April 23, 2005

Tapwave Zodiac customer service problems

Filed under: — 9:40 am

My wife, Laura, has been using a Tapwave Zodiac as her PDA for a few months now. It’s an interesting device—they tried to mold the PalmOS platform into a gaming system, which didn’t really take off, but ended up creating a nice, ergonomic PDA with a better screen than the current Palm offerings.

Unfortunately, Tapwave’s customer service leaves something to be desired. Back in March, the analog joystick started acting up. After a couple of frustrating calls describing the symptoms to their obviously outsourced customer service, we received an RMA number. They said they’d try to fix it, and if it wasn’t easy to fix they’d ship a replacement within 24 hours.

Laura shipped the Zodiac and Fedex tracking said Tapwave received it on March 30th. A week later, Tapwave sent an email acknowledging that they received it. Twenty-four hours later… nothing happened. A week or so went by with no communication, then Laura called them—as near as the customer service people can tell, they’re trying to ship a replacement but they’re out of stock. They say shipping replacements isn’t really their department—they’re in India, and Tapwave’s office is in the US—but as far as we can tell there’s no way to call the US office.

It has now been nearly a month since we shipped it, and still no sign of a replacement. It’s a great PDA and we would recommend it to others, but this situation tempts us to replace it with a PDA from a company we can trust. Some comments at PC Magazine’s review have similar complaints. I’ll update this if the situation changes.

Update: We finally received a replacement Zodiac yesterday, May 3rd, and it works fine. It’s hardly the 24-hour service we were promised, but it’s better than nothing. In other news, they may be taking the Zodiac off the market soon, which may explain the trouble getting a replacement.

April 22, 2005

April 21, 2005

Treo 650 first impressions, Part II

Filed under: — 7:47 pm

Continuing from Part I, here are a few more notes I’ve made about various features of the Treo 650 smartphone:

Treo 650 picture taken at Lake Mead, NV

  • Camera: Yes, the Treo 650 has a camera. I’m not a big cameraphone user, but I suppose it’s there if I have any unexpected encounters with aliens or celebrities. It’s only 640 x 480 (VGA) resolution, which is good enough to take pictures to display on the Treo’s screen or maybe for a web page. The quality is decent for its size. The picture at left is cropped (unprocessed) from this VGA photo taken on the Treo. It can also take videos (320 x 240 with audio) and play them back on the screen. Getting photos from the Palm to a PC is easy—it syncs them automatically to the Media page in Palm Desktop, or you can use an SD card, email, or Bluetooth.
  • Sync Cable: The included sync cable is pretty minimal. One end connects to the computer’s USB port, the other connects to the Treo. I would prefer a cradle, but I haven’t had any trouble syncing.
  • PC Software: The big improvement I noticed in Palm Desktop is that Palm now offers their own software for syncing with Microsoft Outlook, rather than relying on PocketMirror. The new Outlook sync is much more reliable.
  • Web browser: The Treo includes the latest Blazer browser, which is the best browser I’ve seen on a Palm device so far. It renders pages well, and you can choose to display them in a Palm-optimized mode or in an unoptimized mode that requires lots of horizontal scrolling, but matches the layout on a bigger screen pretty well. One caveat: for some reason, this browser is unable to access the Paypal website, which is unfortunately one I access frequently while travelling. I installed a third-party browser, xiino, which has no trouble with Paypal’s site.
  • PCS Vision: Sprint’s data service, PCS Vision, is much better than the “Wireless Web” they used to offer. It’s consistently faster than T-Mobile, and available for a flat rate. The latency is much better too—with T-Mobile I had many long pauses while loading pages, and this rarely happens with Sprint.
  • Dial-up Networking: Officially, the Sprint Treo 650 does not support dial-up networking (DUN) via Bluetooth, which means you can’t use it to get your laptop online. Sprint is supposed to be adding that feature with an update “relatively soon”, but in the meantime there’s a clever hack that enables DUN. It’s not perfect, but it works, and I can get my iBook online through Bluetooth. This has come in handy while camping and when my cable internet was down at home.

See Part I for more Treo 650 notes. I’ll combine both parts into a full review at The Gadgets Page soon.

April 20, 2005

Treo 650 first impressions, Part I

Filed under: — 3:54 pm

Treo 650 Recently I replaced my Palm Tungsten T3 and my cheap cellphone with a Treo 650 with SprintPCS service. My wife and I both switched from T-Mobile back to Sprint, because we had terrible signal quality from T-Mobile at our house, and our cell phones are our only phones. The signal was great everywhere else, but not being able to make and receive calls at home was a wee bit inconvenient.

I’ve been very happy with the Treo 650 so far. It’s the first combined PDA/phone that doesn’t feel like a compromise. I’ll write a detailed review later, but here are some impressions after using the Treo for a month:

  • As a phone: The Treo has a nice substantial feel when talking, unlike the tiny cellphone it replaced. Voice quality is good. There are a couple of minor annoyances: a delay when dialing (sometimes as long as a second or two) and you have to dial with on-screen buttons or with the tiny keyboard buttons. But it’s quite usable as a phone, and having access to my PDA contact list makes up for any deficiencies.
  • As a Palm PDA: The Treo seems a bit faster than the T3, probably because it uses a newer version of PalmOS. It’s a bit short on memory (32MB), and worse yet, due to the way the flash memory is organized into blocks, it holds less than any other 32MB Palm device. Fortunately, Palm just released a software update that seems to fix that problem, and they sent me a free 128 MB SD card for my trouble, so I’m not complaining.
  • The Screen: The screen is only 320 x 320, and I do miss the large screen on the T3, but it’s otherwise very nice. The screen is small, making the pixels tiny and the fonts beautiful. It also has the brightest backlight I’ve ever seen on a Palm device. I can easily use it in sunlight.
  • The keyboard: I didn’t even consider a Treo for a long time because the keyboard has such tiny keys, and I have large fingers. I played with one at the SprintPCS store and was surprised to find that I could type with reasonable accuracy despite this. It turns out that the Treo’s software is designed to watch for and correct multiple keypresses, compensating for my clumsiness nearly 100%. I can already get data into this device about twice as fast as I could with the Fitaly keyboard on my old Palm, and don’t even ask me about Graffiti. I’ve found that I almost never use the stylus—between the keyboard and the five-way navigator, I can do just about everything without it.
  • Battery Life: As with any smartphone, the battery life isn’t as good as that of a PDA-only device. Nevertheless, I can usually go a few days without charging, unless I spend a few hours talking on the phone. Unlike other Palm devices, it has a removable rechargable battery, so if battery life is ever an issue I can buy a spare one.

All in all, I’m very happy with the Treo 650, and with Sprint’s service. This turned out to be a long post, so I’ll save my comments about the Treo’s camera and Internet features for Part II.

Update: see Part II for more of my notes about the Treo 650.

April 18, 2005

The past and future of Homesite

Filed under: — 2:52 pm

I’ve been using Homesite as my primary HTML/PHP/JavaScript editor for nearly ten years. I think I bought it in 1995 or 1996. Nick Bradbury was a one-man business at the time and Homesite was advertised on CompuServe. I think it was version 1.0. (I met Nick at SXSW 2004 and enjoyed reminiscing about those days.)

I’ve stayed with Homesite ever since, upgrading to version 2.0, then 2.5, then 3.0, then 4.0, then 5.0, and finally 5.5. Along the way Homesite was acquired by Allaire in 1997, and Allaire was acquired by Macromedia in 2001. Homesite development has been pretty stagnant since the Macromedia acquisition. The product always seemed to take a back seat to Dreamweaver. New versions were few and far between, and often added more bugs than they fixed.

Homesite is a programmer’s text editor for HTML and other web languages. While it has a built-in preview and even a simple WYSIWYG mode, it’s most efficient for people like me who think in HTML (and PHP and JavaScript) and just want convenient access to their code. I’ve never had any patience for visual editors like Dreamweaver. Homesite is just my style.

Despite being a fan, I’ve been planning to switch from Homesite for some time, because it didn’t seem to have a future with Macromedia. Now I’m not sure what to think, because Adobe is acquiring Macromedia. I have a feeling this might be the final nail in Homesite’s coffin, although I’d love to see Adobe take better care of it than Macromedia did.

Luckily for me, Homesite creator Nick Bradbury created another great editor, TopStyle, after leaving Allaire. I’ve always figured I’ll switch to TopStyle eventually, but put it off because I’m comfortable with Homesite, and the CSS emphasis didn’t mean much to me. Now that Homesite’s future is more uncertain than ever and I’m doing all of my design with CSS, it’s probably time to take another good look at TopStyle.

April 13, 2005

April 12, 2005

WordPress 1.5 plug-in: view future posts

Filed under: — 10:00 am

At Starling Fitness we write many of the posts a few days in advance, which makes it much easier to ensure that we meet our goal of at least one post a day. WordPress lets you publish posts with future dates, and they stay invisible until their time comes. Unfortunately, you can’t view these future posts (except in the editor preview), and we like to see them as they will appear, complete with the site’s styles. So, I installed a Cheesy Hack(tm) a while ago to allow administrators to view future posts just like current ones.

I was working on a 1.5 version of the Cheesy Hack, and stumbled across a plug-in hook—so I realized I could write a proper plug-in instead. So here it is:

With this plug-in, an administrator can view future posts at their permalink, so the View links in the administration panel work just like regular posts. The posts only appear at their permalink page—they are omitted from the home page, archives pages, category pages, and RSS feeds. You can modify two variables to change these behaviors:

  • $future_min_level—the minimum user level required to view future posts. The default is 10 (administrators). Set this to zero to allow everyone (even anonymous users) to view future posts.
  • $future_single_only—if set to true (default), future posts are available from their unique permalink only. If set to false, future posts appear on the categories, archives, and the home page.

To install the plug-in: (WordPress 1.5 only) Download the file, rename it to futureposts.php, save it in your wp-content/plugins directory, then activate it from the administration Plugins page. That’s it!

This is my first attempt at a WordPress plug-in, so please let me know if you’ve found it useful, if it’s not behaving as you expected, or if you have a feature suggestion. Enjoy!

Update 7/20/2005: I’ve written an Enhanced Post Management plugin that adds additional features you might find useful for managing future posts.

April 11, 2005

WordPress 1.5 first impressions

Filed under: — 3:28 pm

I’m setting up a new weblog (to be announced shortly) and have been experimenting with the recently-released WordPress 1.5 for the first time. It’s an incremental update from 1.2, but there are some nice new features. Here are some of my first impressions:

  • The Dashboard: This is the new front page of the weblog Administration interface. A sidebar shows a few statistics about your weblog with links to latest posts and comments, and the rest of the page is essentially an RSS aggregator that displays WordPress-related items. I found this clever, but since I already have an RSS reader most of the screen’s contents are redundant. I’d rather see more statistics and a larger display of recent comments and posts, but I’m sure others find it useful, and it will expose things like security updates to a much larger audience.
  • Administration: Aside from the obvious Dashboard, the administration interface has been rearranged a bit, but it’s essentially the same as the 1.2 interface and easy to get used to.
  • Themes: I have to admit, one of the reasons I’ve put off upgrading to WP 1.5 was that I use custom templates on my sites, and it would take some effort to convert them to 1.5’s new theme support. These concerns were mostly unfounded—it turns out creating a theme is a simple matter of creating a directory, copying the files for an existing theme into them, and editing the PHP and CSS files. Adapting a WP 1.2 template is also a simple process. Switching themes takes a single click from within the Administration interface, so this will be a great way to experiment with updated looks without messing up the site.
  • Default Themes: WordPress 1.5 includes two themes: WordPress Default is the new theme based on Kubrick and WordPress Classic is the theme that came with WP 1.2. Both are decent looking, but considering how many people use WordPress without ever changing the theme, I’d like to see a bunch more included by default. At the very least, the Themes administration page should include a link to wherever one goes to find new themes.
  • Pages: Pages are similar to posts, but aren’t time-dependent. With the URL rewriting feature, you can create pages like www.example.com/about/ without editing a single file. Pages look just like a post (including a comment form) by default, but you can create a custom template to fix that.
  • Nofollow: The rel=nofollow attribute is enabled by default for all links in comments, so spam comments won’t receive any pagerank. I think this is a very good thing as a default, but I’m disappointed that there’s no way to turn it off—I micromanage my comments and have no use for the feature, and I’d like my commenters to benefit from their legitimate links. Fortunately there’s a plugin that turns off this feature, but this should really be a built-in option.
  • Comment Spam: WordPress 1.5 defaults to moderating all comments except those from previously approved posters. I’ve turned that feature off, but it’s wonderful to have it as the default—this will lead to less freely-spammable abandoned weblogs in the long run.
  • Logged-in Users: If you’re logged in to the weblog (as the administrator usually is) you don’t have to enter your name and email address when posting a comment. Yay! This is a reason to actually enable the registration feature that I’ve previously ignored.

I’ll write more about WP 1.5 as I discover more about it, but in general I’m impressed—I look forward to many more great things from the team. I will hopefully be upgrading this weblog to WP 1.5 this week, and I’ll let you know how that goes.

April 8, 2005

Making Money from Content Sites: Search traffic and regular readers

Filed under: — 10:03 am

Reading Paul Scrivens’ article at WorkBoxers, Search Engine Traffic or Daily Visitors, Which is better?, I was reminded of a similar article that’s been sitting in my pile of rough drafts for a while, so I decided to finish it. Here’s my take on search traffic and regular visitors.


April 7, 2005

ProBlogger interviews me

Filed under: — 9:27 pm

Darren over at ProBlogger published an interview with me the other day. If you’re curious about what I do besides this weblog, it might be worth a read.

Darren said some very nice things about me, so I’ll say something nice about him: although he’s relatively new on the scene I’m amazed at how much I’ve learned from ProBlogger since it appeared. I’ve also had a bookmark for his Digital Photography Blog for a while.

Darren posts something like 25 times a day at various weblogs, which amazes me. I’m trying to work my way up to 6 posts a day between this site, The JavaScript Weblog, and two other weblogs that will be announced in a few days, and it’s difficult.

Doing this interview also reminded me that I’d like to post more here about making money online, whether with weblogs or more traditional sites. I’m going to get to work on that, starting with an article tomorrow.

April 6, 2005

April 3, 2005

(c) 2001-2007 Michael Moncur. All rights reserved, but feel free to quote me.
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