Archive for January, 2012

Browser Trivia Tuesday

Tuesday, January 31st, 2012

I haven’t forgotten about that Windows Phone post. It’s coming. This is a small interlude while I get it juuust right.

Every Tuesday for the past four weeks, I’ve written up some super-geeky browser trivia on Google+. If upcoming jQuery releases and Opera are your thing, you should follow along! The posts are public, you don’t need a G+ account or anything.

I think I’m going to keep this up for the foreseeable future. The research-and-report format is surprisingly fun, and it’s filling in all kinds of gaps in my browser history knowledge. I have no idea if anyone is reading the trivia, let alone enjoying it, but sometimes you just have to do something because you want to do it, you know?

Why I Switched to Windows Phone, Part One

Monday, January 16th, 2012

After three and a half years, I’ve parted ways with my iPhone and taken up a Windows Phone. There are a lot of reasons — two posts’ worth, in fact. Today we discuss the big motivation: cost.

It’s no secret that Canada is one of the most expensive places in the world to own a smartphone. That’s why, when my iPhone 3G broke down not long ago, my first thought was: “Great. How much is this going to cost me to replace?”

Well, by my calculations, $2836.98.

The up-front cost for a 16GB iPhone 4S, on contract, is $219.22. $159 for the phone + $35 activation fee + applicable taxes. (I’m doing all these calculations with Rogers, but the numbers vary only slightly with the other iOS-friendly Canadian carriers.)

The monthly plans are the real killers. Unless you think you can get by on 100MB of data per month, you’re looking at a base price of $52.35. That nets you 500MB (not great, but enough for my needs) with 200 minutes, and unlimited SMS. However, that doesn’t include such luxuries as caller ID and voicemail.

These features are sold as add-ons, either à la carte, or through “value packs”. The only sensible option through Rogers is their iPhone Value Pack, which adds:

  • call display,
  • name display, (how are those separate things?)
  • visual voicemail,
  • and ringbacks. (A fluff feature nobody uses.)

This will run an additional $12/month, bringing our monthly bill to a total of $72.72 after tax. Add that up over the course of the three-year contract, and we hit a total of $2617.76. With the initial phone costs, we’re back up to $2836.98.

This is outrageous! Keep in mind that that’s a very low-end plan (500MB data, 200 minutes). There’s no way I’m going to commit to that. I have a mortgage.

Enter Wind

Wind Mobile is a new(ish) carrier in Canada. They offer much better packages at much cheaper rates than the big carriers. The tradeoff here is that they have much less network coverage; their network only exists in five Canadian cities. (I’m fortunate enough to live in one of them.)

They have a 12-month contract promotion on right now for their Oh Canada plan. Unlimited voice, SMS, and data, for $29/month. Yes, you read that right, and yes, it includes caller ID. (Voicemail is an extra, to the tune of $5/month.)

After tax, that’s a monthly bill of $38.42. Over three years, that’s a grand total of $1383.12. (This assumes I can find a similar promotion when this one ends, or dial back my plan to keep roughly the same costs — easy, since this promotion’s features far exceed my needs.)

This is great, but Wind uses a fancy new network protocol that isn’t compatible with the iPhone. In fact, they only sell Blackberry and Android devices, which I just can’t seem to like.

What’s a geek to do?

Enter Windows Phone

I’d used a Windows Phone before, and it was one of those fish-to-water things (more on that in part two). When I was in Vegas for MIX, my workplace was kind enough to loan me an LG Optimus 7. The OS offers much of the polish that BB/Android lacks, the kind of polish you can’t give up after 44 months of iOS.

The features are close enough for my needs. It’s an easy transition.

Unfortunately, not very many Windows Phones are compatible with Wind’s network, and they’re hard to find in Canada. It turned out my only options were the Dell Venture Pro and the HTC HD7. The HD7 is a newer model, and we had one at work that I could try out for a week, so that became my target.

The only Canadian carrier to have ever sold the HD7 was Bell. Bell and Wind use completely different networking technology, so even if I could track one down, I’d still be stuck with unreasonably expensive plans.

I needed the version of the HD7 sold by T-Mobile, and American carrier whose network is compatible with Wind’s.

I found a seller on eBay with a new, still-in-the-box HD7. He would only ship to the US. Not a deal breaker, but definitely an added cost.

Including the price of the auction, the fee to unlock the phone from T-Mobile, the conversion from USD to CAD, the pick-up fee at the American UPS store, tax coming back into Canada, and the toll booth in between, my new phone cost me $366.64.

How did we do overall?

Setting my new HD7 up on Wind was relatively painless, though there is a one-time $25 fee for the SIM card. All in all, the phone, setup charges, and plan for three years totals $1749.76.

That’s a savings of $1087.22 over the iPhone package outlined above.

I like Apple’s devices. The hardware is well-designed, iOS is beautiful, and I was very, very happy all those years with my 3G. But to me, there is no way that an iPhone is worth nearly $1100 more than a Windows Phone.

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Stay tuned for part two, where I discuss why it felt like the right time to leave iOS.

Gone Skatin’

Monday, January 9th, 2012

Gone Skatin'

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P.S. If anyone’s looking for CES coverage, here’s what I’ve got:

The big news of the day is that RIM announced a new version of its Playbook OS. Looks good. Coming in Feburary.

I was led to believe (along with half the rest of the internet) that Microsoft would announce a new XBox at their keynote. Apparently this did not occur. And apparently Ballmer’s final keynote was a bit of a let down. Still, the Metro update was neat.

There are also a ton of cool-looking devices being thrown around. Nokia and Samsung did pretty well, and I’ve heard a lot of buzz about Vizio.

Finally, here are some interesting people to follow if you’re looking for CES news for the rest of the week:

On Twitter, I’d recommend @miguelcarrasco for steady updates, and Mashable’s @film_girl if you want to completely drown in techie minutiae.

If Google+ is more your thing, you should circle +Mohamed Mansour for a whole bunch of reasons, useful CES highlights notwithstanding. Also, +David Bates is on location, and I’ve been enjoying his coverage thus far.

That’s it! Time to head back to the rink.

How to Learn Anything

Monday, January 2nd, 2012

It’s New Years, and a lot of you are currently making resolutions and setting goals for the coming year. If one of your goals is to learn something new, or something that you’ve always wanted to learn, this post is for you. If that’s not you, keep reading — this is a cool story.

The hardest thing I’ve ever tried to learn is Calculus. Specifically, it was calculus as taught in a horrific course I was forced to take in University called Calculus 2 for Engineers.

The marking was brutal. Here’s how it worked:

There were three midterms and a final exam. Each midterm was worth 15% of the final grade, the other 45% was the exam. No assignments, no labs, just midterms and an exam. And were those midterms ever vicious! Each one had only seven questions, and they were multiple choice. It was common to have pages of formulae and calculations for any given answer, and if you made even one tiny mistake — a flipped minus sign, a minor addition error, etc — then BAM! There goes 2% of your final grade.

It was awful, and probably the most feared course in all of Engineering at U of O.

One of the most vivid memories I have of University is sitting in class after getting our second midterm back. I failed it, just like I failed the first one.

The guy next to me, a friend of mine, was in the same situation. He turned to me, and he said:

“Dan, we can pass this course. All we have to do is one hour of calculus every day for the rest of the semester. It’ll work. I’m sure of it.”

I probably said I’d “totally do it”, and I might have even stuck with it for the first week or two. But I didn’t follow through, and much to my disappointment (but hardly a surprise), I failed the third midterm, and the exam.

This is the only course I’ve ever failed.

That friend of mine stuck with his plan. He did one hour of calculus every day for the rest of the semester, and passed Calculus 2 for Engineers with a B+. Not bad, considering he failed the first third of the course.

So if you want to learn anything, whether it’s calculus, how to juggle, or how to speak Italian, all you need is discipline. You don’t need to be smart, you don’t need fancy tools or textbooks or courses, you don’t even need a teacher or mentor. All you need is discipline.

Do it for an hour a day.

What are you going to learn?