Posts in "Thinking" category

AT&T and customer service

So I went into an AT&T store today. After waiting a considerable period of time, I was helped by the store manager. My purpose today was to get a NanoSim for a new USB data modem I had bought. Being old school, I prefer having a separate modem with a sim rather than just put a sim card in my computer. It’s easier to upgrade the USB device, and I believe they have more flexibility. Anyway, when the store manager got to me, it turns out that the business account that I have had with ATT for almost 30 years doesn’t have me on it as an authorized user. He says that there is nothing he can do to help me since it won’t accept my DL as a form of ID.

So I leave the store and call ATT.  After about 15 minutes I get to a Customer Service person who gets me back on the account (with no ID, simply with an ID phrase) and says she can send me a nano-sim. Great, I think, we decide on shipping (which she waves the 9 buck cost on) and then after getting a new email for me asks for a Credit card to put the$5 sim charge on. At this point I am driving down the highway and ask her if it’s possible just to put in on my account (which, oddly enough, is paid every month by the very credit card I would use, on an automatic basis). She says she is unable to do this, and since I am unwilling to pull off the road in order to pull out my cc and read her the numbers (the same credit card that is already on automatic billing on the account) we end the day.

So, I have a USB modem (which I had to buy on Ebay, since it was impossible to buy from ATT), without a SIM card, on an account I have had for 30 years. I have now spend an hour on the SIM card issue, and hour (at least) on the USB issue and an hour doing research on the USB modem. ATT has claimed 3 hours of my life, and I am no closer to getting my SIM card than I was at the beginning of the YEAR.

There are changes coming. I have moved one of my phones over to the very excellent Project Fi from Google. I am looking at a cloud PBX system for the company. ATT isn’t a terrible company, just as long as you don’t have to interact with them. I plan on getting out of that situation soon.

Nature vs Nurture

So, when I was in Kindergarten, we had some testing that I have since forgotten, but the results of which I remember to this day. There were 7 of us (me, Jerry, Roger, John, Jeff, Gloria and Kelly) who were judged as “Gifted”. We were brought up on stage in an evening assembly, with all the parents and teachers there, and allowed to demonstrate the things that showed us as gifted.

So from that moment on, we had been sprinkled with the fairy dust of gifted. We were together in all the advanced classes, we were expected to be the best, and we were. When we in High School, the 7 of us were still together in an experimental Calculus class  they had devised for us (and about 4 others who were also gifted, but not from our grade school). All of us went to college, the dullards among us only got a BS (that would be me) in Engineering. Out of the 7 of us we had 4 Engineers, 1 PhD, 2 company VPs, 1 Company owner, two Double majors and one Doll maker(Some fall into more than one category). I kept up with most for 20 years or so, then realized I was the only one calling the others and allowed them to slip over the horizon.

But, I always wondered, what made us successful (for the most part)? Was it the label of “gifted”, was it going through all the high level classes together, and having each other to force the others to excel to keep up (Roger always got it first, I called John so much one time I got his father (who was also John and sounded just like his son) and had him working on an Algebra problem for an hour before he figured out who I was (he was a programmer so it wasn’t terribly out of character)). Or was it something else?

I will always believe it was my father’s influence. But it’s an interesting question…

FedEx and NRA discounts

I have been getting more and more upset about this as the week goes on. It’s not particularly because I have a problem with the NRA, although I do. I am a member of two different gun organizations who support responsible ownership of firearms without advocating positions that I don’t feel are unconscionable. My problem is with FedEx. I have been a FedEx customer for 30 years or so, and currently clock up six figures worth of shipping charges a year through my companies and companies that ship on my behalf. I have been using Fedex as my default shipping company for years, because I felt they did a better job than the guys who write OOPS on the side of their trucks. Over the last 10 years or so, that difference has gotten narrow enough that is now inconsequential.

What I don’t get after 30 years of business and $100,000+ worth of shipping a year is a 26% discount on my shipping. I get a 5% discount from Amex on FedEx, but nothing like 26%. When I asked FedEx about this, I got a 90 second statement that was absolutely free of meaning.

So I am not going to say I am going to boycott FedEx. In today’s world, that is very nearly impossible. What I will say is that, given the choice, I will make a different choice than FedEx. Instead of having a bias toward FedEx, I will now have a bias against them. That may only be a 30% shift in business, but it will be there. If being a member of the NRA is more important to FedEx than 30 years worth of a business relationship, then so be it.

And next time boys, own your position, don’t blow 90 seconds of smoke up my ass. 

I come not to praise Hefner…

But to bury him.

However, first let me take to task a couple of publications, who seem to be still engaging in an orgy of flagellating the dead. I read 3 major papers (NYTimes, WashPost, WSJ (that one is ending at the end of the year)), along with the magazines NewYorker, Atlantic and BitterSoutherner (don’t take that one from it’s title, it started off as a drink magazine), finishing with Reuters and Bloomberg. When I first heard Hefner had died, I went to the NYTimes (all the news that’s fit to print) to read a very good obit, and one opinion piece that detailed his life, times and contributions to publishing and society. To deny these is to deny a large portion of the 1960s-2000’s. I was satisfied with the work, even put a short comment on the opinion piece by Amber Batura saying that it was thoughtful,  well written and well researched. If I had stopped reading the news through next week, I probably would have lowered my BP substantially. However, later in the day I read the first of what I would characterize as hitpieces and very nearly clickbait on the Washington Post. There were at least 5 more (at 5 I just logged out of WaPo for the week), all by women writers who were too young to see the changes that Playboy had helped cause in the 20th century. Then the NYTimes, after 2 days of playing nice, seemed to think it needed to catch up, and came up with some hitpieces of its own.

Hugh Hefner broke men out of the narrow confines of the 1950s breadwinners, changing them to people who listened to cool jazz, who had some sense of fashion, who could order a drink and who had a certain philosophy. People who liked sports cars, who wanted to do something other than 9-5, and who liked looking at pretty women. Even his detractors, and there were many, mostly owed their 15 minutes of fame to the target of their attacks, and not to themselves. Playboy was much more than a magazine with naked girls in it. There were plenty of those, and they all have faded into dust. The centerfold might be the first thing you looked at, but the articles were what left you engrossed. They left you with a certain worldview, not one with naked women draped all over the landscape, but one in which there were wider concerns (1st amendment, race relations, gay rights and availability of birth control, to name just a few).

If Hefner had a problem, it was that he was unable to shift 50 years later when the world did. Internet porn took the salacious part of Playboy out of the picture, and the world he promoted (individual rights, wider musical and fashion tastes, and the Playboy Philosophy) mostly came to pass. In the end, if he had become a bit of a caricature of his younger self, then it was only because of his success.

RIP, Hugh Hefner.

Life one legged

So, a couple of months ago, I had an Achilles tendon rupture. A couple of weeks ago, the great surgeons at Mayo Clinic, put me back together again, without the aid of all the King’s horses and all the King’s men. I am detailing most of that at a new blog on Achilles tendon injuries, but here I would like to detail what the digital usage side of the injury and recovery is. After the surgery, where they had to harvest the big toe tendon to lace up the gap between the two ends of the Achilles (apologies to Dr Turner for any misconceptions, he was very clear and concise in his explanations, any misinterpretations are my fault, not his) they cast up my right leg below the knee to the toes and told me quite sternly not to put any weight on it. I am spending the non-weight bearing period of the recovery in Rochester, MN, to be near the Mayo, as they need to see me back every 3 weeks or so. I have a very nice house rented from Serenity House Network, a charity that does this sort of medical rental. The house came fully furnished, and with a very good internet connection (15Mbs), so that made life easier.

So, currently, I am getting around longer distances with a knee roller, which looks a bit like a scooter, but has a place to lay your lower leg. Shorter distances (a couple of feet), I am doing with a walker and hopping. Oddly enough, crutches have not been a major mode of propulsion, although I have them here if needed. Probably, if I was getting outside more, the crutches would be of better use.

Consequently, there is very little ability to carry devices with you. Most of my time is spent in a robe, so phones can ride in the pockets, but I have 3 computers scattered around the house (bedroom, living room and breakfast nook), with additional screens on the one in the nook and the living room. As they would prefer the leg to be elevated at all times, finding proper typing positions to work in has been a trick. Thus, I find myself using phones more often, with voice recognition software to do more of my work than in the past. Phones can do much of my work, but for some things, like doing quotes, there is no substitute for an actual computer. My best option at the moment is the breakfast nook, with a Surface Pro 4 in a dock, with an external keyboard (Filco Ninja in bright red for the keyboard snobs among you) held on my lap, with the cast leg up on my knee roller. It is an odd position at best, but I am becoming more limber (at least on one side).

I have found the SP’s ( I have a 3 and 4 here) to be very nearly totally unsuitable for work with the folding keyboard. Also unsuitable, has been the Thinkpad X1 Yoga, which is quite a disappointment. The problem is not in the computers, but in the working positions required. I am still experimenting, finding a good stand for working in bed was a multi-try experiment, and I am still not entirely happy with it.

The iPhone is still my primary phone to get things done with, although all of my calls are going to my Project Fi Nexus. The AT&T signal in the area is poor enough I have had some complaints about the call quality. Therefore, the calls are being forwarded to the Nexus and the iPhone gets the non-call work. That is probably just my familiarity with the iPhone, everything I have taken the time to figure out on the Nexus has worked smashingly. One of the things that I am glad I took the time for is getting the full size keyboard set up, without it much that I am doing (including this blog post) would be terribly hard, if not impossible.

Oddly enough, my Apple watch has been a great help in this time, being able to check on messages and email without going through pulling the phone out of my robe pocket is a lot better that it would seem on the surface. I have learned much more of the ins and outs on it.

At three weeks, I am still learning some of the workarounds, but am getting full days of actual work in. That’s good, because the help here costs money.<G>

Nexus 6P and Project fi

As I have migrated from Windows Phone to iOS, I decided to try Android again. My past Android experience had been with a Galaxy 5 (or 4?) and had not even lasted 2 weeks as the bloody thing would not reliably answer calls. I was a lot more patient back then, nowdays MS throws out the 950xl and I gave it under 24 hours to figure out it was a steaming pile of crap. So I decided to try the Nexus, with the pure Android play on it. I got a Nexus 6p, and hooked it up to my AT&T account, and it seemed pretty good as a backup phone.

However, the backup phone idea went over the transom when AT&T was having trouble with their network, and both of my phones went down. So, I decided to go with Project fi from Google, and that has actually seemed to work pretty well (depending on how far back in the wilderness you are). But this post is less about the Project fi side of things and more about the Nexus 6P and Android.

I will say right off the bat that the Nexus 6p gets dinged because of the AMOLED screen. It gives you glorious colors, and is a great screen, at night or indoors. This is great if you are a vampire. For the non-blood sucking among us, trying to use the phone in the daylight, even on a cloudy day, is an exercise in frustration and strained eyes. This is NOT a problem on the iPhone, and one of the major reasons I will be staying with the Apple product as my primary phone.

As a phone, the Nexus does a great job. I have a 50Mb dedicated connection to my home office, and during the days I am in the office, I will often time forward the phones to the Nexus, as Project fi on the Internet connection actually works better than the OTA AT&T connection at my location. I have had some problems pulling out of the driveway while still on the phone though, although this is, I believe, more a problem with the OTA signal in this area from fi’s partners than the concept. Sound is great, the dialing features are better than the iPhone and the Google voice commands are as good or better than Siri. Watch functionality is a bit light though. I have a Huawei, and love it, but it just doesn’t match the Apple Watch for getting things done. Again, a close second though, and probably not enough to cause me to change had I started out on Android.

Security is an issue. Android has numerous reports of security flaws, which is one of the reasons that I went with the Nexus. Pure Android, properly updated without carrier interference is probably as good as it gets on Android. Toss in no sideloading of apps and staying away from shady sites and that’s probably as paranoid as you need to be. Hopefully.

The Nexus is a great phone (besides the daylight readability issues), that I have no trouble recommending. It would never be my primary phone for a few reasons that I have detailed and some that I haven’t (like aviation apps for pilots, which iOS rules the roost on ). I have had several friends buy them on my recommendation and, unlike Windows Phone, those recommendations have not come back to bite me.



“Pilot’s watches” and the modern world

One of my pet peeves (I have many) are ads for multi-10s of thousands of dollar watches that seem to indicate they are a requirement for flying high performance aircraft. They typically show someone in a full pressure suit or at least G-suit in a high performance cockpit with the sky outside, and indicate that this watch is how you get there. Or an antique fighter or racer with the same message. These ads have about as much truth to them as your average beer commercial.

Allow me to interject some reality into this situation. My aircraft has 6 video displays in the cockpit, all of which can display the time from the GPS constellation down to a level where they correct for the Time Dilation effect from the speed of the satellite in orbit. Moreover, from the time of my first GPS (which was about the time I started flying, they became more common about the time I got my license), I have never looked at the clock in the aircraft again. The GPS tells me where I am at, when I will get to my destination and what time it will be when I get there (local and Zulu). All without removing my glove (a complex maneuver in a G-suit) while trying not to crash or rip the wings off the plane in the process.

Chronograph watches? Please. I don’t carry a buggy whip when I fly either…

The iPhone6s+ and battery life

So after a couple of weeks of use of the 6s as a business phone, I came to an inescapable conclusion. The battery just wasn’t up to par for a business phone. I was stomping this phone flat every day, and my headset still had power when the phone battery went into the red. Not a problem I want to have. So, I went to the iPhone6s+, giving the 6s as a long needed but avoided upgrade to Mrs Dr Thinking Engineer. The 6s+ is about the size of my Lumia 1520, so it wasn’t like the form factor was alien to me. Switching to the larger iPhone points out a couple of issues with iOS.

  1. It doesn’t scale very well.  If you look at a 6s and a 6s+ side by side, you will notice the icons are the same size, and the same number of rows, but more space between the icons. Unless you are getting a bigger phone for the ability to see more of your background pic, this is useless.
  2. For the bigger size, the battery isn’t THAT much bigger. Some of the issue is the screen, which always is the biggest power user on the phone. Some of it is just the phone battery itself. I do have to keep a backup battery around using this, something to plug into in order to get a midday boost.

On the good side, Siri is almost as good as Cortana on her good days and unlike Cortana, actually works most of the time. This points out the other thing about all of the current crop of smartphones. With a good headset, the system will allow you to do most things without actually pulling the phone out of your pocket. Add a watch (I have used both the Microsoft Band and the Apple Watch) and you can nearly go all day without looking at the phone itself, depending on your usage profile.

As with all iOS devices, you now get the best Microsoft experience on the iPhone. All of the Office programs run well, the new Outlook is a better mail client than the native one and the more esoteric programs are ONLY available on iOS.  It’s odd, but I guess you go where the money is, and with Win10 Mobile still being a hot mess at best, this is where the users are.

The 6s+ isn’t perfect, but it is, at least for the moment, the best phone I have found out of the current crop of competitors. The 950xl is a disaster, and Android is still not my cup of tea. On the other hand, I never thought I would be using an iPhone for business either.

iPhone6s as a Business Phone – A review

In a previous post, I listed how we made it to this point. Now I would like to talk about using the iPhone 6s (on ATT) as a business phone. I have been using this about 2 weeks so far, not long enough to have all the answers, but I have had a 6 as a backup to my Windows Phone for years, so it’s not like I don’t know the platform either.

My usual rig is a Plantronics Edge BT Earpiece with the phone of my choice. Here, changing from WM to the iPhone 6s was not a big deal. I moved all of my email over to it after loading Microsoft Office onto the phone (much superior to the native Apple mail app in my opinion). My phone book was populated automagically, as I keep my contacts on my paid Google for Business email accounts.

The Good

The iPhone 6s is a fast phone, with good storage (if you pay for it) and a universe of high quality apps to do anything with. Since I have kept an iPhone 6 as a backup, I had not actually missed these apps on my primary phone, but they are nice to have anyway.

Apple has improved their call handling since the last time I tried this. I had previously found trying to juggle a couple of calls to be a problem, not with the iPhone 6s.

Siri can do some stuff at least as well as Cortana (and Cortana is supposed to be coming to iPhone soon)

The Bad

The battery on the iPhone 6s has very short legs. My 1520 could talk my Plantronics headset under the table, with the iPhone 6s the phone is in the danger zone while the headset still has 3 hours of talk time left. Grabbing a bit of charge here and their (even in the car) is much more important here than with the 1520 (which could be pressed to 2 days sometimes). I keep a couple of spare battery powerbanks around, I now expect to be using them.

Not having separate icons for each email account is a major step backward. Having them lumped into one email app is not entirely what I would call acceptable. I will have to work more on this, possibly even getting another app for the lesser emails.

You can’t voice dial a number from Siri, nor take messages. On the other hand Cortana’s ability here seems to come and go depending on which rev you are talking to.

I figure I will continue using the iPhone 6s until the end of the year (at least) when (hopefully) the W10m version will be stable and the new 950xl will be out. After that, may the best phone win.

A funny thing happened on the way to Windows 10 Mobile

I have been using WindowsPhone, Window Mobile, Windows CE (all various names of various versions of Windows for a Mobile Device, possibly a phone) for a long time. I have been using Nokia Cell phones since I moved from a bag phone. When the Microsoft purchase of Nokia happened, I was not entirely unhappy, although I was worried enough that I had picked up a iPhone through a different carrier (Verizon) as a backup. I was using the Nokia E72 at the time, and was quite happy with it, although using the iPhone (as a step up from the iTouch) as a manual repository and backup cell and data signal. So Nokia still brought out the E7, which I got, and which was a disaster. So, I went back to the E72. Then the 920 Windows Phone came out. Looked great, so I got one. After loosing 2 days of business to it (not because of startup issues with me, the damn thing just wouldn’t work), I put my ATT sim BACK into my venerable E72, and went back to work (albeit after buying 2 more). About 6 months later, I tried the 920 again, and this time (after several software upgrades) it worked fine.

So, when W10m started making the Beta rounds, I had been here before.  I knew that it was going to be rough, it would not be suitable for use as a Daily Driver, past performance is not a guarantee of future returns, safety not guaranteed and please keep your arms and legs inside the ride at all times. By this time I was using a 1520 as a primary phone and quite happy with it, with a couple of caveats.  My main source of malcontent had to do with email. You could, I understand, using a methodology slightly less complex than launching a nuclear missile, email an attachment file (pdf, in my case). I had been able to do that exactly once, then I kept getting lost about step 25. My second issue was that while you could display excel spreadsheets and word docs, you couldn’t actually edit them. About that time Microsoft started having problems with Windows Phone in general, there was word that they would be dropping the line, the new CEO had rumored commitment issues with WP or WM or whatever, and they also started offering almost all of Office on iPhone and Android. The Outlook App on iPhone let you <gasp> email attachment files. My entire catalog of manuals, the company billing information file that I send out daily, the company W9 even, could all be sent from anywhere I was at, even the toilet (Ok, work/life balance or lack thereof will be the subject of a different post).

So, I picked up a second 1520 to try W10m Insider (beta) on. The 920 that I had was too slow for it, and the 1020 was too good a camera to mess up. So, I got it loaded up, and it was crap. No prob, turn it off and wait for the next version. Which was crap. So I went through that about a dozen times before one of the Insider versions got to a level I thought was worth pulling the Sim in my 1020 and switching it over. That made it my backup ATT phone. Went through about 4-7 more versions and it started running fairly well. About the same time my primary 1520 started having screen problems. Not uncommon with that phone, after a while (almost 2 years in my case) the digitizer starts separating (or at least that’s the most plausible answer I found on the web). So with one phone going down, I decided to try W10m Insider as my primary phone. I would also have the second 1520 as a backup (and I ordered a third one just in case). There were a few problems, but it was usable. It never failed me as a phone, and the email worked fine and OneNote was great on it. I was actually pretty happy with it. The next Insider build put a wrinkle in. The voicemail didn’t register a message unless you rebooted the phone. That was a disaster, I rebooted a couple of times to pick up one message just to find I had missed a second call while waiting for the boot. Then they dropped the “final” build, the one the new Windows 10 phones would be released with. “This”, I thought, “will be the one that gets it all right.” The build release rate had dropped off, so this MUST have been what they were focusing their efforts on. Notsomuch. The release build had the same issue in it.

So, now I was faced with an interesting choice. I could either live with rebooting every 30 minutes or so to check my voicemail, or go back to W8.1m. I instead did what I usually do when presented with a binary solution set, I jumped the tracks instead. In this case I went and bought an iPhone6s on ATT.  This would do 2 things. It would let me try the latest iteration of the iPhone as a Daily Driver in my business, and it would give me a reason not to throw a screaming fit about the issues I was having with W10m, and the Glacial Slowness (pre-global warming) that Microsoft was working on them. If I liked it, I would keep on the new path and re-evaluate W10m at some future date when it had time to congeal a bit (or not). If I found some issue that made it less than usable, I could give this phone to Mrs Dr ThinkingEngineer, who so far had held onto her iPhone4s with the zeal of a Second Amendment advocate to their last pistol.

The results of the iPhone experiment will be detailed in a future post. But, it took the new version of Windows Phone (Mobile or whatever) to drive me back to an iPhone. Like I say, I’ve been here before.

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