Haightlife

Writing Again

by Michael Alderete on 2/16/2013 · 0 comments

It’s been a while since I published much here (visibly), but to answer a popular question, yes, I’m still here. I’m taking this three-day weekend to restart some efforts, including writing here on the blog, and also answering mail that has piled up. It’s going to take a while, but I’m slogging through it.

What’s unfortunate, and ironic, about my break from writing is that I never published a post explaining that I’d updated every single page in Aldo on Audiobooks, bringing it up to date, both with the (then) current version of iTunes and with a few new tricks I’d learned. It also includes a greatly expanded selection of audiobook recommendations.

Of course, a month or two after I finished all those updates, Apple announced all new hardware, both iPhones and iPods, and previewed iTunes 11. I “took a pause” to wait for iTunes 11 before updating everything, and then Apple took a while to actually ship it.

Anyway, the goal is to sweep through everything this weekend, and if it’s not completely revised, to at least add a blog post explaining differences.

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Five Bars at Home with the AT&T 3G MicroCell

by Michael Alderete on 4/30/2010 · 2 comments

AT&T is the exclusive wireless provider for the Apple iPhone here in the United States, and has at least partially earned a reputation for providing poor wireless phone coverage. In my own travels, I’ve had great reception in Portland, Austin, Palm Springs, and Chicago, among other places, four or five bars, consistently. I don’t recall ever having poor 3G reception anywhere — except here in my home city of San Francisco.

Now, San Francisco presents some unique challenges, such has high-rises and famously steep hills. But solving those reasonably straightforward RF challenges is what AT&T gets paid the big bucks to do. After almost four years there has been some improvement, but reception is still a major issue, with some parts of SF being almost completely dead zones. (I believe this has more to do with the tinfoil hat crowd than AT&T’s lack of effort and investment, but that’s a post for another day.)

AT&T reception in our house, while not awful, has been spotty, and seems oddly worse since we gave up our land line in January. It has definitely been an issue, with dropped and “one-way” (you can hear someone but they can’t hear you, or vice versa) calls being a regular occurrence.

AT&T 3G MicroCellAT&T has a solution for that problem. It’s called the AT&T 3G MicroCell, which puts a mini cell phone tower called a “femtocell” in your house, and no less a personage than the NYTimes has written about it. Their first article, Bringing You a Signal You’re Already Paying For, is a bit snarky, but does a good job of covering the details of the technology, and why you might want it. Their second article, Dead Zone Doldrums Test Skills of iPhone Customers, is more pragmatic, focused on usable ways to improve your reception, including the MicroCell.

Ultimately, finding a usable solution is more productive than pointing fingers. While the 3G MicroCell does cost $150, there are no monthly fees, and I can attest to getting at least three, and mostly five bars everywhere in my ~1400 square foot house. The MicroCell hands off smoothly to a standard AT&T tower when I move to my back deck, where reception was already excellent. Call quality has been excellent. Once set up, there is nothing to do. It Just Works.

There were two tricks to getting the MicroCell working. The first was actually getting one. They are not yet available for ordering online, at least not in San Francisco. But, after reading a tweet that AT&T Wireless retail stores were selling them in Santa Rosa, I stopped by a store in downtown San Francisco. Yes, they had them in stock, and so did the second store I visited. So, if you want a MicroCell today, you may need to visit your nearest AT&T Wireless store. For me, this was only 10 minutes out of my way, not a big deal.

My second issue was activating the MicroCell. It needs to have a reliable two-way connection to the Internet. For you to receive calls, the AT&T network needs to be able to reach the MicroCell, that is, connect from the Internet to inside your home network. This is something that a good firewall will normally prevent. I assume that the MicroCell uses UPnP or NAT-PMP to attempt to automatically open appropriate holes for itself, but my decidedly non-standard firewall software and even more unusual hardware don’t support either. So, I had to put the MicroCell outside the firewall, which is easy enough if you have a simple home network…and a pain in the ass if you have a fully wired house. For most people, this won’t be an issue, but I would appreciate a way to manually configure my MicroCell, or at least the technical information to open the right holes. Currently AT&T wants the 3G MicroCell to be a black box that requires no direct configuration by the customer.

In the end, I’m pretty happy with the 3G MicroCell. It’s set up, it works as advertised, and I didn’t need to wait for AT&T to put a new cell tower nearer my house, or for Apple to launch a Verizon iPhone.

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Crazy talk!

by Michael Alderete on 8/8/2008 · 2 comments

Michael on TV!I was getting lunch at Rosamunde Sausage Grill on Tuesday, when CBS reporter Mike Sugarman was talking to people about a PETA-backed group’s proposal to ban hot dogs from school cafeterias.

My reaction takes about a second in the two and a half minute segment, but it is me on TV, so I gotta point to it (hi Mom):

CBS5 San Francisco: Group Looks to Ban Hot Dogs in California Schools

My longer, more thoughtful reaction would be that getting quality food into school cafeterias is a hard problem, because there’s a lot of political issues in play, including funding, contracts, and so on. But the discussion is not helped by the radical vegetarian group PETA, who is hiding behind the scary “cancer” word, and a scientific study they helped sponsor but which does not reveal their affiliation.

I think lunch today will be a nice chili dog at Rosamunde!

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There’s a new web site launched this week, EveryBlock, that aggregates together all of the “news” and makes it available on a very geographically-specific basis — that is, specifically for your block. They launched covering only three cities, but San Francisco is one of them.

My block on EveryBlock.com

Want crime reports for your neighborhood? Got ‘em. Want restaurant inspection reports? Got ‘em. Want reviews of local establishments on Yelp? Got ‘em. They compile standard news outlets, public records, other local sites, and even geo-tagged Flickr photos.

Go to the site, type in your street address, and then spend the next hour (or more) browsing the different pieces of information available. This is seriously interesting. I think in the long run it’ll be as influential as craigslist.

(I have no affiliation with EveryBlock, I just figure that everyone has an interest in what’s happening in their neighborhood, and this looks like a compelling way to find out.)

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Gone, baby, gone!

by Michael Alderete on 11/5/2007 · 6 comments

Free BeBoxes On Saturday I took 13 BeBoxes to the Vintage Computer Festival in Mountain View, with the intent of offering them to passers-by, getting them out of the house and into a good home.

I spent a bit of time creating a flyer to advertise them, and packed up a kit with stapler, tape, marker, etc., so that I could put them up in good places. Then I drove 45 minutes to the Computer History Museum, where the festival was taking place.

The second person who saw the flyer said, “OK, I’ll take them.” I hadn’t even posted it yet! After 10 minutes of transferring from my car to his truck, the BeBoxes had a new home, and better prospects for being refurbished and restored to their former, if not glory, at least functionality.

Rochelle hasn’t stopped smiling since I got back with an empty car. And I have to admit, with the CRAP efforts we’ve made in the last two months, it seems like we might recover the use of our third bedroom before the end of the year. That will make us both smile!

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Quotation of the year candidate

by Michael Alderete on 10/29/2007 · 0 comments

Overheard at the office:

“I haven’t seen you in class recently, given up the gym?”

“Yes. Vodka is the new Spinning.”

(Spinning is a form of exercise, usually very high intensity.)

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Two and a half years ago, I wrote a post describing a problem I had been having when Rochelle migrated to Mozilla Thunderbird for email, and Norton Anti-Virus was corrupting her Inbox. The gist of the post was that there didn’t seem to be a good anti-virus solution that worked well with Thunderbird.

A couple weeks ago a comment defending Thunderbird came in on the post. I started to respond in another comment, but because the attitude expressed by the commentor is so prevalent in software, I wanted to respond more publicly.

Here’s the meat of the comment (or read in full):

The problem with virus checking in Thunderbird is actually not Thunderbird. It the strategy you are using to scan for email viruses. […] If your antivirus program doesn’t have a function to scan email as it’s downloaded and prior to hitting your inbox, get a real antivirus solution that does. Let’s not be bad mouthing Thunderbird for something you are not doing appropriately in the situation you have.

Well, at the simplest level, this is correct, it’s really just a matter of configuration. But on other levels this philosophy — that the features are there to solve the problem, the user just needs to find and configure them — is not a very customer-friendly one. You could argue that it’s the opposite. There are very few people out there looking to buy “anti-virus software with an email proxy or plug-in to scan incoming emails.” They just want “safe, virus-free email.” By itself, Thunderbird still does not provide this.

And, in spite of 2½ years passing since I wrote the original post, the software and the web site still do not provide any useful information about how to achieve “safe email.” The only official information about anti-virus protection I found today is the FAQ Is Thunderbird susceptible to e-mail viruses?, which still has the same essentially useless information I noted 2½ years ago. On a very real level, the level at which most people will experience the product, getting “safe email” with Thunderbird is a challenge that most people will not be able to meet.

A person can say “don’t bad mouth Thunderbird,” but what they’re really saying is “people who aren’t smart enough to figure out this Thunderbird + anti-virus stuff for themselves should use something else.” I wonder what the response would be if the Thunderbird project posted those words on their web site, instead of the useless words in the FAQ?

Final note: Rochelle’s solution to the dilemma was to switch to Gmail. Works great, and virus-free.

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15 seconds of fame…

by Michael Alderete on 5/5/2007 · 1 comment

I accidentally got into the San Francisco Chronicle this week. The Sipping News includes a couple of photos, including one of the lovely Rebecca Chappa demonstrating perfect tequila drinking technique:

And there I am, directly beneath the wristwatch on the pouring arm.

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Rochelle in the SF Chronicle

January 27, 2007

The San Francisco Chronicle’s Friday wine section has an article, Social Swirl: Surging in popularity, wine clubs let you learn while you drink, with some choice quotations from Rochelle and from our friend David, about the wine tasting group Rochelle started more than four years ago. This is our third major news article having to […]

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Learning from mistakes, #278

December 2, 2006

I think I can conclusively say that “gin, then wine, then tequila” needs to get a check mark in the “Bad Idea” column…

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Mas tequila!

October 17, 2006

It’s not quite the haul from our original trip, but we did manage to bring back a dozen bottles of fine tequila on our trip to Julio and Liliana’s wedding in Arandas, Mexico: Once again we had no breakage or theft, in spite of packing everything in our suitcases (because of the War On Moisture), […]

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Cool bartender weblog

August 28, 2006

Rochelle found the weblog of Jeffrey Morgenthaler, and I ended up reading it for an hour. Nice writing, and some fun stories and insights from an experienced bartender. Eight Things You Should Never Say to Your Bartender was the one that caught Rochelle’s eye, and I was gratified to see that we’d never done any […]

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