The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Coolest June ever, so far

Chicagoans: you haven't imagined it. This has been the coolest June on record, though the forecast calls for a warm-up this coming week:

The cloudy, chilly and rainy open to June here has been the talk of the town. So far this June is running more than 12°F cooler than last year, and the clouds, rain and chilly lake winds have been persistent. The average temperature at O'Hare International Airport through Friday has been only 59.5°F: nearly 7°F below normal and the coldest since records there began 50 years ago.

It's also been wet. Very wet. So far this year we've had 499 mm of rain, 35% above our normal 369 mm, with more falling as I write this.

Welcome to East Seattle.

Why I'm returning my new 3G phone

I upgraded from a Dash to the T-Mobile Sidekick XL 2009 today. I'm returning it tomorrow.

I need three things from a SmartPhone, all of which my 2-year-old Dash has:

  1. Access to email, through POP3.
  2. Synchronization with Outlook.
  3. Web browsing.

It does #3 incredibly well. Sadly, though, despite 90 minutes with two different support people at T-Mobile, I can't get #1 or #2. The support CSRs didn't know why, but I figured it out, and I have to say even if I explained to them they still wouldn't know.

Issue 1: POP email.

I'm in the unusual position of having direct access to Exchange POP logs. (The Inner Drive Technology Worldwide Data Center is across the room.) After setting up my POP account on my Sidekick—the very first thing I did when I got it charged up—I watched it tell me that it logged in and that it downloaded my messages. Then I saw an empty inbox.

According to the Exchange logs, though, it simply logged into Exchange and logged out again. Lots of Menu-U pressing later (the "get email" command, which had no effect, again according to Exchange), about half an hour later it again logged into Exchange and this time it sent the POP3 command for a directory of messages. Only, it didn't download any of them. It just logged out again.

I'll cut a lot of my sleuthing out, but it seems that my Sidekick isn't the entity logging into my Exchange server. No, that's Danger, the manufacturer, which is caching my login credentials and my messages.

I'll say that again: COMPLETE STRANGERS ARE CACHING MY NETWORK LOGIN CREDENTIALS. Does anyone else see the problem here? Excuse me for a moment while I change my password...

OK, that's just not acceptable. My Dash communicated directly with my Exchange server, so the only place the credentials were stored was on the phone. If I lost my phone, I'd change my credentials. That's Security 101. But giving them to some company in California? Um. No.

Issue 2 is related.

First of all, the two CSRs could not determine that I need to buy software called Intellisync from Danger (for $10). This software seems redundant, since again my humble Dash simply used Windows' Mobile Device Center, which is, as its name implies, part of Windows. Worse, no one told the CSRs that this software was required, so I had to sit on the phone while one of them actually searched Google to try to find out why I couldn't sync my phone.

Second, after reading more documentation and user posts on the T-Mobile support forums, it turns out that Intellisync copies a user's contacts, calendar, and tasks from Outlook up to—yes—Danger's servers.

Let me say that again: in order to use this Sidekick the way I used my Dash, I'd have to GIVE TOTAL STRANGERS ALL OF MY PERSONAL INFORMATION.

T-Mobile should be ashamed. On what planet do people require such a complete invasion of privacy just to use basic smartphone features? And why don't you tell your CSRs about how this works? I write software for a living. Let me tell you: it's a lot easier to debug something when you know how it's supposed to work. If your CSRs don't understand the basic premises of how the product works (e.g., hitting Menu-U does nothing to the Exchange server because the phone is communicating through an intermediary), they're hobbled.

I would like to have known these things before buying the phone, but none of this information is exactly easy to find. With good reason: I think if more people knew about this, T-Mobile would have trouble selling the thing.

Baffling usability

The following photo shows a programmer, a usability expert, and an IT manager struggling to figure out how to add players to a bowling game using AMF's scoring software. I don't even remember the sequence we had to go through, but I do remember thinking (a) on average, we were sober; and (b) software that makes something so simple take so long should be some appropriate way.

On the other hand, one doesn't go to a bowling alley because of the software they use. On the first hand, however, bad software makes everything less fun.

And yes, Virginia, Bengt (right) is wearing a custom-made bowling shirt. One of the other bowlers gave it to him for his birthday, which is how I came to be at a bowling alley, and sometime later that evening, at a seriously hard-core karaoke bar. Tambourines were involved, I recall...

End of Bookpool

Programmers and other nerds probably know of, a technical-book seller on Martha's Vineyard. Knew, I should say. The retailer shut down in March. They had the best selection and by far the quickest shipping of any specialty bookseller I've used. It's a shame, really.

Net Saver Fares

I'm in Durham, N.C. today, having pounced on a delightful airfare American Airlines released on Tuesday. The fictional supernatural personifications of travel were with me yesterday, from the 35-minute (door-to-door) trip from home to O'Hare, to the upgrade, to my friend taking advantage of my visit to bring her boyfriend and me on a Segway tour of downtown Raleigh.

The last counts as travel because I learned how to ride a new vehicle. We looked like a string of electric ducks following the tour guide (photos likely tomorrow), but we learned a lot and had a great time gliding around nonplussed Carolinians. Somehow, I have no idea how this could have happened, someone figured out how to turn off the governor on my Segway, so I managed to get it up to its top speed (20 km/h), a few points above the top speed the tour company programmed into the machine (14 km/h).

Tonight: friend of host's birthday party. Tomorrow: obscenely early flight home, the only bad part about weekend last-minute fares.