HBO declares war on cable TV companies

When HBO announced last week that it would allow access to its content via the Internet, it fired  the opening volley against Time Warner Cable, Comcast,  and all other retail cable TV companies. This is just the start. Until now, cable TV companies have owned the tollgates between content providers and consumers, and collected tolls in both directions.

image Life has been good for cable TV companies. They’ve charged you for access to HBO and they’ve charged HBO for access to you. Sweeeeeet.

The cable TV companies won’t be happy with HBO’s move to directly serve consumers. Until now, they’ve both owned the pipes and provided the content that fills those pipes. Sweeeeeeter.

HBO’s announcement is a step toward removal of the content provider role from the cable TV companies. It seems inevitable that eventually cable TV companies will simply supply the pipe to your house. Others will supply the content that flows through that pipe. Finally, we’ll be free of bundling.

I applaud HBO. This helps move us toward the freedom of a la carte TV.

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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Apple’s software quality problems

Apple has recently demonstrated that its software quality control has major problems. A few months ago, we learned that Apple’s TLS/SSL (Transport Layer Security / Secure Sockets Layer) code wasn’t checking the validity of security certificates supplied by servers . . . and hadn’t done so for more than a year. Yikes!

apple with wormNow we learn that Apple’s IOS 8 breaks Internet connectivity for its latest iPhones. (Apple quickly killed the flawed release and rushed out a patched version — 8.0.1, followed immediately by 8.0.2, which reportedly is plagued with more bugs.) Apple has had a variety of problems with the mail client within IOS for many months.

Last month’s iPhone 6 announcement was flawed by a Chinese language voiceover on Apple’s English language streamed video feed. It’s hard to imagine these gaffes while Steve Jobs ran the show.

Is the fanatical attention to detail of Steve Jobs the missing ingredient at Apple?

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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

T-Mobile pulled the plug on their contacts backup server

Here’s evidence that some communications companies do a poor job of communicating not only with their customers, but internally, as well.

t-mobile contacts backup screenLast Friday, my trusty old Samsung SGH-T679 Android (Gingerbread) smartphone died. I purchased a replacement SGH-T399 from the T-Mobile store, and the salesperson wrote my subscriber data to its micro-SIM card. I merely needed to install my favorite apps and restore my contacts from T-Mobile’s contacts synchronization server:

  1. Install apps? Check.
  2. Restore contacts? Negative. Why? In July, T-Mobile pulled the plug on their contacts synchronization server. It, and my contacts list, has been taken off-line.

After a little hunting, I found this message on T-Mobile’s website:

Contacts was a free service that allowed you to backup up to 5,000 contacts on a secure T-Mobile server. Contacts has now been retired.

If you stored contacts on your phone, don’t worry, they are still there and will remain on your phone. But what happens if you lose your phone and haven’t backed up your contacts? Without a backup, your contacts will be lost forever . . .

I tested the T-Mobile contacts backup (or synchronization) system last year. It worked fine. When I needed it last week, it didn’t work. I cannot imagine a reason why T-Mobile would think that closing down the contacts backup service was a good idea.

Rachel, T-Mobile’s helpful second-level support person, reported that T-Mobile’s management told employees that third party email providers such as Google provide contacts backup services, gratis. The problem is that Google’s terms of service grant Google carte blanche to your contacts (and everything else that you store with Google). They’re free to reveal all your contacts to anyone, including your competitors.

  • An incomplete restoration
    Rachel had a subset of my contacts in the form of a comma-delimited file (.CSV) sent to me. It was very out of date — maybe a year old — and contained first name, last name, and phone number only. Email address, notes, company, etc. were missing. I imported this file into a spreadsheet, edited it, and imported the edited CSV file into my contacts.

I’m surprised that Rachel and her colleagues at T-mobile didn’t object when management proposed this dumb idea. Customers seem not to have been asked their opinions. It sounds like at T-Mobile, all communication is one way: from the top down.

This dumb move by T-mobile has annoyed other customers. My guess is that it’s a breach of my contract with them.

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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

OpenSignal app for Android

About a year ago, I wrote an article about my attempts to locate T-mobile’s nearby cell sites. I’m still having difficulty.image I’ve tried several Android apps that measure signal field strength, with varying success. I’ve had the best results with OpenSignal 2.0 (available free from the Android Play Store). This YouTube video is a good introduction to the app.

OpenSignal seems to do a good job of measuring signal strength and data transmission speed. However, its estimates of cell sites’ locations aren’t at all accurate. I think that it relies upon its own database of cell sites’ geographical coordinates — and these data are inaccurate. It’s frustrating, because everything else about OpenSignal works nicely.

Most of OpenSignal’s many features work well. It has the polished feel of a good commercial app. I gather that OpenSignal regularly updates their cell sites location database, so there’s hope. In the meantime, I give it four out of five stars.

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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Why not a movie about Ada?

Now that not just one, but two movies (Breaking The Code and The Imitation Game) have been produced about Alan Turing, it’s time we had a movie about Ada Lovelace. She seems to have possessed an unusual combination of precise reasoning and imagination, strong will, and feminine charm. Plus, she was in the middle of a tug o war between her feuding parents, poet Lord Byron and his wife Anne Isabella.

Ada LovelaceWhy is Ada important? She’s acknowledged to be the first computer programmer (c 1840!). Like Mozart and Turing, her life was tragically cut short at a young age. I propose this biopic today because it’s Ada Lovelace Day!

imageBBC Great Lives 28-minute audio portrait of Ada Lovelace.

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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

October 14 is Ada Lovelace day

Ada LovelaceThis Tuesday, the website celebrates the short but creative life of the 19th century woman who’s often called “the first computer programmer”. Huh? Computers in the 1800s? Well, around 1840, Englishman Charles Babbage designed and partially built steam-driven(!) complex mechanisms that could perform calculations.

Babbage’s unfinished piece de la resistance was the Analytical Engine, which used patterns of holes in small wooden cards to store data and machine instructions.


It was a programmable machine. Ada wrote a program for it that calculated Fibonacci numbers. She also mused about using such machines to create music and art.

The findingada website explains Ada Lovelace day:

The aim is to create new role models for girls and women in these male-dominated fields by raising the profile of other women in STEM.

I’ve written articles about Ada Lovelace before. I’ve always admired her rare blend of intellectual discipline and imagination.

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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Prelude to Rock & Roll

Before rock got rolling, hundreds of tributaries were converging: blues, gospel, bebop, boogie woogie, rhythm and blues, country, hillbilly. Go to YouTube and listen to and watch Hank Williams, Louie Jordan, and Big Joe Turner. The Juke in the Back website collects those seminal tunes from the 1940s and 50s and adds detailed documentation. Little RichardI’m listening via Tunein to Episode 176, the earliest recordings of Little Richard, as I write this.

Terri Gross’ NPR program Fresh Air also has a well-done audio rock & roll history series by Ed Ward: Fresh Air Rock History. Mr. Ward weaves together the up and down lives of not only the musicians, but the record labels, recording engineers, deejays, agents, and promoters. Mr. Ward also covers artists of the 1960s and 70s.

When dinosaurs roamed the earth
These guys paint a chaotic picture of the early rock music scene. I vaguely recall listening to an assortment of country, gospel, and blues when I was a boy in the early 1950s. I first heard Elvis in 1955, then Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Jerry Lee Lewis. My world changed.

Caldonia / Louis Jordan:

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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Samsung Galaxy Light 4G LTE SGH-T399

My trusty Samsung SGH-T679 phone stopped accepting touch input last Friday. I replaced it with a Samsung Galaxy Light 4G LTE SGH-T399 for T-Mobile phone. Like the T-679, it’s small and lightweight, but it’s much more powerful. T-Mobile is discounting them for $99, unsubsidized. At this low price, I didn’t expect such a great phone.

Samsung SGH-T399The phone’s performance is amazing. Apparently it has a quad-core CPU with separate GPU, 1 gigabyte of RAM, and 8 gigabytes of storage. It includes a slot for an SD card. The phone is fast and smooth. Its operating system is Android 4.2.2, which includes many refinements. Its email client — in fact, everything — allows more tweaking than my old SGH-T679 did.

The radios include LTE (true 4G), 802.11n WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, and NFC (near field communication). Ookla SpeedTest reported 14 Mbps download speed while connected via LTE with a signal strength of about -100 dBm. I’ve seen download speeds of 29 Mbps via LTE with stronger signals.

Here’s a 12 minute video review by a happy SGH-T399 owner. This phone delivers megatons of bang for the buck.

Addendum: Like my old SGH-T679, the SGH-T399 occasionally refuses to accept a battery charge. I’ve found that the same reset procedure works for the SGH-T399.

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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695