Do Your Homework – T-Mobile Uncarrier Plans are NOT Harmful to Consumers

I can understand being confused by these new plans, but public figures, like an Attorney General, need to be informed before they make this kind of mistake.

Working and living without a smartphone in the United States is becoming harder and harder.  Nearly everyone that I know has one, and they are a huge convenience for getting in touch with someone.  The biggest problem, however, is usually the costs involved.

Unlocked phones can be very expensive, and even though many carriers offer subsidized prices for smartphones.  What isn’t very well known, however, is that even though you end up paying a little now, you end up covering not only the price of the device, you end up paying a higher price for the service plan over the life of your 2 year contract.

t-mobile-logo-huge

T-Mobile’s new “uncarrier plans” attempt to address this inequity.  You can either bring your own compatible device to the party, or you can purchase one from T-Mo.  If you purchase one from T-Mobile, they’re going to charge you full price for the device.  You make a down payment at the initiation of the contract and then pay it off in monthly installments or in dedicated payments, your choice.  However, once the phone is paid off, your overall monthly bill with T-Mobile’s Uncarrier Plans drops.  After the phone is paid off, you stop paying for it.

There’s been a lot of hubbub in the news lately about T-Mobile’s new plans. They buck the system and unfortunately many people are so used to the subsidy model of purchasing a smartphone they don’t understand how these new plans are structured.

Case in point, after reading a press release from the Washington State Attorney General, I hung my head and nearly cried.  The guy just doesn’t get it.

When you buy a phone for service at T-Mo, you buy the phone. Period. You can buy the device out right or pay for it over time. If you cancel your service, you don’t get to return the phone. You have to pay it off. T-Mo won’t allow you to “return” the device.  This seems like standard practice to me. You buy something, you have to pay for it.

The WA AG accused T-Mobile of deceptive practices and filed an injunction against them, stating the following:

“After an investigation of the company’s practices, the Attorney General’s Office learned that the company failed to adequately disclose that customers who purchase a phone using the 24-month payment plan must carry a wireless service agreement with T-Mobile for the entire 24 months— or pay the full balance owed on phone if they cancel earlier.”

Here’s the kicker –

“Consumers who cancel their wireless service face an unanticipated balloon payment for the phone equipment – in some cases higher than termination fees for other wireless carriers depending on how early they cancel. Instead of a “two-year sentence” for wireless service, consumers face a different two-year “sentence” to avoid a lump-sum balloon payment for the phone.”

Right. Hello!  You still have to pay for the phone you bought. It’s not a subsidized phone. The phone was purchased at full retail price and got you reduced SERVICE pricing.

It’s clear that the WA AG just doesn’t understand how this “new” pricing plan works, and T-Mobile did the wise thing and just signed whatever the AG put in front of them to make the issue go away. Otherwise, the AG would have been totally embarrassed.

I’m embarrassed; and I wasn’t even involved!

T-Mobile later released a response –

“As America’s Un-carrier, our goal is to increase transparency with our customers, unleashing them from restrictive long-term service contracts – this kind of simple, straight forward approach is core to the new company we are building,” T-Mobile said in a statement. “While we believe our advertising was truthful and appropriate, we voluntarily agreed to this arrangement with the Washington AG in this spirit.”

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Find the fonts you’re looking for with WhatFontIs.com

whatfontis-iconDesktop publishing isn’t easy, even with today’s advanced tools. Finding the right look and feel for your publications as well as your web pages and other projects isn’t always easy, and quite frankly, matching unknown fonts can be really difficult. Thankfully, WhatFontIs.com provides you with some interesting alternatives when you don’t have the typeface you need. WhatFontIs.com is a web app that works in just about any web browser on any PC, any platform.

I’ve heard many people say that desktop publishing is more art than skill, and I believe them. When it comes to laying out pamphlets, fliers, programs and other kinds of collateral, if you don’t understand design life can get challenging quickly. Completing projects can also get difficult when you don’t have the right typeface or font to help you get the job done. Thankfully, WhatFontIs.com can solve that problem quickly and easily.

All you have to do is follow a simple process:
1. Take a screenshot of the font you wish to identify
2. Open your browser and surf to www.WhatFontIs.com
3. Register on the site
4. Upload the screenshot you took in step 1
5. Allow WhatFontIs.com to suggest a matching font

whatfontis-ss

If you can’t take a screen shot, WhatFontIs.com can also use a URL with the image you want to use, but that can take a while, especially if you don’t have a fast broadband connection

I like WhatFontIs.com. It’s a great resource as it suggests both free and for purchase fonts, or just one or the other, if you wish. I had some problems with the screenshots I uploaded, however.

I found that the simpler the shot, the better chance you have of the site finding a matching font. The best shots were one line of text. Multi-line screen shots just confused the site, especially if you were using exotic fonts. Best to use the KISS principle here.

I also found that the site’s didn’t recognize or match up all the letters in the screen shot, even after it required you to type them in next to the broken down screen shot. That confused me a bit.

Open WhatFontIs.com

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Microsoft plan to funnel people towards their newer products

Microsoft Merges Windows Live Messenger with Skype and Announces that Support for Windows XP ends in 365 days

On Monday 8th April Microsoft announced that support for Windows XP will stop in exactly 365 days. This announcement came at the same time Microsoft merged Windows Live Messenger with Skype. These recent announcements are part of the new strategy Microsoft is intending to follow in order to channel customers to their latest products including Windows 8.

These updates from Microsoft are certain to affect many businesses and home users. Following we look at how Microsoft plan to funnel people towards their newer products and what you need to do to keep updated.

Windows-XP-Skype

RIP Microsoft XP

Windows XP was originally launched in October, 2001. From April 8, 2014 Microsoft will officially cut off corporate support for Windows XP SP3, as well as Microsoft Office 2003. Once support is cut, Windows XP will no longer receive any new security, hot fixes and most importantly support.

Microsoft announced that come April 2014 any customers using XP will be doing so at their “own risk,” and that failing to update would likely be costly later on down the line. It is estimated that 40 percent of all PCs still run XP, so these changes are set to affect a large amount of customers.

Cutting off support is likely to have a much bigger impact on businesses, than it is on home users. Whereas home users can simply upgrade with little hassle, upgrading for businesses is much more complicated. Microsoft warned businesses that is can regularly take 18 to 32 months to go through the entire deployment phase for new operating systems.

The announcements have put major strains on many businesses still using XP. Many are simply refusing to upgrade to Windows 7, as there is no simple upgrade path. These changes are likely to cause major upset for many a business.

If it wasn’t obvious, Microsoft is using this opportunity to persuade customers to upgrade to Windows 8 stating that it offers cutting edge technology with a stronger interface.

For smaller companies, with one or several computers, updating their operating system will be a breeze. The problems occur for larger companies and if they’ve failed to select a new operating system by now, it may already be too late to beat the XP deadline.

Windows Live Messenger Merges With Skype

In October 2011 Microsoft acquired Skype. Ever since then, they have been working to replace WLM. And on the 8th April 2013, Windows Live Messenger, known to most as MSN Messenger, was finally retired – ending 14 years of loyal service.

The last few years has seen a rapid decline in the amount of people using Windows Live Messenger, mainly due to the success of Facebook’s instant messaging service. Microsoft will now focus on increasing the success of Skype.

If you still have an account with Windows Live Messenger, you can still use those same details to log in to Skype. Once logged in you’ll find a list of all your old contacts, which can then be merged into Skype.

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Macroscop – interactive medical infographic based on Google searches

das-cloud

A bird’s-eye view on a nation’s health issues through searches made on Google

The online magazine Das Cloud and the interactive agency X3 are launching Macroscop, the first data journalism project in Romania. The experimental project brought together a team of journalists, designers, and programmers that analyzed medical searches made on Google, from Romania, in the last 3 years, and made a visual interactive representation with the top 14 high volume searches. The terms are ”medical tests”, ”mite”, ”colon help”, ”swine flu”, ”helicobacter pylori”, ”hepatitis C”, ”lupus”, ”meningitis”, ”mite bite”, ”pancreatitis”, ”measles”, ”rubella”, ”scoliosis”, ”shingles”.

Macroscop

What can be said about a nation’s state of health based on the evolution of the most searched-for terms on Google ? In some of the cases, there are large similarities with the reports of the medical institutions. For example, when a rubella epidemic was starting in Romania in November 2011, the number of searches on Google for this term increased with more than 88% month-over-month in October. In the following month, both the National Center for Surveillance and Control of Communicable Diseases of Romania (CSCCD) and Romanian mass media were scoring larger than normal activity on the topic of rubella. CSCCD saw a 33.3% increase in the reported cases of rubella and Romanian media produced 68.63% more articles with the subject of rubella.

See the chart below:

 

RUBELLA Evolution of searches on Google Evolution of media coverage on the topic, data from Media IQ Evolution of reported cases of rubella (CSCCD)
Sept 2011 +8.2% +27.27% (42 articles) 0%
Oct 2011 +88.2% +21.43% (51 articles) +7.1%
Nov 2011 +42.7% +68.63% (86 articles) +33.3%
Dec 2011 +72% +380.23% (413 articles) +50%

In most of the cases, the media has a large influence on what people are searching on the internet. It can either stimulate a large artificial interest for a disease by only reporting on a few cases (e.g.: a mite byte can give Lyme disease or when a public figure was diagnosed) or act as a resonance box when citing medical reports of a disease. This is why we have overlapped data from Romanian media monitoring tool Media IQ on Macroscop. The Google searches made by the whole population of a country could theoretically match the results made by health institutions, but faster, if one could extract the external elements influencing the searches, such as media articles or online advertising.

In a digital world, journalists now have huge amounts of information at hand that they can use to obtain a bird’s-eye view on a topic and pursue data storytelling. Even more, if they put the data in the form of an interactive chart, the journalistic endeavor can be continued by the readers. Macroscop is a tool that anyone can use to discover things that we, at Das Cloud, didn’t see,” said Bogdan Pencea, project manager of Das Cloud.

Macroscop

The data from Google searches can be used as a complementary cheap surveillance tool for monitoring the health state of a nation, to detect when and where medical services are needed. In Romania, the number of physicians is the lowest in the European Union, except only Poland, due to brain drain towards more developed countries. 42,000 physicians have to keep healthy a population of 19 million people. The relevancy of the Google medical queries grows as the number of internet users is growing. About 50% of Romanians were using the internet in 2012. One of their popular activities is searching for medical advice on the internet. The largest medical portal had 2.6 million unique visitors last month. So, Romania needs either more physicians, or more users with internet access. In both circumstances, the population could more easily get access to information that can teach them how to prevent illness or when to go see a doctor.

An educated patient is a better patient and a better partner with the caregiver.  And in areas where the health system is weak, having access to information for people to take more charge of their health  is an important factor to strengthening  healthy communities and limiting the spread of contagious disease,” said Christopher Bailey from World Health Organization, questioned by Das Cloud.

Das Cloud is an online magazine of the community of developers, designers, and entrepreneurs in the field of technology in Romania whose mission is to bring into the public eye the latest releases in the world of high-tech, deciphering their practical impact. Through articles and creative special projects, Das Cloud tries to imagine how technology could change people’s lives for the better.

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iOS 6.x Woes – What Apple Needs to Do

Apple needs to do a LOT to fix the problems it has with every public bugs.

iOS-6.1Apple is definitely in a period of transition both from a stock price perspective and from a leadership perspective.  They also seem to be wobbling a bit when it comes to strategic direction for its mobile OS.  When you move from a high quality to rapid release methodology and then do an about face, you can count on a number of different problems cropping up.  Apple definitely has its work cut out for itself as it tries to refocus its release philosophy back towards the, “it just works” point of view.

With the exit of Scott Forstall, Apple is moving away from what appears to be the industry popular rapid release oriented Agile/Scrum development methodology that focuses more on the introduction of features and functionality rather than quality of code and delivery.  With Leopard, Apple had 11 point releases. With Snow Leopard, Apple delivered 8 updates. With Lion, there were 5 releases.  It’s clear.  Apple is ratcheting down the number of releases and is focusing more on quality rather than quantity.

Given its direction with its desktop OS, I have to wonder what the heck is going on with its mobile OS. Things don’t seem to be righting themselves there. There have been six (6), seven counting the iPhone 4S only 6.1.1 release, releases of iOS 6 since its release in mid-September of 2012. That’s an average of just over 1 release per month.

If you ask me, that’s excessive; and it CLEARLY indicates that Apple’s methodology changes haven’t trickled down to the mobile OS team yet. Development methodologies like Agile/Scrum concentrate more on the release of new features rather than quality of delivery. When problems are encountered or identified, you release a new version and roll the code base forward. There’s little to no time to do any regression testing (testing to insure previously squashed bugs stay squashed). This is the major reason why the lock screen bug that was “resolved” in iOS 6.1.3 reappeared.  It’s also the major reason why it was recently discovered that 6.1.3 didn’t completely resolve the issue.

According to Apple Insider additional methods of bypassing the iOS lock screen have been discovered in iOS 6.1.3, even though this release was designed and engineered to specifically lock the lock screen down.

The lock screen bugs, both this new one and the previous one are not easy to reproduce. You really have to be one demented and dedicated tester, and understand the device, its OS and applet behavior in order to successfully reproduce the exploits.  However, it speaks to a much larger problem – one of development methodology.

This isn’t so much a coding issue as it is a leadership issue.  Apple coders and testers must be allowed to spend the time necessary to come up with these kinds of use cases and scenarios so that proper test requirements can be documented and then tests created and executed.  The key word there is “time.”  Unfortunately, it’s the one thing that Apple doesn’t have an abundance of.

Apple needs to squash bugs, and squash them quickly.  Most importantly, it needs to make sure that the bugs they say they’ve squashed, stay squashed. Finding a way around the released fix one day after its release doesn’t lend confidence that Apple is doing the due diligence to resolve and robustly test the code they’re releasing.  It’s even worse when it seems as though everybody else but “you” knows what to do to get around your code.  Apple needs to change how it develops, tests and more importantly, plans its releases.  If I were Apple’s QA director, I’d be worried for my job at this point.  I’d also march myself into Eddie Cue’s office by the end of the week with a solid plan on how testing is going to insure buggy software doesn’t get released.  This is getting ridiculous, and isn’t going to help Apple’s stock (AAPL) price, either. It’s down 35.5% since its 52 week high six months ago.

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Connected to the ultimate technology – Through Google Glass

Watch any futuristic film and you’re usually confronted with the Directors ideas of what future technology might look like.

google-glass
If you’ve seen a computer display in a pair of glasses you might be forgiven for putting this in the realm of fiction but technology writers and experts are getting excited by Google Glass, an Android-powered head mounted computer display which Google say will be on the market by the end of 2013.Practically Google Glass operates on a similar level to a Smartphone or Tablet. Think of varied apps like maps or restaurant finders, a camera, email and internet surfing all with voice activation. All these feature with Google Glass. The different is the hands-free nature of the devices. The small device can sit on a pair of glasses and Google’s initial promo video’s give the feeling of text and information displayed right infront of your eyes whether snapping a picture or reading as message.

Google are saying the devices will be available to buy at the end of 2013 and prices seem to be around the $1500 mark, although no one is quite sure. There is a secretive and low key approach from Google that has got some people asking some questions. Recently a Google Glass appeared on eBay at a $16000 price. Google’s co-founder Sergey Brin quickly spoke out that people should avoid these fake or counterfeit models. His TED seminar on the subject was again a little low key and he said that although a 2013 launch was likely there was still a lot of work to do on the product.

This doesn’t seem like an Apple-style reveal but rather a trickle down information cycle on this new product – with the hope that customers will not be able to restrain themselves when the Google Glass is finally launched. Some people have been able to get hold of a Google Glass as product testers. Through an application procedure on Google+ members of the public have been able to apply to try out the devices. Using a #ifihadaglass hashtag you can say what you would do with a Google Glass in your hands. The best ones get the chance to try it out – but apply quickly this is only running for a few more days. When thinking about Google Glass the key question would seem to be around it’s likely impact.

Do we really need a computer built into our glasses? Other than looking cool there seem to be some great benefits. Imagine a surgeon relaying his first person perspective of an operation to medical students online. This immediate capturing of life events or the ability to see through someone’s eyes is incredibly attractive. But concerns exist around Google’s ongoing collecting of data about us as we search. Will what we see and where we go be added to this? Are the days of face recognition and of real-time customer information even closer? We’ll have to wait till the end of the year to find out.

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ROBLOX

Create and play online games with this cool Windows tool set.

ROBLOX-iOS-IconHalf the fun of playing a game is creating it. When you can create your own levels with your own mazes, it makes for an interesting time. This is one of the reasons why I like Roblox. Its an online gaming tool set and game for Windows.

ROBLOX, is a huge multiplayer online for kids and teens ages 8-16. Players can create their own virtual world, where they and other online members may enter and socialize. Games on Roblox can be scripted using a sandboxed edition of Lua 5.1, and can be used to schedule events that occur in-game, creating different scenarios.

To get the most out of ROBLOX, you have to create an either an online free or premium account. Your account gives you a customizable character and in-game real estate to play in. In the online game, you use various blocks and bricks to build whatever you want. If you’re stuck for an idea, you can always look at other user’s worlds or ROBLOX games that have been created.

The first thing that’ll strike you about ROBLOX is that it’s blocky. Building in Roblox is much like building with Legos. With time and effort, you can build enormous and complex buildings, structures and objects. However, you have to accept the game’s design limitations.

RB-01

Roblox is very much like Mine Craft for those that play Xbox. The game is ok, and very basic for this modern world of powerful computer gaming systems and desktops. However, younger kids will definitely like making their own structures and playing game levels they’ve created themselves. If you don’t have an Xbox 360 console and have kids that want to play a Mine Craft like game, this is definitely an awesome choice.

download Roblox

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Browse the web in a totally new and fun way with RockMelt

209998-rockmelt-icon_original.jpgBrowsing the web is by far the most popular and most predictable internet past time.  Everybody does it all the time, every day, out loud.  The problem with surfing is that its predictable. Browser to browser, computer to computer, the web is always the web, and it’s always the same.  That’s why I like RockMelt. It’s a new kind of web browser for Windows.

RockMelt provides a fundamentally better Web experience by re-imagining the browser around how you use the internet.  It has a built in chat client so you can talk to your friends whenever you want.  It’s got social networking built into it, so you can update a status, tweet links and easily post on Facebook Walls.

RM-02

RockMelt has an interesting feature called Social Reading that is sort of like RSS for your social networking sites. It gathers news from all of your friends and puts it in one place.  RockMelt supports sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.  Social Reading syncs automatically, so you don’t ever have to manually refresh it unless you want to.

RockMelt concentrates on pictures and videos. Its display is visually pleasing, and the app brings you the best of these as soon as they’re published. Its big tiles support swiping – to the right saves a story for later, to the left removes it from the stream. You get to interact with the internet the way you want to.

RockMelt is a different browsing experience and one that you may just fall in love with, provided you can get used to it. It’s got just about every social network built into it, so you can interact with them at your leisure.  Its multimedia-centric and built for speed. The only downside is that the rest of the web is formatted a bit differently and RockMelt attempts to present the web in its own image. I like it, but it doesn’t quite fit everywhere…

download RockMelt

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