iPhone Wishlist

I've been an iPhone user since the first weekend the 3G came out, and so far I love it. Prior to the iPhone, I was a Blackberry user for a while. My reasons for waiting to change were:

  1. My contract with Verizon conveniently ended the same month the 3G came out.
  2. AT&T had lousy coverage at my home and office. However, for some reason AT&T and Verizon swapped in the months leading up to the 3G coming out. Verizon started to have lousy coverage in my home, and I changed job locations. The new location had lousy Verizon coverage.
  3. The price drop made it a great time to upgrade my wife as well. There was no way I was going to get away with a 1st gen iPhone without my wife getting one as well. With penalties, that would have been $1550 instead of $400. I like Apple stuff, but I'm not that big a fan boy.

Fast forward several months, and I'm not looking back to my Blackberry (ever), but there are a few minor issues with the iPhone that I wish Apple would fix. It's been long enough now that I'm starting to wonder when/if these may happen.

No Indicators on the Locked Page

Why make me slide the bar and enter my code just to see whether I have voicemail or email? It doesn't seem to be that hard to have a couple of indicators on the locked page to let me know. This would be a great time saver and a good compromise away from that annoying blinking LED on the Blackberries.

No Sound Presets

To change any of the sound settings, I have to go in and update each separately. Having something like Night, Office, Silent, etc. would be great. The silent switch is good, but sometimes I really want silence, and others I want the phone to still vibrate.

Related to this, I want different sound settings for each email account as well. For example, I have error emails from my site(s) sent to me. I want those to complain loudly regardless of what I have setup for other volumes.

The Blackberry does this well.

Signatures for Each Email Account

I have three email accounts configured on my iPhone. I prefer to separate my email signatures between work and personal. Again, I could do this on a Blackberry.

One Global Inbox

It would be a lot easier to read my email if there was a single Inbox where all three of my accounts show up. This is what Apple Mail does on my desktop, and I use it all the time. Right now, I have to go through the follow set of interactions for each account:

  1. Tap Personal account
  2. Tap Inbox
  3. Read/Process inbox
  4. Tap Personal to go back
  5. Tap Accounts to go back
  6. Tap Work
  7. Tap Inbox
  8. Read/Process inbox
  9. Tap Work to go back
  10. Tap Accounts to go back
  11. etc.

Lot of tapping going on here! Give me a consolidated inbox, and life would be a lot easier for those of us with multiple email accounts. Did I mention I could do this on my Blackberry?

Notice I did not say copy/paste. In seven months, I think I could have used it twice. I can see Apple making the correct decision to cater to the 80% of users out there and not the reviewers.

Don't get me wrong, I will not go back to a Blackberry without a fight, but give me the above, and I will be an even happier camper.

Excuse me, I have to take a call now...

The Secret in Building 26

The Secret in Building 26I just finished reading The Secret in Building 26: The Untold Story of How America Broke the Final U-boat Enigma Code. What a fascinating read! I've written before about the UK's contribution to code breaking during WWII (Neglect of Bletchley condemned and Bletchley Park Update), but this is the first time I learned about some of the details of the US contribution. I always thought the majority, if not all, of the work was handled by the British, but this book details how it was much more of a partnership between the British and Americans. Most of this stuff is only recently declassified, and most is still classified. However, the information available is a great introduction to the dawn of the electronic computer. Computers were born from two basic military needs. First, I want to blow up the other guy so I need to calculate the ballistic trajectory of my shells. Second, I want to read and learn my enemy's secrets. The first (ballistics) is a fairly straight forward calculation (although a lot harder than you think), but it is such that you can create tables and distribute rather than recalculating every time. It's not exact, but it gets you pretty close. The second (code breaking) is much harder because the codes and the techniques are changing all the time. This book covers those americans working in Building 26 of the NCR Corporation. With their British counterparts, they help cracked the Nazi Enigma machine, allowing the allies to shorten the war.

What is so interesting about this story? As a computer and math geek, I love learning how computing was born. Most importantly, I'm interested in the people that made it happen. For example, one the foremost code breakers of the time was Agnes Driscoll. In the 20's and 30's is was not very common for woman to hold such a high scientific and strategic position. "Madam X" or "Ms Aggie" as she was referred to took a lot of heat because she was a woman, but damn she held her own and is credited with breaking several "unbreakable" codes -- all by hand! My favorite story of the crap she had to put up with was when a gung-ho Navy officer dared question her application to renew her security clearance. The young officer barged in and yelled "Ma'am, in this section where you are required to list five references, you have listed the names of five admirals. You are supposed to list the names of people you know well."

Driscoll looked up at the young man with a squint in her eye and said, "Sonny, I knew all of them when they were ensigns and lieutenants, and if you don't straighten up, I'm going to tell them to never promote you."

Another interesting person was Joseph R. Desch. He was the lead for the entire effort. Most of the pressure fell on this man, and no one ever knew what he did. Never mind 14-hour days, 7 days a week, and often 7:30AM to 2:30AM the next day, 7 days a week for months at a time. All of this work to develop a machine call a Bombe. The German Navy's Enigma machine had 2.0 x 10145 ciphering possibilities compared to 1.0 x 1080 atoms in the known universe, and it was the Bombe's job to crack the code. It couldn't do it alone, but by the end of the war through a combination of Bombes, cribs, lax German procedures, and good guesses, the teams could read German messages often before the German recipients did. Fascinating stuff.

In 1947, Joe Desch received the National Medal of Merit in a secret ceremony for his work in developing the U.S. Bombe. Unfortunately, no one ever knew until after his death why he had the highest civilian honor for wartime service. Not even his family had a clue until the 90's.

Don't forget Alan Turing was part of the effort to build the British Bombe. You all recognize the name Turing, right?

If you are at all interested in world and computing history, I highly recommend this book. If you do read the book, don't skip the acknowledgements. It's impressive to see how much went into gathering the information for this book.

US Bombe 1943

Above is a US Bombe machine with a WAVE operator from 1943. The US Bombe machines were 10 feet wide, 7 feet tall and about 2 feet deep. They weighed over 2 and 1/2 tons. The American machines used mechanical relays, vacuum tubes, various motors and clutches, and were run by the women of the WAVE section (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) of the United States military.

Jury Duty - Epic Fail

Today, I was scheduled for Jury Duty. Actually, I was an alternate with instructions to call a number after 3:00 PM the day before. The instructions said there would be a recording to let us know whether we would be needed or not. Like a good citizen, I called the number at 3:15 PM, but instead of a recording I heard: "Jury pool. Leave a message."

Not particularly informative. I tried again several times throughout the afternoon without any luck. After looking around the web, I was able to find another information number that I called. After many questions and a long wait, I finally got to someone that let me know that I "probably" will not be needed.

Now, it snowed pretty good here last night, and my original letter from the court said to call the same day after 6:30 AM if there is snow. I did, and this time I heard:

"Enter your extension."

Again, not very informative. I entered by group number, thinking that maybe that is what they wanted. I was rewarded with "That extension is busy." Nice.

Anyway, I'm going with what the person at the info line told me, but you would think they might have this process figured out by now. Hopefully, I don't end up with a big fine down the road because you know that part they probably have pretty well figured out.

Gadgets and Being Green

I like to think that I am pretty green. I have an efficient house, no more SUV, not a ton of garbage, etc. Recently, however, I began to wonder if it is possible to be green if you are a techie and/or into gadgets. Gadget lovers and techies have tons of electronic stuff around the house, but most people don't realize how much power is going down the drain. How many little transformers do you have plugged in around the house? TVs? Cable Boxes? DVD Players? Receivers? Amplifiers? Computers? Typically, those little transformers consume 1-5 watts even if the device is not on or even connected. Then you add the DVD players, clock radios, TVs, etc. and power usage starts to add up. Remember, anything with standby or an instant-on feature is using power just sitting there. Reports are that this power accounts for 5-15% of all power use. What did me in, however, was thinking the other day while mowing the lawn. I know. Why am I thinking while I'm mowing the lawn? I just do. Anyway, back in my younger days, I went to a LOT of concerts. As a result, I pay attention to my ears and wear earplugs when I mow. Since I bought an iPhone with new earphones that are basically earplugs, I listen to music while I mow. Often, I use the fantastic Pandora application, and it's this that got me in trouble. Ever thought about how much infrastructure is required to listen to streaming music? It's a lot. Let's start at the Pandora data center and work our way to my yard.

  • Pandora Data Center
    • I can only guess at the architecture of Pandora, but let's guess that there is at least 3 servers (web, app, and db). I suspect there are a lot more both for load and redundancy.
    • 3 servers
    • 1 switch
    • 1 router
    • 1 firewall
    • Again, I highly doubt there are singles of anything in the data center. Otherwise, the entire system would go down with one server failure.
  • Pandora Hosting Provider
    • It all depends on where Pandora's machines are hosted, but there could be dozens of machines managing the data center. Plus, there will be various networking equipment.
    • 5 desktops
    • 2 large switches
    • 2 large routers
    • 2 firewalls (for hosting internal network)
  • Backbone
    • A quick run of traceroute shows 12 hops between my house and Pandora's date center.  That's at least one router per hop.  The first and the last are me and Pandora's data center.
    • 10 routers
    • Various management servers, etc.
    • 10 servers
    • 20 desktops
  • Pandora's Offices
    • Again, I don't know how large Pandora is, but figure 10 people plus various testing servers.
    • 10 desktops
    • 5 test servers
    • 1 router
    • 1 switch
    • 1 firewall
  • My house
    • My house is fully wired, so I probably have more than most.
    • 1 firewall
    • 1 router
    • 1 switch
    • 1 cable modem
    • 1 music server
    • various desktops

That's a whole lot of hardware, and I'm not even mentioning all of it. Now, I know that most of this hardware is shared, but if there weren't a lot of customers at least some of this hardware would not be required.

My point is to be careful when you call yourself green and you have a lot of gadgets. You many be personally green, but your habits may bring along a lot of extra hardware to feed your gadgets. Your actual power usage is a lot more than what shows up on your electric bill.

Watching "The War"

Leadership: Watching "The War" I'm also a history buff, especially 1939-1945. Ken Burns new documentary, "The War", is so far one of the best series I've seen on the subject. I know this has nothing to do with technology, but it is about life and what happened in our past to allow us to be what we are today. Ignoring the sacrifices made for the moment, 10 million soldiers coming back from the war went to college on the GI bill. Prior to WWII, the US was still mostly an agricultural nation. Technology gains during WWII as well as all those new new college degrees that followed had a lot to do with our technological progress since.

If you can, check it out. It's fascinating television.

Wave Energy

SWRDA : News Centre Now this I like. Waves move around, and this system uses the motion to generate electricity. It's clean, and no one sees it. Keeping everything attached in the North Atlantic seems to be a challenge though. Keep an eye on this. If it works, I suspect we will see more of them. Spending $56M to save over $1B (that's a B) is tough to pass up.

Been away...

Been away for a while. Between working on my new company, Inquisix, and a much needed vacation, I haven't had a chance to write anything in a while. Waking up every day to see the view below really does cause one to simply relax instead of working much. The View

This is Newport Beach, CA, and my family and I stayed right on the boardwalk -- walk out the front door, cross the boardwalk, and you're on the beach. What a great way to relax!

Anyone have a chance to try a Segway? The Segway shop in Newport beach sells more Segways than anywhere else in the world. As a marketing ploy, they will take you on a tour. It is amazing how intuitive this machine is. Within a couple minutes, you are off exploring like an expert. Now, if I could just get myself one of these, I would be all set. Then again, I usually prefer to walk when I golf.

I will have lots more to say about Inquisix and other technology issues in the coming weeks.

It's good to be back!

The ultimate iTunes Media Server - I Don't Think So

How-To: The ultimate iTunes Media Server - MacTalk Forums OK, I'm a big Mac fan, but there are some things that a PC (Windows or Linux) just does better, and a media server is one of them. I'm an audio / video nut. Combine that with some handiness with construction and computer knowledge, and you end up with a fully automated home theater and multi-zone audio system built by yours truly. The above system is nice, but it breaks a couple of hard rules for me.

1. I don't want to have to fire up a computer to choose what to play. The system must be available via a learning remote.

2. It needs to easily support multiple zones of audio and UPnP players.

3. My mother should be able to use it. This is nothing against my mother, but she is a good test case when it comes to technical issues.

My media server is a Windows PC running J. River's Media Center, TheaterTek, and various other automation applications. There is no monitor, keyboard or mouse connected to this server. It is connected to a display but only for playing DVDs. All audio equipment is in a locked closet. If I do need to connect to the server for maintance, I use VNC from one of my other computers. From my Phillips Pronto remote, I can play any album, playlist, song, or DVD at the touch of button without navigating a computer screen. Users of the system do not know they are dealing with a PC. Apple and Microsoft expect you to have a computer running to select anything. That's great, but how many people have a computer in their living room?

With my system, all I need is a small handheld remote to choose anything I want. I can be watching a movie downstairs, listing to a playlist outside, and have a Roku playing music in the kitchen at the same time. It's all served from the same server, and I never once had to look at a computer screen. There are commercial products that do the same thing, but they are several times the cost.

For most people, this is how it needs to be.