Archive for 2006

Adventured in Porting

Oct 06, 2006 in Gadgets

cough… cough… sorry about that. I was trying to clean off some of the dust around here and I guess some went down the wrong pipe.

Last year or so, I saw an article in the New York Times about the growing disconnect between area codes and physical location. With the advent of cell phones and nation-wide calling plans, people have been keeping their existing phone numbers when they move to new areas.

I’ve certainly seen this at since I started business school. I can think of only one classmate who switched to a local number when he moved out here. For the most part, it’s easier to keep your existing number since so many people already have it.

I seem to have found one place where this technique falls short — porting a number once you’ve moved to a new area.

I’ve been less than thrilled with T-Mobile, both in terms of coverage and in terms of phone selection. For the past few months, I’ve considered moving to Cingular, going so far as to buy a Cingular phone a few months back, only to return it due to my dis-satisfaction with some of the phone’s features. When Cingular started carrying the Sony-Ericsson w810, though, I decided to give them another shot.

I ordered the phone through and indicated I wanted to port my Massachusetts number. I received an error massage saying that my number wasn’t eligible, but no explanation as to what this meant. I’d already ported my number once in the past, so I just figured this was a temporary glitch and that I’d handle the situation with customer support once I received the phone. That’s how I handled porting my number the previous time.

Of course, it’s never this easy. When I called Cingular, I was told that I couldn’t port a Massachusetts phone number to a DC-based account because it was out of area. This explained why my port attempt failed when I was using the web site and, had indicated as such, I could’ve avoided most of the issues that arose during this whole process. To keep my Massachusetts number, I’d need to have a Massachusetts-based account.

“OK”, I said. My folks still live in Massachusetts, I can just set up my account at their place, then move the billing address down to DC. This’ll take what, 10 minutes? Of course, it wasn’t this easy. To have a Massachusetts-based account, I need a different SIM card. That’ll take 3-5 days to arrive. Then I need to active the Massachusetts account and cancel the DC account. Then I finally get to port over my existing phone number.

Had I realized all this at the beginning (or had the error message on been more informative), I could’ve avoided this situation by setting up a Massachusetts account at my folks place but shipped the phone to DC.

So, while the area code may be losing some of its meaning in today’s increasing cellular-dependent world, there are still some geographic hang-ups in the system. I don’t know if all carriers work this way, but it’s something you should keep in mind if you ever find yourself wanting to port a number outside the area where you originally got the number.

A Compliment from MDJ

Jul 03, 2006 in Internet, Mac

Chris points out that ATPM received a plug in the MacJournals‘ 2005-2006 MDJ Power 25, under the “Unheralded” section:

Only writers from TidBITS and Macworld made the list again, blanking out the talented staffs at print publications like MacAddict and at online journals such as About This Particular Macintosh (whose editor, Michael Tsai, is also the author of DropDMG and SpamSieve, two best-of-class shareware products).

I’ve been writing for ATPM for almost 8 years now and, although my involvement has tailed off a bit over the last year-plus, it’s been a pleasure the whole time. There have been and continue to be a number of very talented people on the staff and it’s deeply gratifying to see the publication and its staffers receive the recognition.

Peter Gammons and the Red Sox

Jun 29, 2006 in Sports

Wow. The Red Sox just won their 12th straight game — they’ve swept the last 4 NL East opponents and are heading down to Florida with a set against the Marlins. It’s the Sox longest winning streak in just under 11 years.

The Sox are clicking on all cylinders right now (well, duh) and tonight was no exception. David Ortiz gave the Sox an insurance run with an 8th inning homer to center field after “manufacturing” a run earlier in the game by doubling, taking third on a sac fly, then scoring on the next sac fly.

The starting pitching been quite solid and Papelbon‘s been his dominant self during this run. (Over the season, the Sox won both of his blown saves and I believe the Sox are yet to lose a game they’ve led after 8 innings).

The real change from previous years has been the Sox defense. Tonight’s game featured several highlight reel plays, including Coco Crisp‘s insane diving catch in center. Easily the best catch I’ve seen in a long time. With tonight’s game, the Sox tied a Major League record for consecutive errorless games at 16 games.

On a related note, I want to send along best wishes to Peter Gammons as he recovers from brain surgery to repair an aneurysm. I grew up reading Gammons’ Baseball Notes in the Sunday Globe and he’s one of the reasons I’m so in love with the game. Although he’s moved onto the national stage at ESPN, Gammons is very clearly still a Boston guy and it shows when he covers the Olde Towne Team.

Since being stricken on Tuesday, it sounds like Gammons is recovering nicely. He was awake and coherent on Wednesday afternoon, wanting to know the result of Monday’s Red Sox game.

Gammons influence reaches beyond the world of baseball, as he’s active in the charity and music communities — Eddie Vedder dedicated a song to Gammons after hearing his friend’s illness. Those two interests often collide and will again on Independence Day, as Gammons releases his first album, Never Slow Down, Never Grow Old. Proceeds from the album’s sale will go towards the Foundation to Be Named Later, which aids “non-profit agencies serving disadvantaged youth in the Greater Boston area.” I’ve already ordered my copy.

Get well soon, Peter.

The Joys of Owning a Video iPod

Jun 21, 2006 in Entertainment, iPod

I think I’ve discovered my favorite aspect of my new iPod: getting to watch an episode of Sports Night every day while I’m taking the bus home from work.

Youth Movement

Jun 21, 2006 in Sports

Boston Globe:

Papelbon, the mainstay among that young group, is 25. Delcarmen is 24. Hansen and Lester are 22. Lopez is 28 but is new to the team and is in his fourth big-league season.

It looks like the Red Sox are making a commitment to youth in the pitching staff right now, which is great. From a fan’s perspective, the young guys are always interesting because they represent the potential for new and possibly great things. In the Sox case, none of the off-season bullpen acquisitions (Julian Tavarez, Rudy Seanez, and the now-departed David Riske) have been consistently good and the Sox have already lost 2/5 of the Opening Day starting rotation, so the possibility of greatness (or even competence) is better than the reality of the current situation.

As I write this, the one starter from that group (Lester) is currently pitching against the Nationals. Thanks to David Ortiz’ Grand Slam, Lester has a 4-1 lead and he’s struck out 9 though 4 innings. Performances like this make me wait to check my laundry until the Sox are batting.

Display Webpages in Tabs

Jun 21, 2006 in Display Webpages in Tabs, Mac, Programming, Projects

I was looking at my Projects page and realized I hadn’t added anything new for over 3 years. I also saw I had some year+ old code in my Sandbox folder that appeared ready for distribution.

In the spirit of those two things, I’m happy to actually post something new. My Display Webpages in Tabs Automator action is now available. This action is largely a drop-in replacement for Apple’s Display Webpages action. The main difference is that my action, appropraitely enough, generates new tabs for URLs instead of new windows. The other difference is that my action only returns a single document reference instead of one one reference for every created document.

You can download Display Webpages in Tabs directly or you can visit the Automator Actions page on this very site. I may get around to posting the other actions I’ve got floating around my system.

Experimenting With Light On Apple Notebook Computers

Jun 19, 2006 in Mac, Programming

John Gruber:

Amit Singh — who first published example code showing how to use unsupported APIs to use the motion sensors in Mac notebooks — now shows how to get readings from a Mac’s ambient light sensor and how to get and set the brightness of the backlit keyboards.

How long until someone writes a hack to use the keyboard backlight as a CPU monitor?

This particular Linked List entry is pointing Amit Singh’s experimentation with the Light Sensor API. The API allows access to the readings of the ambient light sensor, the LED brightness value of the backlit keyboard, and the display brightness.

Gruber’s CPU monitor could happen. Parhaps somebody could link brightness to system temperature? In either case, there should be an option to make the keyboard (and/or screen) throb the warp core on the Enterprise as CPU usage temperature increases.

Of course, I could see this eating into the PowerMate‘s market. I mean, who needs a flashing knob to notify you of email when you can have a flashing keyboard?

Treating Myself

May 17, 2006 in iPod

After taking the last 11 months off from work (well, there was the whole school thing…), I started doing some IT consulting on Monday for the summer and at least a bit beyond. Little tough getting back into the swing of things and I’d been feeling a bit ragged by the end of the day.

So, I decided to treat myself this evening. Got home, grabbed the car, went to the Apple Store in Clarendon, and picked up a little number in black.

No, not one these.

One of these:


Which, of course, means the new über-video iPods will be unveiled at the Manhatten opening tomorrow…

Just kidding… I hope.

It took about two days for me to remember that I absolutely hate office noise. Simply cannot concentrate with everything happening in the background. I’m also sharing an office with two recruiters — if they’re weren’t discussing candidates or openings or something, they wouldn’t be doing their job, so there’s always lots going on around me.

Not too many first impressions yet, beyond the Apple-on-Black boot screen looks rather slick. Oh, and copying 20GB of music over USB 1.1 is really slow.

Maybe I should’ve picked up that other black thing… of course, at this speed, the MacBook rev B could be out before my songs are ready. 🙂

Excel, Sections, and Cell Sizing

May 07, 2006 in Software

Somebody has to have thought of this already…

Seriously, am I missing something here?

Why can’t I have variable height rows or variable width columns in Excel? Why can’t an Excel worksheet have multiple sections?

I’ve been doing a bunch of classwork in Excel lately and the limited cell-sizing options have really been driving me a bit crazy. What I want is the ability to say “Cells A1:C7 are a section and cells A8:C15 are another section.” Then, I want to set the width of columns in the section 1 independent of the columns in section 2 — make column A 75 pixels wide in the first section and only 40 pixels wide in the second section.

Heck, I’d settle for having vertical- or horizontal-only sections: “Rows 1:7 are section one and rows 8:15 are another section.”

I realize this breaks the whole “Spreadsheet-as-grid” paradigm, but there are times when it would be so flipping useful. I want to layout a spreadsheet with input, constraints, and output sections and not have the name column in the first and last sections filled with whitespace because I’ve got a really long constraint name.

This is sort of possible to accomplish with merged cells, but merging cells opens up a whole ‘nother can of worms — if you try to re-arrange stuff later, it seems like your workload is dramatically increased.

Actually, I believe somebody already thought of this like 10 years ago — it looks like Let’s KISS/Spreadsheet 2000 let you lay out your input and output cells on a blank sheet instead of constraining you to a rigid grid. I never had the pleasure of using this application, so I’m not sure if allowed you to do exactly what I wanted, but it seems likely, at least from the screenshots. (Oddly enough, I was thinking about Casady & Greene earlier in the weekend from a completely different reason. Funny how things work sometimes.)

Heh. A MacTech article on the design and writing Spreadsheet 2000. Amusingly, it also mentions the first incarnation Cocoa as an Apple development… thing.

I briefly poked around the Excel 12 development blog to see if something like this was mentioned anywhere, but nothing jumped out at me. I’d be happy if somebody could prove me wrong… or show me how to do this in the current version of Excel.

I mean, seriously. I can’t be the only person who’d find this useful, can I?

Google Calendar and PHPiCalendar

Apr 18, 2006 in Internet

I’ve been experimenting with PHPiCalendar (the site’s currently down, which makes that a bit difficult) for a site I’m redesigning. When used with WebDAV, PHPiCalendar works pretty well with iCal, which is one of the reasons it’s so attractive. However, I’m passing off control of the web site in January and there’s no guarantee the next web master will have a Mac, so I’ve been looking for solutions that will work cross-platform.

Many folks have already been quite frustrated trying to use Outlook with the iCalendar standard. RemoteCalendars seems to have a decent reputation, except I can’t get it to install on my computer, so I’d have a difficult time recommending it to my replacement.

I’ve started looking at Google Calendar as a cross-platform option for managing the schedule. It can import files from iCal and it can export ics files. Combine that with the WebDAV support built-in to both OS X and Windows and it seems like this might be a winning solution.

Except it’s never that easy. When I tried adding a Google Calendar-created ics file to my PHPiCalendar installation, the events didn’t appear properly on my web site. The appropriate event title and starting time show up in the actual calendar view, but none of the details appeared in the popup window. Importing the ics file into iCal generates a valid calendar with complete information.

Sending a calendar from iCal to Google Calendar to PHPiCalendar works, but new events created in Google Calendar exhibit the same problems as those seen in the previous test.

I’m tempted to think that the disconnect lies in PHPiCalendar parsing code, since iCal is able to handle the Google-generated ics files. Since the PHPiCalendar site is down, though, I can’t check the forum to see if anybody else is seeing these issues.

Update: The PHPiCalendar site is back up and, apparently, I’m not the only person to have this problem. Furthermore, Ry4an Brase developed a patch to address this issue. Excellent. As somebody pointed out in the forum, the ability to natively parse Google Calendar feeds might be cooler (depends on your opinion of hosting the calendar on your server or on Google’s, I suppose), but this is definitely a good start.

Update 2: Two things: 1. It appears I jumped the gun in blaming PHPiCalendar’s parsing code. That’s certainly where the disconnect was occurring, but it appears the problem actually lies in Google’s calendar implementation. Even though I have my calendar set up as being shared with everybody and I have my events set up inheriting the calendar’s default setting, the events are marked as “PRIVATE” in the ical file. PHPiCalendar is just honoring the (seemingly incorrect) data it gets from Google’s file. 2. Ry4an’s fix apparently does allow you to use the ical files stored on the Google server, provided you sprinkle in a little Apache magic. As I’m perfectly happy editing my calendars in iCal, I think I’ll hold off on this step. It’s something to consider before handing control off to the next person, though.