you think I was absolutely crazy, let me know in the comments. You can access the current edition and previous years list of Christmas gift guides here.

Samsung Galaxy Ace

My Blackberry Curve was my first smartphone and I really liked it.  I was planning to upgrade it this year to a new Blackberry Curve while RIM was making better hardware, they seemed to drop the ball on getting their new software out.  As I have written on Twitter, I had planned to go out and buy a Blackberry Playbook when the price dropped but RIM then delayed the new version of it’s operating system and then raised the price back up to $500 again.  It also doesn’t have Skype, native email, or even a Twitter app.  It’s just a web browser with a camera that can’t be used to communicate with other systems.  It doesn’t even have BBM unless your Blackberry is close by.  With more and more app makers dropping support for RIM, it didn’t make a bunch of sense to pay $300 for a new Blackberry Curve, no matter how much I liked it.  It’s kind of like buying a Nokia smartphone running Symbian or a Windows Phone 7 for that matter.  This letter to RIM senior management from a top level executive kind of sums it all up.

Samsung Galaxy AceDuring this time I went out and bought Wendy an entry level Android phone.  The Samsung Galaxy 550 isn’t spectacular but as much as I hated to admit it, it was better than my Blackberry.  When I saw that Koodo had the Samsung Galaxy Ace I decided to go out and get one.  Earlier this year Koodo had given me a $50 upgrade credit which made a good deal a better deal.

It came with a 4gb Compact SD card which is nice but not that great and after a couple of minutes it was full of Twitter, Foursquare and most of my favourite apps.  While the Google Sync app for the Blackberry was nice, it isn’t being extended with many of the new features.  I appreciate the native integration with Google Apps and again, a nice feature is up-to-date apps and an operating system that is actually being developed and unlike RIM, is shipping.

While the hardware isn’t nearly as beautiful as the Apple iPhone, software wise Android is comparable to iOS.  I know some Apple partisans out there will be flipping out on that suggestions but it was Apple fan boys that talked me into switching to Android.  It’s that good.

4G speed

While I loved my Blackberry Curve, it’s still CDMA and I want to take advantage of SaskTel’s new network.  Plus, the HSPA network has better coverage at the cabin.  Instead of the new Blackberry Curve, I am thinking of getting the new Samsung Galaxy Ace.  The Blackberry apps really are inferior and with declining market share and a new Operating System coming, I can’t see that changing.  If Koodo had the Blackberry Torch, I may be tempted to stay with it but I am not sure that Blackberry Messenger is enough for me to stay.  Thoughts?

We love our smartphones

I may not be addicted to my Blackberry so much as I just really love it.

Friends who have accidentally left home without their iPhones tell me they feel stressed-out, cut off and somehow un-whole. That sounds a lot like separation anxiety to me. Not long ago, I headed an effort to identify the 10 most powerful, affecting sounds in the world: I found that a vibrating phone came in third, behind only the Intel chime and the sound of a baby giggling. Phantom vibration syndrome is the term I use to describe our habit of scrambling for a cellphone we feel rippling in our pocket, only to find out we are mistaken. Similar to pressing an elevator button repeatedly in the belief that the elevator will descend sooner, we check our phones for e-mails and texts countless times a day, almost as if we can will others to text, call, e-mail or Skype us.

So are our smartphones addictive, medically speaking? Some psychologists suggest that using our iPhones and BlackBerrys may tap into the same associative learning pathways in the brain that make other compulsive behaviors — like gambling — so addictive. As with addiction to drugs or cigarettes or food, the chemical driver of this process is the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine.

Earlier this year, I carried out an fMRI experiment to find out whether iPhones were really, truly addictive, no less so than alcohol, cocaine, shopping or video games. In conjunction with the San Diego-based firm MindSign Neuromarketing, I enlisted eight men and eight women between the ages of 18 and 25. Our 16 subjects were exposed separately to audio and to video of a ringing and vibrating iPhone.

In each instance, the results showed activation in both the audio and visual cortices of the subjects’ brains. In other words, when they were exposed to the video, our subjects’ brains didn’t just see the vibrating iPhone, they “heard” it, too; and when they were exposed to the audio, they also “saw” it. This powerful cross-sensory phenomenon is known as synesthesia.

But most striking of all was the flurry of activation in the insular cortex of the brain, which is associated with feelings of love and compassion. The subjects’ brains responded to the sound of their phones as they would respond to the presence or proximity of a girlfriend, boyfriend or family member.

In short, the subjects didn’t demonstrate the classic brain-based signs of addiction. Instead, they loved their iPhones.

It’s really not that much of a mystery of why we love our phones.  In an age of being increasingly disconnected because of working hours, distance, or other reasons, our phones bring all of our connections back into focus.  We don’t love our phones, we love how they bring people back into our lives.

RIM Slashes Playbook’s Price

RIM Playbook

I think this is a good move by RIM.  It’s a seven inch tablet for the same price as the 10 inch iconic iPad.  By slashing their prices (Wal-Mart is offering them for $249), it gives people like me a reason to look at them.

Hewlett-Packard Co.’s TouchPad device was deemed a spectacular failure when it launched this summer, which led to now-former chief executive Leo Apotheker’s decision to discontinue the webOS tablet after just 48 days of sales in the U.S.

But when the world’s largest computer maker opted to slash the price of the TouchPad to just US$99 in an effort to sell off its remaining inventory — a decision which may have cost HP more than US$400-million and helped cause Mr. Apotheker’s untimely ouster last week — customers were lining up outside electronics stores to get their hands on the TouchPad.

It appears the PlayBook price cuts may already be having the desired result. Future Shop’s online store lists the 16 GB version of the PlayBook as “temporarily out of stock” and other retailers have reported selling out of the PlayBook.

But just as HP wound up feeling the pain of the TouchPad’s demise on its balance sheet, if RIM’s only recourse to bolster PlayBook sales is to offer steep discounts, the company could be facing a devastating financial reckoning the next time it reports quarterly financial results in December.

While the price drop is likely to give a much needed shot in the arm to PlayBook sales as electronics retailers gear up for Black Friday and the ensuing holiday shopping season, the fact remains that margins in the consumer electronics business are razor thin, and falling prices put a squeeze on potential profit.

In the most recent quarter, RIM’s gross margin fell to 38.7% with net income of US$329-million, down substantially from a gross margin of 43.9% and net income of US$695 in the prior quarter. What sort of impact this price cut has on RIM’s balance sheet remains to be seen.

Another horrible strategic move by Nokia

Since launching Windows Phone 7, it’s marketshare has dropped 38% which means that by the time that Nokia introduces Windows Phone 7 devices, the OS may be about as popular as the Symbian OS it dropped in support of Windows 7.

The question is for how much longer handset makers and carriers will consider it worth supporting Windows Phone 7. Microsoft’s mobile market share has been declining at a compound rate of about 5% per month for the past six months. At that pace, its overall share may be be hovering around just 4% by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, rival Google is on track to dominate smartphones. Android devices held 40% of the market as of the end of June, according to Comscore. Apple’s share came in at 26.6%, while RIM’s share, also in decline, fell to 23.4%.

i don’t know of a single user of Windows Phone 7 now that I think about it.  No one I know even talks about it.

Blackberry Curve Build Out

Blackberry Curve 8530 from Koodo MobileOn the 27th I went to Best Buy to take a look at DSLR’s on sale.  I didn’t see any DSLRs but while I was there, I saw that Koodo had dropped their price on Blackberry Curves to $150 and no contract.  I had thought about getting a LG Rumor 2 this year but after looking into it, we decided to get the Curve.  I had been quite happy with Virgin but I have had technical problems with my account for two years and it was getting worse.  While Virgin’s tech support and customer service staff have been really helpful, they still could not fix the problem so I finally decided to make the move.

Blackberry by RIMI took the phone home and started to set it up.  Here is how I put it together.

The first thing I did was get my Curve set up to our wifi connection in the house.  That wasn’t working that well.  Then I realized my router was about a billion years old (it was a 801b router) and it needed an upgrade.  Since my new router was on my desk, it was pretty easy to upgrade.  The Curve, my iPod Touch, and our notebook suddenly worked a lot faster.  I upgraded my old router’s firmware and will give it Computers for Kids and if they don’t want it, it can go to SARCAN.

Here is are the apps that made their way onto it over the last couple of days.

Utilities

Social Networks

  • foursquare app for the BlackberryFoursquare | It doesn’t yet use wifi but it allows you to check in and out all over the place.  It’s one of those apps that doesn’t make sense until you use it and then you love it.
  • Twitter | Umm, it’s one of the main reasons why I upgraded to a Blackberry.
  • Facebook (one the off chance for some reason I need to actually log in sometime… maybe in 2012)
  • Flickr | It’s an uploader that uploads my camera phone shots to Flickr.  It rather annoyingly resizes them but I’ll deal with that later.

News and Sports

Am I missing anything?  Let me know in the comments.

LG Bliss Review

LG Bliss cell phone

I was reading a couple of reviews for the LG Bliss and while I was okay with my Samsung Link, I would really liked a better web browser and some more app options.  Wendy went out and bought me one and I have had it for the last week.  Here are the pros of the phone.

  • Decent web browser.  Not as good as the iPhone’s but decent.  I can use Gmail’s text based or regular mobile interface as well as Google Calendar.  It is exponentially faster than the Samsung Link’s browser and hey, it actually renders websites properly.
  • The touch keyboard isn’t that bad.  After a week of using it, I have become fonder of it and faster using it than I was at the start of the week.  It is just something to get used to but is quite usable.
  • 2 megapixel camera.  While I won’t be printing off a bunch of photos taken with it, it is good enough to upload to Flickr.
  • Virgin Mobile only charges $10/month for unlimited web surfing.  That’s a great, great deal.  With the speed of the browser, it’s a service that I will be using a lot more rather than reaching for my iPod Touch.
  • The speaker phone is quite a bit louder than my Samsung Link.  I can toss it on the passenger seat and actually drive while having a conversation which is useful when I forget to grab my Bluetooth earpiece.

Cons

  • While it has a decent text messaging inbox, it doesn’t handle e-mail which I was sad about.  The inbox is so well designed that pop3 or IMAP capability would be amazing.
  • While Google java apps install, they won’t work because of the touch screen.  Quite annoying and the phone would go from good to amazing if it worked with Google apps.
  • I miss the “recently texted” list that the Samsung Link has.  It’s a great way to keep those that I am in constant contact with in easy reach. 

Overall, it’s not a smartphone and if I was RIM, I wouldn’t be that worried that it was going to eat away Blackberry marketshare but it’s cheap ($119 with no contract), works well as a cell phone, and pretty good as a digital media and web browsing device.  If you are a Bell, Virgin Mobile, or SaskTel customer, you may want to check it out.  As for the Samsung Link, it’s a great texting phone, has the Virgin Email App installed, is a great price ($69.99) but doesn’t get along that well with the web.  In the end, it kind of comes down to which you care about more, the web or email but both are good phones.  Wendy has a Samsung Link and I am happy with the LG Bliss… we don’t have any regrets with either purchase.

Samsung Link

Samsung Link I am a cell phone luddite.  Last summer I finally got a cell phone with a camera when I switched to Virgin Mobile.  For over a decade we were SaskTel customers with all of the travel I did between Saskatoon and Spiritwood and now with us going to the cabin as often as we do, Rogers was never a viable option.  Virgin Mobile uses SaskTel’s network which means that I get coverage almost to the cabin (but not quite). 

Wendy’s cell phone recently died a horrible death and instead of upgrading her phone, we bought a new phone from Virgin, the Samsung Link.  It has a full QWERTY keyboard, good Gmail integration, works with Twitter via SMS, and while I could surf the web, decided not to get that feature.  My bill is only $25/month which is about what I wanted to pay and for $79, I was able to purchase the phone outright so I have no contract if it doesn’t work out.  I had some serious reservations on this phone because so few reviews are based on actually using it (how many “un-boxing” reviews does this world need) but it is a workable phone.

It isn’t a Blackberry, doesn’t do video, have apps, and from what I have read, the web browser is slow but for the cost, it does what I want it to and I am okay with that.  I have more thoughts on it posted at Jordon Cooper Outfitters.