By the way, Cingular 3G is live in Little Rock!

I actually discovered that Cingular’s 3G HSDPA data service was up and running a while back, and verified that it was there (testing if nothing else) when I got the new Dell Latitude D820 with its built-in HSDPA card. It worked pretty well back then, and it’s still working well today. The difference is that I have reasonable evidence that Cingular is about to admitthat it’s up and running. My first indicator was a chat I had the other day with a Cingular tech at one of their cell sites where I have a radio transmitter on the same tower. The second indicator is that I installed a Cingular-branded Sierra Wireless Aircard 860 3G PC card modem for one of our on-air talking heads who will soon be yakking about the new service on the radio. He’s about as technically astute as a pan of macaroni and cheese, but he’s a “Personality,” so it’s assumed that his endorsement will move consumers to flock to their favorite Cingular store and snap up those $49 cards ($149 with $100 rebate) and $79.99 Laptop Connect plans. They may be right, although I’ve observed that there are a lot of tech-savvy types who will quickly see through the “personality with talking points” endorsement. That could work against marketing to that segment. I once proposed doing some endorsements from a more techie person with on-air experience — such as myself — but it never got past the station sales types, who generally think “personalities” are better than “people who know what they’re talking about.” Go figure.

I’m waiting patiently (well, alright… notso patiently) for Cingular to release their Cingular 8525, a WM5 PDA phone with HSDPA. It will be the first actual hand-held data device (I don’t count phones with WAP browsers as data devices) to use the new 3G service. I want one. I can’t stomach Blackberry’s devices, because they have lousy web browsers and no third-party software. WM5 isn’t the best thing on the planet, but it’s manageable and there are lots of excellent applications, many that I already have on my Dell Axim X50v PDA.

Hey, Cingular… want a real-world beta tester? Maybe a technically-qualified endorser? An engineer with a big mouth? 😉

So far, HSDPA has been encouraging. I’m looking forward to experimenting with using it for remote broadcast audio — it could be just what we’ve been waiting for in Little Rock.

Arm Flapping, Wordworking, and HSDPA Rocks!

As I type this I’m sitting in the Atlanta airport, enjoying (in an “as compared to a root canal” sense) a two-hour layover. Once I deplaned and observed the standard post-flight bladder ritual of 51 year old men, I found my gate and pulled out the Latitude D820 for it’s first cruise through the land of WiFi outside my sterile and secure network at home. Dell has added a really nifty feature to many of their notebooks called “WiFi Catcher.” The nifty part is that you can check for open WiFi availability withut having to boot the computer, which can be a great battery-saver.

Unfortunately, WiFi Catcher can’t discern between “open” and “open but not free” WiFi. ATL has a great WiFi system that is wide open if what you want is airport and flight information. It politely hijacks you browser to present the airport’s website and lots of detailed info on flights, services, and all the other “stuff” you might need to know about an airport when travelling. But, if you want more access, you need to select one of several WiFi vendors and, if you don’t already have an account, pay around $5.00 a day for access. In airport dollars, five bucks isn’t bad, given the cost of a cup of coffee and a sandwich. Still, I’m too cheap to drop five bucks if I don’t have to. And I don’t have to with the D820.

After calling Sharon to reassure her that I made it to Atlanta alright, I popped the SIM out of my phone and slipped it into the D820’s SIM slot, hidden under the main battery. After firing back up and starting the built-in Cingular HSDPA card, I was soon a happy camper. At first, I thought that there was no 3G service available, as the applet indicated that it was connected to the EDGE network. While I was running a few speed tests, however, I started getting errors saying that the connection was too fast for the speed test I was using. After a recheck, I discovered that I was, indeed, connected to Cingular’s new 3G network!

I’m pleased to report that I’ve seen realtime throughput consistently in the 650-750 kbt/s range. Very encouraging, and not bad at all for things like email, web surfing, and blog updating. Very cool, indeed.

I’m on my way to the booming metropolis of North East, Maryland for the Sandy Cove Christian Writers Conference. I’ll have more on that later, as they are about to start boarding my flight to PHL, and the battle for overhead bin space is already underway. I have, however, made an addition to the Blogroll, adding the website/blog of Jim Watkins, the director of the conference. No, I didn’t add this just to kiss up to the conference director — it’s actually a great site with some funny and insightful stuff. Check it out!

More on the conference when I get there.

Tools ‘n Toys

I can’t believe how long it’s been since I’ve posted to the blog. So much for my initial commitment to keeping it fresh and relevant. 🙁

It’s not that I haven’t been writing. I’ve been writing my little fingers to the bone. I’ve also been really busy with the radio job that supports my writing addiction. Work, work, work!

Well, okay… there has been a little play, too. I’ve got a nifty new tool under my fingertips, a brand new notebook computer. We had been talking about upgrading for a while, and after one of my laptops was stolen a while back, that pushed an upgrade closer to the top of the list. Since I’m actually attempting to (and seriously in danger of) making a few bucks with my writing work, a laptop devoted almost exclusively to that business becomes a legitimate business expense, further helping to justify the cost. It’s a tool, not a toy… it’s a tool, not a toy… it’s a tool, not a toy… 🙂

Being the geeky tech-boy that I am, and having spent many years supporting computers around radio stations, I would never be satisfied with any of those consumer-oriented cheapie laptops at the local “big box” chain stores. I did look at a few, but none of them was the right fit. Your mileage may vary, so if you bought one of those $499 laptops from a “big box” chain store and you’re happy with it, I’m happy for you. Just don’t call me when it breaks and you have to send it off for a month to have it repaired under warranty.

My close techie friends might find this surprising, but I actually considered buying a Mac. I looked at the new MacBook and MacBook Pro machines based on Intel processors, and was not unimpressed. Mac’s OSX Operating system does have some strong upsides, largely because it’s based on good old fashioned BSD Unix. In fact, if Apple offered OSX with drivers that would work on my new machine, I’d buy a copy and install it as a dual-boot OS just for the sake of experimentation. Apple, however, doesn’t believe in playing well with others when it comes to hardware. If you want to run OSX, you have to buy their overpriced machine to run it. When I was shopping around, I found that they just weren’t competitive enough, particularly when looking at warranties and support. Apple offers longer-term support warranties, but doesn’t offer the one coverage that ought to be mandatory for a notebook/laptop that will be in motion: Accidental Damage coverage. You can get it through third parties, but it’s pricey and I never did find the level of coverage and support I demand.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned through my years of radio engineering and working with computers, it’s that how well a computer is supported after the sale is just as important—or in some cases even more important—than the hardware, software, bells, and whistles. That’s why I decided to buy another Dell. I’ve owned three other Dell laptops, and I’ve never had anything but good experience with Dell’s support. About four years ago I bought a used Dell Latitude C600 on eBay from Dell Financial Services. It was an off-lease machine that had been refurbished and still had several months of CompleteCare (includes accidental damage) warranty remaining. A week after I bought it, it began misbehaving, and after some troubleshooting I felt there was a problem with the motherboard. I placed a call to Dell’s support folks, we discussed what was going on, and bright and early the next morning there was a tech at my office with a new motherboard in hand, and 30 minutes later the machine was good as new. I bought my Inspiron 5150 a couple of years ago (with s 3 year CompleteCare Warranty), and on my third day of ownership I was listening to something with my Koss Pro/4AA headphones, which have a ¼” plug. I adapted down to the 1/8” plug with a straight, solid adapter. The combined length of the adapter and the plug from the headphones was around four inches, sticking out from the side of the new machine. When I accidentally dropped something on that connector combo, I heard a distinct “snap” and I lost both headphones and speakers. I had snapped the headphone jack off of the motherboard. Again, one call and the next day I had a new motherboard installed by a friendly tech, no cost, no questions asked.

Try to get that level of service/support from your local “big box” chain store!

So, my previous laptop, the Inspiron 5150, is now Sharon’s computer, the Latitude C600 she was using has been retired to less stressful service, and I bought a new Dell Latitude D820. I held off on the purchase until September 6, the first day that Dell was offering the newest generation mobile processor (Intel’s Core 2 Duo, AKA “Merom”) in the Latitude line. I got a T7200 processor, a dual-core 2Ghz with 4MB internal cache that’s ready to run a 64-bit OS. It’s pretty well loaded, with 2 GB RAM, 100GB 7200RPM Hard Drive, WSXGA+ display, the 512MB Nvidia video card, and even an HSDPA mobile broadband card that will work with Cingular’s new 3G Network. If you’re not a techie, just smile and say “that’s nice” and move on. 🙂

This thing screams. At first, it didn’t seem all that much faster than my Inspiron 5150 (P4 3.06 G proc with 1GB RAM), which is no slouch. It was when I started actually using the thing heavily that I began to see the speed advantages of the Dual Core processor. Very impressive, indeed. It’s a beautiful thing.

Yet, after I got it out of the box, installed all my software, and moved all those gigabytes of files to the new machine, I found myself sitting here saying “now what?” It has a display, and a keyboard, and all the stuff you expect a computer to have. It’s fast… oy, it’s fast. And it’s pretty. The display is lovely. But, it’s just a computer—a tool that I can use to write words, write music, create impressive graphics, read and write email, pay my bills, and all of the other things we do with our computers. I didn’t feel giddy like a child on Christmas morning, which is what I expected to feel. It really is a tool, not a toy.

I’m reminded of a story I heard once about a humble, philanthropic zillionaire from a family of almost insane wealth. Someone asked him how he could grow up in an environment with so much wealth and not become materialistic. His answer was profound: “Mother taught us that everything we had was either a tool or an idol, and mother would not tolerate idolatry in our home.”

Lord, I don’t want to be an idolater. Please keep me balanced and help me keep my eye on the prize. Thank you for my new computer. Please help me use it as a tool, not as a toy.