August 3, 2008

My iPhone Thinks I’m in Minnesota

Filed under: — 3:39 am

Wayzata Map I’ve had an iPhone since last year, and being congenitally without a sense of direction, I’ve found the Google Maps feature particularly useful. After clicking the Maps icon, one click on the “locate me” button would peg the map to my current location. Despite not having a GPS chip, the iPhone would do an admirable job of finding my current location using cellphone towers, WiFi, and some sort of dark magic.

Although this was good, I was really looking forward to using the maps on the new iPhone 3G with true GPS. I brought a new 3G iPhone home last week, gleefully clicked on the Maps and “locate me” buttons, and instantly found myself on a map centered on Wayzata, Minnesota. I’m sure it’s a fine place, but unfortunately, I’m 1300 miles away in Utah.

It seems the “assisted GPS” in the iPhone 3G is getting the wrong kind of assistance. It uses cell towers to locate itself before using GPS, in order to speed up the normally slow GPS satellite lock process. This works for most people, but some of the 3G towers are incorrectly listed. The one near my house, apparently, is listed as just outside of Minneapolis. This “assistance” overrides the GPS chip so I’m completely unable to get an accurate GPS location anywhere near my home.

At first this seemed like an odd defect in my phone, but several other Utah locals, including my wife, have the same problem. In addition to Utah, it looks like there is at least one other glitch in the database: several people in Oregon have iPhones that believe themselves to be in Texas.

As reported elsewhere, turning off 3G solves the problem. If you turn off 3G, then locate yourself on the map, it will correctly lock on. Unfortunately, as soon as I turned 3G back on and opened the map, it did a lightning-fast scroll across the country and brought me back to Wayzata, MN.

Several of our friends say that resetting or restoring their phones solved the problem, but that hasn’t worked for us. I think it occasionally works because the phone reaches a different tower, or a non-3G signal, after resetting.

I’m sure this can easily be fixed with a software update, but in the meantime, I’m not exactly thrilled by the iPhone’s GPS performance. Considering the lack of press, I think it’s a very isolated issue. Is anyone outside of Utah or Oregon having similar troubles?

Update 2008/10/07: As of a few days ago, the problem is fixed. 3G gets me an estimated location quickly everywhere I’ve tried it, and GPS locks in shortly thereafter. This did not coincide with an iPhone update, so I think AT&T fixed something in their network.

May 13, 2007

Spammers lose a few more IQ points

Filed under: — 12:30 am

My theory about anti-spam software is that it will never succeed in stopping spam entirely, but it will make spammers look more and more like idiots. As the software gets smarter at dealing with the spammers’ preferred marketing terms and product names, they have to reach for more and more obscure variations to get through. Here’s a recent example that got past SpamAssassin:

Hello, We got wide selections of hiigh-quuality mdz
There is no need to be awware of quaality.
Our mmedz are the same we have here in UuSA.
But we have opportuunity to buy these mmedz at lowwer prizes.
56% Salle, check it ouut noow!

It makes me happy to see spam like this—it means spammers are resorting to behaving like illiterate morons just to get past the filters. That or only the spammers who are illiterate morons are getting through. In either case, the money they make from the spam has to be going down. Who would buy drugs after reading this sales pitch?

August 3, 2005

Quotes of the Day

Filed under: — 10:53 pm

From Microsoft’s MSN Search Weblog today:

On a related note, a lot of you were alarmed to see that we had removed the Apple headquarters off our map. Our full plan is to of course remove each of our competitor’s headquarters from the map, but we just didn’t have time to get to this in the beta. By the time we get to our final release, we’ll have this feature nailed down. ;-)

…and on a completely unrelated note, from today’s Mozilla press release:

The Mozilla Corporation was established to support the Mozilla Foundation’s mission to ensure choice and innovation on the Internet by leveraging the economic value of Firefox which has resulted from its growing marketshare.

Mozilla is talking like a big business and Microsoft is talking like a small one… Interesting times.

June 24, 2005

Review: Microsoft Digital Media Pro Keyboard

Filed under: — 12:15 am

Microsoft Digital Media Pro KeyboardI’ve used an HP multimedia keyboard for the past year or so. It had two critical problems that recently convinced me to switch: first, after spending way too many hours fiddling with things, I could never get the multimedia buttons to work reliably with WinAmp. Second, I spilled a drink on it.

Microsoft’s Digital Media Pro Keyboard is the cheapest of their new line of keyboards. The more expensive ones are wireless, and while I’m sure there’s a huge group of people I haven’t met who want to use their keyboard wirelessly from 10 feet away, I just want mine to sit on my desk and never require batteries.

The keyboard has a great feel. Apparently the “natural keyboard” fad is over—most of the new models have the old-fashioned layout, and I have to admit I’ve had no increase in wrist strain or sore fingers since abandoning natural keyboards a few years ago. I’m sure they work fine for some people, but I’ll stick to the standard layout for now.

Along with the usual buttons in all of the right places, it has a “zoom slider” on the left, which I’m sure will disappear from the next batch of keyboard models. More buttons include volume, mute, play/pause, stop, previous/next track, five programmable “Favorites” buttons, shortcut buttons for things like My Documents and Mail, a dedicated Calculator button next to the numeric pad (one of my favorites).

It also makes a gesture toward making the almost-worthless function keys useful again—they default to things like Undo, Open, Close, Save, and so on (and seem to work in just about every program.) You can lock them to act like traditional function keys too.

Since this is a Microsoft keyboard, I expected some trouble customizing all of the buttons. Surprisingly, this hasn’t been an issue—the control panel lets you reassign just about everything. Even more impressive, the media buttons worked in WinAmp with no configuration, and the “Web” button pops up Firefox by default since it’s my default browser. The zoom slider controls the font size in Firefox. The control panel lets you disable the Windows and Application keys, and assign the functions or programs of your choice to the “Enhanced F-Keys”. Kudos to Microsoft for not trying to lock me into their applications with this keyboard.

The Digital Media Pro Keyboard supports USB or PS2 connectors, and includes software for Windows and MacOS. I haven’t found a problem with it yet. Highly recommended.

June 7, 2005

Sorry, your photos aren’t amateur enough.

Filed under: — 9:02 am

A few years ago, I walked into Kinko’s with 300 pages of galley proofs for a book I was working on. I ended up arguing with them for half an hour and walking out without copies—they refused to copy them because it looked like “copyrighted material”, and the idea that I was the copyright holder (and the book wasn’t even published or copyrighted yet) meant nothing to them.

Now the same thing is happening to a few “amateur photographers” (or professional ones, presumably) who try to get prints at Walmart and other retail shops.

I have no problem with the enforcement of copyright law, but assigning the employees of a supermarket photo lab to determine whether photos can be printed or whether they look “too professional” is ludicrous.

I suppose I’ll consider myself a success as a photographer when nobody will print my photos…


January 13, 2005

LCD Monitor Tips

Filed under: — 4:58 pm

I’ve been using an LCD monitor for several years and I’ll never go back to a CRT—while the colors aren’t as clear, at least on my ancient LCD, it’s tiny, looks cool, and most importantly I haven’t had a problem with eyestrain since switching. Since LCD monitors have crossed a price threshold and are now becoming more common than CRTs, here are three tips that might be helpful to new flat panel display owners…

[This article has been updated and moved to The Gadgets Page]

December 28, 2004

10 tech terms of 2004

Filed under: — 12:16 pm

The end-of-year lists continue. has an entertaining article by James Lewin on 10 new tech terms for 2004:

2004 has been an especially rich year for new techno-jargon. So, in the spirit of full disclosure, here’s a guide to some of the terms that made it big this year.

While the list includes such obvious memes as “phish”, “offshored”, and “podcasting”, some are a bit more obscure. The word “gatesed” (meaning affected negatively by microsoft) only appears a few times in Google, the word “mouselexia” appears only once, and the word “netlag” means something else to us geeks. But it’s fun nonetheless.

[via PaidContent]

October 22, 2004

T610 normal ordinary professional business-like ringtones

Filed under: — 3:12 pm

I recently switched to the Sony-Ericsson T610 phone from T-Mobile. It’s a great phone, it lets my Palm handheld get online via Bluetooth, and you can’t beat the price. However, there is one thing that annoyed me terribly. While the phone comes with about ten choices of ringtones, only one of them sounds like a ringing phone. You have a choice of a number of electronic tunes that sound like video game noises, or cheesy musical selections that sound like MIDI demos circa 1980.

Fortunately, T-Mobile has around 1000 ringtones available for purchase and download. They have extra-cheesy MIDI versions of all the latest pop hits and an astounding collection of classics ranging from Bohemian Rhapsody to Theme from Knight Rider. Unfortunately, not a single one of them sounds like a ringing phone.

Since my wife has the same phone, we really wanted two different ring sounds. Fortunately, after an extensive Google search, I found this page at my610 with four nice professional ringtones. Since it was hard to find that page amongst all of the cellphone and ringtone dealers, I loaded the title of this post with keywords. Maybe it will help someone else restore sanity to their T610. Presumably these will work on some other phones as well.

November 24, 2003

Vocaloid: Synthetic singer

Filed under: — 8:34 am

Vocaloid is a new Yamaha product, coming in January 2004, that creates a synthetic singing voice and will retail for about $200. It appears to use a phoneme-assembly technique similar to the latest speech synthesizers. The audio demos are in a weird plug-in format, but Virtual Turntable has MP3 versions available for download.

Judging from the demo, this won’t be replacing real singers anytime soon–except possibly Cher. Nonetheless, it’s impressive by speech synthesis standards, and as a musician, I can imagine it being very useful for prototyping vocals and backup singing.

Since this isn’t exciting enough to make news outside the music geek community, the New York Times had to exaggerate a bit. Their article calls it "exceedingly lifelike" and "concert quality" and ruminates about how it could be used to "reanimate" Elvis or to forge audio recordings of George Bush and Tony Blair. It makes its final departure from reality with this classic line: "In fact, in today’s world of computer-produced music, who needs humans at all?"

October 10, 2003

Exploding Cellular Phones

Filed under: — 4:36 am

Robert X. Cringely once said “If the automobile had followed the same development cycle as the computer, a Rolls-Royce would today cost $100, get a million miles per gallon, and explode once a year, killing everyone inside.” It is now very clear that cellular phones are following the same development cycle as the computer.

October 3, 2003

Comcast doubling cable-modem speeds

Filed under: — 2:40 am

Comcast, my current broadband provider, is apparently planning to double their bandwidth for most customers to 3mbps. Are they competing with other providers in numbers alone, or do some of their customers actually need that speed? I hate to sound like a Luddite, but I don’t even max out my cable modem’s current speed 99% of the time. I’d rather they spent the money reducing downtime or hiring someone to answer their phones.

March 30, 2003

World’s most expensive cat toy

Filed under: — 3:22 am

(Wired News)- The probable winner of the “less practical than segway” award, the Sony SDR-4X is going to be heavy competition for Honda’s ASIMO in the “2-foot-tall humanoid robots that cost as much as a Mercedes” category. Is there really a market for these or is this just a game they’re both playing to inflate stock prices?

January 9, 2003

Fun with Science

Filed under: — 8:17 am

I stumbled across the Science Toys site the other day. Author Simon Field presents well-written plans for science projects such as a simple electric motor and a simple gauss rifle. I built the film can cannon yesterday and it works nicely. (It runs on Binaca!) A well-done site that will entertain kids, or immature adults like me, for days.

August 28, 2002

Colleges: Computer enrollments down

Filed under: — 2:57 am

This Washington Post article talks about the decline of college enrollments in computer science since the dot-com crash. Hopefully this just means that now people are enrolling in CS because they’re interested in it, not because it’s the in thing.

December 21, 2001

Microchip implants the latest fashion?

Filed under: — 5:10 am

Some company called Applied Digital is getting way too much attention for their microchip implant ID technology. Aside from the frightening implications, what’s the big deal? My dog already has one. NewsFactor’s article is rational and evenhanded, while the LA Times article gleefully mentions Kevin Warwick and quotes a “futurist” who says teenagers will love it.

December 6, 2001

IT’s finally here.

Filed under: — 12:58 am

Dean Kamen’s mystery invention (code-named IT or Ginger) was the subject of much hype and speculation early this year, much to the inventor’s annoyance. The truth is now revealed – it’s a $3000 scooter. One that would be incredibly impressive, actually, if not for the “world-changing” hype. Here’s Time Magazine’s report.

August 25, 2001

Cringely: Roll your own DSL

Filed under: — 3:31 am

Robert X. Cringely has an interesting article on Roll your Own DSL. If you don’t have DSL but do have access to a fat pipe elsewhere and a surprisingly high tolerance for spending hours on the phone with the phone company, this could be the answer.

May 31, 2001

E-book enthusiasm wanes

Filed under: — 2:47 am

According to an AP story, this year’s BookExpo America show will focus on old-fashioned values rather than last year’s dot-com hype. It’s a shame the “bubble burst” is causing perfectly valid technologies like e-books to slow down, although the e-book industry did need the same dose of realism that the rest of the e-economy did.

April 26, 2001

Do you need a new computer?

Filed under: — 1:35 am has an interesting article on the lack of consumer interest in upgraded PCs these days. I’m eagerly awaiting the 1.7 Ghz Pentium 4 machines myself, but perhaps I’m the only one.

April 17, 2001

Pentium 4 gets cheaper

Filed under: — 4:36 am

Intel is planning major price cuts, as much as 50%, on the Pentium 4. A 1.7 GHz version is also coming soon. Meanwhile, there have been reports that the 1.5 GHz P4 slows down under heat, but this appears to have been overstated.

April 11, 2001

XP will support FireWire, not USB 2.0

Filed under: — 4:25 am

According to ZDNet, Windows XP will support Apple’s FireWire standard and not USB 2.0, a high-speed version of USB. ZD’s Peter Coffee is happy about this, and so am I.

April 10, 2001

A Bad Week for Apple

Filed under: — 3:20 am

Time magazine reviewed Microsoft Windows XP and MacOS X and concluded that “neither operating system is ready for prime time”. Bad news for Apple, considering that OS X has been released and XP is still in beta. BusinessWeek also called OS X a work in progress, and Linus Torvalds called the OS X kernel a piece of crap.

Digitizing History

Filed under: — 2:51 am

Wired News has a thought-provoking article on the daunting task the Library of Congress and other archives have ahead of them if they are to move to digital archiving.

April 5, 2001

Hope for Net Appliances?

Filed under: — 6:28 pm

David coursey’s latest AnchorDesk article has some ideas for making Net appliances work. As he points out later in the article, the real issue is that PCs are cheaper and better. I think Apple should come up with an iMac for under $500. That would be the ultimate net appliance.

April 3, 2001

We’ve Heard This One Before

Filed under: — 7:02 am

Someone has trotted out the old “Wireless devices will surpass PCs by 2003” fanfare again. Not surprisingly, it’s Qualcomm’s Paul Jacobs. We’ll see if you still have that Exec VP job in 2003, Paul.

March 24, 2001

Apple Releases OS X

Filed under: — 2:20 am

According to this Register article, Apple expects to sell hundreds of thousands of copies of its much-hyped MacOS X, which was released today, in the next few weeks – but some promised features are missing. This is starting to remind me of another company.

March 21, 2001

Logitech’s new Cordless Optical Mouse

Filed under: — 9:24 pm

Logitech is releasing their Cordless MouseMan Optical in early April. Here’s David Coursey’s glowing review. I’ll have to get one of these, unless Microsoft comes up with a cordless version of my current mouse.

Internet Appliances are Still Doomed

Filed under: — 9:18 pm

It seems nobody wants Internet appliances, at least not for $500. No surprise, when you can get a decent computer for less than that these days. 3com’s Audrey is the latest doomed device.

March 12, 2001

Are CDs Obsolete? Again?

Filed under: — 11:07 am

Slashdot reports on USA Today’s report on the new DataPlay discs, basically CDs the size of a quarter, coming this fall. They seem cool, but I think they’ll go the way of minidiscs.

March 4, 2001

Surf the Net via Power Lines

Filed under: — 4:49 am

Reuters reports that your power company may offer Internet service through wall sockets. This is bound to lead to bizarre privacy problems, such as the discovery that your toaster has been transmitting data about your toasting habits to its manufacturer… (more…)

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