The iPhone plans are out!

June 27th, 2008, 5:32 pm PST by Kat

Yippee! The plans are not as expensive as I thought they would be.

$60 a month gets you 400 MB, 150 weekday minutes and 75 text messages.

I’m a little upset that I have to pay an extra $7 a month for call display, but whatever.

I figured the data portion of the plans wouldn’t be unlimited like the US plan, but since Rogers has dropped the price of their data plans, the monthly cost of having a functioning iPhone isn’t astronomical. I’m also secretly happy that I’ll have more data than Greg. Heh.

My Blackberry

June 26th, 2008, 9:44 am PST by Greg

The outcome of my new phone search was a Blackberry Pearl 8110 from Rogers (who was also my old carrier).

When I first got the phone, I knew it would be pretty reasonable, being a Blackberry and all. But, the more I use it, the more I think it may be the Best Phone Evar™.

  1. I can sync the contacts and calendar with Linux. OpenSync and the OpenSync Barry plugin do the job nicely. I had to edit one line in the Barry source for it to recognize the Pearl (which has a different USB product ID than earlier models). That’s way less pain than I thought would be involved.

  2. The interface isn’t exactly intuitive, but it is at least consistent. The trackball thing will move you around, the menu button will bring up a menu, the other keys will be used to enter characters or as shortcuts.

    Typing is quite easy because of the two-character-per-key QWERTY keypad (instead of 3–4 character alphabetical keypad on most phones), and “SureType” (their predictive text entry thing).

    Generally, it appears to be designed for people who want to get shit done, rather than for 17 year olds with ADD. This is no surprise, considering RIM’s heritage targeting the business market.

  3. It’s physically surprisingly small. It’s exactly the same thickness as my RAZR (when closed), slightly narrower, but a little taller. I think the RAZR is deceptive: it’s thin when open, but not crazy-thin when folded.

  4. It’s possible to install software on the phone (although I have to use the Windows connector software to do it). There are a couple of good sources of software: RIM’s software page, Blackberry Freeware, and probably others I haven’t found yet.

    The one thing I’d like to install but haven’t gotten to work is the Blackberry Facebook application: it’s installer uses some piece-of-crap ActiveX component that crashes every IE I’ve put it on and doesn’t work on any other browser (including the provided Rogers browser on the phone).

  5. Four words: Google Maps for Mobile. This is a free application that basically provides a nice phone interface to Google Maps. But, it’s clever enough to know where I am in two ways. First is the built-in GPS, which it picks up magically and puts a dot on the map where I am. Second, it can read info from the cell towers and estimate its location within some margin of error.

    That means that it always knows where it is, unlike most GPS units (that don’t work without a clear view of the sky). It can immediatey estimate its position from the towers and narrow once the GPS kicks in. Frankly, GMM makes me feel a little funny in my special areas.

  6. I have also installed Opera Mini which, as mobile browsers go, it quite nice. I’m actually shocked how usable it is.

  7. It’s made by RIM, a Canadian company that hires many SFU co-op students and grads.

Of course, many of these things aren’t unique to the Blackberry and would apply to most higher-end phones. There are certainly some imperfections, but I’ll hold off on writing about those until I’ve lived with the phone for a while: I’m sure I’ll find more.

I have a few technical things about the setup that I’ll blog about at some point as well.

My first week home

June 23rd, 2008, 4:36 pm PST by Kat

As most people know, I’m back in Vancouver. It’s nice being back. Not only do I get to be in the same city as Greg and the majority of my family and friends, but it’s also not stinking hot here.

For the last week I’ve been busy getting settled. I’ve unpacked all of my clothes, gotten rid of a lot of clothes I don’t wear (mostly because they no longer fit in the tiny closets of our home), started in my new postdoc lab, and hung out with friends and family. So, all in all it’s been a good week.

It’s a bit strange being back though. While I am “familiar” with life in Vancouver, it’s a little strange because obviously some things have changed in the two years I’ve been gone. I think SFU is probably the biggest change. The last of my grad cohort are defending in the next month, so it’s all new faces. It’s a strange feeling coming back. I’m also in a new lab, so that’s also taking some getting used to. But, so far it’s been great. I’ve already learned how to isolate mRNA and make cDNA. Heh, in a week I’ve become a molecular biologist! 😀

As Greg blogged about earlier, we’re looking for new cell phones. Greg got a Blackberry Pearl yesterday, but I think I’m going to wait for the iPhone. Greg got a pretty good data plan on his phone – apparently Rogers (and probably the other carriers) are dropping the prices of their data plans, so I’m banking on the iPhone plan being not too much more than the plan in the US. I was *this close* to standing in line in NC to get one a year ago, so I guess I’ll be standing in line in 2.5 weeks. The iPhone may be dead to Greg, but the simplicity of syncing with my Mac and the beauty of the phone it totally worth the price for me. Plus I figure we’re down to paying rent on only one place, so I can afford an iPhone! 😀 (Yes, I am trying to justify getting one.)

The only negative from the cross-country move was that a box of papers that was supposed to be couriered here accidentally got shipped with the rest of my papers to my mom’s place in Seattle. The box has papers that I need to finish my starling manuscript, and I specifically sent it here so that I could start writing asap. However, it looks as though there was some miscommunication at the UPS store, and I didn’t notice the mistake on my receipt/tracking slip. At least in the end I paid to get it shipped to Seattle and not here.

In case anyone is wondering, we decided that the moving bet I had with Greg was a tie. I was ~1 lb over on each bag, but the woman at the counter did not make me repack the bags.

Phone Help Wanted

June 17th, 2008, 2:25 pm PST by Greg

Yay! Kat’s back!

But that’s not really what I want to write about. Since Kat’s back in Vancouver, she needs to get a Canadian cell phone. My RAZR is starting to slowly degrade, so I’m thinking about replacing it before it falls apart totally. So, we’re both in the market for phones.

There are two issues here: the phone and the service plan. As much as the mobile industry would like to confound those two decisions, I’m going to treat them separately.

I would appreciate any thoughts people have on how to satisfy these requirements…

Phone

For the phone, our needs are relatively modest. It should be able to… (in approximate priority order)

  1. make calls.
  2. send/receive text messages with a decent interface.
  3. be small and easily back-pocketable.
  4. sync its addressbook and calendar with a computer with open/free/common technologies. For me, that means Google Calendar (or an iCalendar file) and Linux. For Kat, it’s Apple iCal and a Mac. This is a dealbreaker for me, possibly not for Kat.
  5. send/receive emails in some suitably rudimentary way.
  6. take pictures, I suppose.
  7. maybe access the web, but I don’t hold out a lot of hope for mobile browsers not sucking.
  8. things that might be nice, but I don’t really care: speaker phone, GPS, wi-fi.

I have been playing with a phone finder, but don’t have much to report.

Motorola phones are totally out for me: the RAZR was a nice enough phone, but the software sucks hard. The browser is unusable (e.g. no way that I can find to enter a URL: I had to email a link to Google to myself so I could get there), the calendar won’t sync with anything as far as I can tell, and it generally won’t talk to anything computer-wise.

The worst example of its usability are the outside buttons. On the left of the phone, there is a rocker switch, and a single pushbutton (which you can see in this picture). The rocker switch is used to toggle ring setting/do nothing modes, and the pushbutton is used to scroll through ring settings. Let me say that again: the up/down buttons are used to toggle, and the toggle button is used to scroll. Dead to me.

Also note that the iPhone is totally out for me: the cryptographic signing of the database to eliminate any software other than iTunes is totally unacceptable and I won’t have anything to do with it, or any other Apple products as long as it’s there.

Plan

We are fairly light users and have a Vonage line at home, so these aren’t main phones. Things I would like (and I think Kat is fairly similar):

  • some reasonably small number of any-time minutes per month talk. (Rogers’ web site isn’t currently functional enough for me to check my recent usage.)
  • unlimited text (because there’s simply no excuse to charge money to send or receive 160 byte messages, and I don’t want to deal with any company that would do so).
  • no charge for call display (providers actually have to filter out call display information to not provide it if you don’t subscribe: I’m not paying them to turn off their antifeature).
  • some trivial amount of data for email reading.
  • A “family plan” for the two of us is a possibility.
  • Now that I’m looking at the Rogers web site for my recent account activity, I realize that a web site that didn’t suck donkey balls would be a plus.

Any suggestions on these? I will post updates below as I have useful insights to share.

Life Plan #4

June 9th, 2008, 11:20 am PST by Greg

The realistic life plans #1 and #2 are going to have to wait longer. This is a companion to the fanciful Life Plan #3. First, the context…

I went out to Hats Off Day on Saturday. It’s the Burnaby Heights festival-thing. They close Hastings from Gamma to Boundary and have your general civic festivities: a parade, car show, local merchants, etc.

What I didn’t get many pictures of were the PR booths. These are pretty common anywhere there is a gathers. They are used by groups that want to get the word out one way or the other: BC Hydro Powersmart, local politicians, emergency preparedness, and so on. I did get a picture of the kids activity that Parks Canada had: kids put down forts and trading posts on the map and then they were told why it was/wasn’t a good place for one.

While I was out there, fresh off the SFU Open House, I started to think about the University’s public outreach activities. Or more to the point, our lack of them. Core premise to the line of thought here: the vast majority of the University’s budget comes out of the public purse in one way or another. (Sorry, but your tuition dollars are only like a third of the cost of your education.) The public should feel involved in what we do.

This brings us to Life Plan #4. It involves getting job that doesn’t actually exist: SFU Outreach Coordinator. The job would be to put together a roadshow that could go around to these things and show the community what we do, and subtly attempt to convince them that it’s important.

Many faculty members already do school visits (for their kids classes or whatever) and this might be a way to support those a little too. Presumably, this would also be the point person for the Open House.

If it was me, I’d put together a list of a dozen or two faculty members that had demos that could be taken out (either by them or their grad students) and would be understandable down to about 8 years old. There were a bunch of these at the Open House; it shouldn’t be too hard to find them. If there’s an understandable open question at the end of the demo, all the better.

At each community festival we can get to, take one or two research demos, preferably with faculty/grads who are actually part of that community. I’d pair that with some kind of “what SFU does” posters to give people an idea of what a university is actually for. We’d probably need swag or a prize draw to get people to the table too.

So there’s Life Plan #4: I want a job that doesn’t exist, paid for out of a budget that doesn’t exist, to do something that isn’t done.

Surviving a Three Hour Lecture

June 5th, 2008, 12:17 am PST by Greg

My lectures this semester are three hour chunks on Wednesday evenings. Evening lectures are late, but that’s not too big a deal. The problem is the three hour marathon.

Lecturing is more draining that people probably realize. There’s a lot of pacing back and forth, gesturing wildly, and staring into an overhead projector. Three hours at a stretch is pretty long.

Of course it’s mentally draining. The problem is talking while trying to figure out what you’re going to say next. Not saying something retarded in a three-hour span is pretty hard. I have a great deal of sympathy for politicians and celebrities who spend a lot of time on camera: the odds of saying something stupid are really high and that’s naturally the thing that gets remembered.

I think I have stumbled on a winning strategy to not feel like I have been beaten with a stick after three hours. I have been going down to the food course in Harbour Centre and getting a smoothie just before class. I drink it just before/at the start of class

My theory is that the smoothie does two things: keeps me hydrated and keeps the blood sugar up. I haven’t felt too bad after lecture the weeks when I have done that.

A coffee in the morning (which I don’t usually have, so I’m sensitive to the caffeine) seems to help too.

Open House and the glories of being childfree

June 1st, 2008, 12:21 am PST by Greg

We had the SFU Open House today. It all went down well. I took some pictures that I’m quite pleased with. My only complaint would have been the attendance—it wasn’t as busy as two years ago—50% more people would have been awesome.

I’m putting the blame for that squarely on Media and Public Relations. There wasn’t nearly as much advertising as last time, and I think that was the difference. I really do hate media and PR. We have had this conversation with them many times: “Hey, CS has this cool story. Maybe we can get it publicised?” “Sure. We’ll write an article for the SFU News.” “*seethe* Not publicised to SFU people that are already here: to the outside world! With the ‘media’?!? The ‘public’ that you’re supposed to be ‘relating’ with?!?” “Oh yeah… uh… *wanders off*”

I’m sure there was a very nice article about the Open House in the SFU News. But, that’s not what I’m here to rant about.

During the Open House, I spent most of my time at the “unplugged” table. Our “unplugged” demos are demonstrations of CS concepts that don’t use a computer, and were inspired by CS Unplugged which I love very much.

At one point, a woman came up with her kid. I have no real idea how old the child was because I have no interest: still had a diaper, but could probably walk okay, and talk a bit. 18 months?

She proceeded to heave the kid up onto the table and start futzing with one of the demos, so I started to explain it to her. There were a lot of things wrong with what came next. These are the things that make me subscribe to Childfree Ghetto.

  1. The kids shoes weren’t pristinely clean. The white tablecloth was (up until just then, at least).
  2. The child didn’t have the motor control to manipulate the game, and certainly wasn’t old enough to make any sense out of it. Having the kid near the game was pointless.
  3. The mother used the child’s presence to avoid actually thinking. She clearly wasn’t stupid, so could have done this thing that 10 year olds can figure out. If she wasn’t interested, she could have wandered off. Instead, she just glanced around and went with “What should we do, Jason/Madison/Nicholas/Samantha/Whateveridontcare?” The child thought we should suck on our fingers. Waste of my time.
  4. The mother had no interest in keeping the child from breaking anything. My as-subtle-as-I-get “I don’t really know how well this thing is put together” was not a sufficient clue to keep her child from leaning it’s full weight on the game.
  5. I can only imagine the whole thing was part of some poorly-thought-out attempt to raise a gifted child. Read to your kid and leave me out of it, ferchrissake.
  6. During all of this, her SUV-style stroller was left arranged so it blocked both table and aisle space.

There were probably other things too. Honestly, I think #3 bugged me the most. Procreating does not allow you to waive your right to higher brain function.