Google Fi. A cell service where you can’t send a text

Ok Google.

I’m pissed off. I have been a fan of yours for a really long time now. I’ve been an early adopter of all your products (even the ones that are gone now). Whenever someone talks about their love for Apple I make fun of them and tell them how the Goog has been doing better tech for way longer. I’m always on your side.

So of course when I saw that Google Fi was available I signed up as fast as I could and I dropped $600 on a new handset as you required. Every time someone asks me about the phone or what service I have, I’ve gone into a 5 minute ad for the service. Because for the most part it’s been pretty awesome. But this morning that’s all changed. I hate Fi and if I could get my money back I would. But I’ve been told that’s not possible. So I’m going to just complain publicly and hopefully dissuade people from switching over to you. Hell, I’m even considering moving to an iPhone!

So what happened?

It wasn’t until about the middle of the day last Sunday that I finally realized that there was something seriously wrong with SMS messaging for me. Up until that point, everything was working perfectly for me. But all of a sudden nobody was receiving SMS messages from me. I could see theirs, and from my perspective I was sending them to them. But they weren’t getting them. That is, unless they were on T-mobile.

I tried from hangouts on my computer. Same thing. I later figured out that MMS worked fine however so the problem was that SMS messages were not being delivered once they made it to Fi. Mind you, it looks on my phone that the text is sent. There is no error message or anything.

So I chatted up your support crew on Sunday.

After a bunch of back and forth I was told that there was an outage on your side of things and that it would be fixed between 24-72 hours. I was initially upset because if you knew there was an outage, I should have been notified. This is pretty common practice for service oriented companies. But I wasn’t. And I still haven’t been notified about what was/is going on.

So I waited 72 hours which was last night and guess what? Still no ability for me to text. I’m sure you can imagine how much of an inconvenience this is. I mean, our whole society is based on text messages these days and to not be able to send one from your phone (or your computer) is just debilitating.

I contacted support again and spent a very long time with them. Here is a summary of what occurred (though I’d love for you to find a transcript of the chat so you can see for yourself).

  1. There was no acknowledgement of an outage this time.
  2. The rep was convinced it was an issue with my phone. Even though I was clear that the issue would happen on hangouts on my computer even with the phone off
  3. The rep made me remove all the non primary google accounts I had linked on my phone
  4. The rep made me remove hangouts from my phone
  5. The rep made me sign out of hangouts on my computer .. all of this so that we can get a message to come up on Messenger (the approved google SMS app on my phone)
  6. Once I had followed all of the reps steps I still could not get a text to work and so he then decided I needed a new SIM.

So here I sit, with a google phone on a google service that cannot deliver a simple SMS text message. And now I wait for a SIM card that I know won’t fix the issue. And then what?

I have always had faith that you knew what you were doing but after the experience I had yesterday I’m not so sure. This is clearly an issue on your end of things but your rep wouldn’t acknowledge it. I asked for a refund of the phone and was flat out told that that wasn’t going to happen. I was told that Fi was ‘basically a beta service’ and that the risk was all on me for signing up. Really? Ok, well if that’s the case then don’t bill me for this month since I can’t use your service. Treat me, one of your best advertisers just a little bit better. Make me feel like trusting your company was the right move. Don’t say to me : Well you made the mistake of going all in with us. Sorry.

 

Ugh. I’m super pissed still.

 

When the SIM comes in a few (textless) days from now I’m sure I’ll be writing again. Until then, know that I will never recommend Fi to anyone again.

 

Rockets from Copenhagen

Ever since I was a kid I’ve had a fascination with space flight and rockets. A few years ago I took a trip to Huntsville and while there I was lucky enough to spend some time at the US Space and Rocket Center. I’ve been a close follower of the X-Prize competition (which was won by Burt Ratan and his team in 2004) and of course I’m a huge fan of Elon Musk and Space-X !

I just came across a company/group called Copenhagen Suborbitals which  is essentially a bunch of do it yourself guys who are building a rocket and capsule to put a man in space. I can’t explain how awesome these guys are.

If you’re into this stuff even a little bit, spend some time checking out their website. They are documenting every step of their work and they are making real progress. I am kind of sorry that I don’t live near them because I would be quitting my job and sweeping their floors for them just to hang out and be part of what they are doing. It’s really amazing stuff. Support them if you can!

 

To The Cloud

Lets talk about how awesome and sucky the world of technology is today in 2012. I’m going to use an example.

I was in a coffee shop today (Chhaya, awesome) and I heard a piece of music that I thought was pretty cool. I whipped out my phone and fired up Shazam. Shazam took a minute to sample the song and determined the songs name and artist. Then it offered me a click to buy through amazon. I clicked the link and that took me to the amazon mp3 store on my phone (I had the app but if I didn’t it would have offered to install for me). The album came up and it was $5. I clicked “Buy” and the album was placed in my amazon cloud drive. This means that wherever I was (at home, on my phone, in Tibet at a net cafe, etc) I would have the music available to me. I could also of course download from my cloud drive to keep local copies of the music (nice amazon). So then I get into my car and my stereo locks in to my phone via bluetooth (automatic, seamless). I decide I want to hear the song so I fire up my amazon cloud player app on my phone and presto, I’m hearing the song in my car.

Just take a second to marvel at how amazing this is. I am a tech nerd and I still am blow away at how far, how fast we’ve come with technology. It was only in 2001 when apple introduced iTunes and the ability to actually buy real music. In that time we now have non-DRM music available from multiple vendors and we can stream most of it for free (see Spotify for example). But with having the net on phones we can now utilize services like Shazam to find out what we’re listening to instantly. That’s simply amazing. Oh, also the ‘smart phone’ concept dates back to Apple in 2007 with the iPhone.

It’s here that I should note to you that while I hate Apple in many ways I have to give them lots of props by being bold and actually making technology that is transformative. Yes, other companies could have put out smart phones or made deals with music companies to sell mp3’s but they didn’t. They didn’t have the balls that Steve Jobs had. I’ll give the bastard that much.

But here’s where Apple sucks (and I apologize for the divergence here)… Apple made a decision a long time ago to keep their world closed. The apple ecosystem is the most locked down platform in the world of consumer technology. It is literally impossible to interact with Apple technology from outside. You either buy into the Apple way or you don’t. There’s no middle ground.

I know why they do it and it makes a lot of sense. Partially they do it because a monopoly makes money and as a hard core market capitalist I can respect that. But the other reason is that by controlling everything, they can keep the user experience clean and simple. Look at android. There are dozens of flavors of android right now. My Nexus S is a totally different phone from the UI perspective than the HTC Thunderbolt or the Motorola tablet. Is this a good thing? I don’t know. I suspect not.

But back to the point of this post. (I will come back to this Closed/Open problem in a minute). As amazing as my experience was, we should be a whole lot farther along than that right now and the reason is that we are living in an open world. Let me explain by expanding my example into the negative.

So I’m home now and in a few days I will be in the shower and it probably would be amazing for me to hear that song again at that moment but even if I wanted to I couldn’t do it easily. Why? Well the reason is that my shower stereo is connected to a Logitech Squeezebox Touch player and it doesn’t have access to the Amazon cloud drive built in. The touch by default has Internet radio and the ability to hook into my local mp3 collection (stored on a NAS in my basement) and I listen to Internet radio mostly cause setting up the mp3 library and keeping it up to date is a painful experience (software is ok, but could be a lot better). There is the ability to add plug-ins and I’ll bet there is one for the amazon cloud drive but I’m not going to bother with that either since it’s complicated for me to install. I could also download the music from my cloud drive into my local collection and use the touch mp3 player (as noted above).

Also there is the fact that I have music purchased at amazon, itunes, google and the actual songs are all over the place. Some are on cloud services (amazon and google), some are on my work computer (where I use iTunes) and most are from my ripped CDs on my NAS drive. There is currently no way to unify all of this music in one place other than downloading them all into my local NAS. The flip side is that if I want to access my music somewhere other than home I can’t do that either since only some things are on cloud drives.

Another problem is that I have all this music but I totally forget it exists. I bought a Bowie record a month ago and listened to it for one day. Never since. Why? Because I forgot about it. There is currently no software that will scan my music library and recommend stuff to me: “oh, you got this music the other day, you haven’t listened to it in a while.. want to hear it again now?”, “this tune would go well with what you are listening to”, etc. Yes the apple Genius and other things are getting close to solving this but nothing is there yet.

So what’s the solution? What is the actual problem? The problem is that there is no unified platform here. This brings us to Apple. They recently are starting to move to the cloud and if I buy into Apple and get an iPhone, an Apple Tv and a standalone music player device for my stereo(they don’t have one but I’m sure they will soon), maybe an apple cloud account, iTunes on all my computers, etc. and whatever else they have I could have a unified experience. Does Shazam link into that experience? No. Does the next company to come up with a useful music app connect in? Nope. While Apple can build a cool, seamless user experience I have to do it the Apple way 100%. I have to depend on them to build me an iTunes that does what I want. The chances of them doing what I want are slim. I am not the average consumer. I am not satisfied with what Apple gives me. I want to make my own choices. I like being able to code my own music software, or buy someone else’s and plug it in to my ecosystem. But it sucks for me because its so complex to manage. This is where the closed/open thing becomes something that I can’t really decide the merits of.

But I have a solution for the current problem and someone needs to do it. Here we go…

A third party needs to build a music cloud service that is open to everyone. Simple right? Imagine this scenario :

I hear a tune I like. I fire up Shazam. Shazam links me to amazon (or someone else) to buy. I buy. Amazon delivers the music to my previously linked up 3rd party music cloud. The cloud is hooked up to my music player on my phone, my iTunes at work, my Squeezebox touch in my bathroom, my preferred web listening client, etc. All of my owned music in in that music cloud and all of my apps talk to it. When I buy a song from iTunes or Google or whoever, it all goes there.

Would I pay for this service? You bet I would. To have all my music and media there? Safe, backed up, accessible everywhere? Most definitely. Then companies can build services on either side of that cloud. They can market and sell me music, they can build services that analyze my collection and build playlists, they can build music players that rock, etc.

The fact that all of these competing systems exist is what disappoints me the most. The fact that so many people lock to Apple is not 100% because they make the best products, it’s mostly about the seamless user experience (even though in many ways it’s kind of lacking). I believe if someone would build a cloud storage solution that is so open that companies like apple, google and amazon will allow it as a delivery/consumption option it would be transformative. We need it now!

Apple, China and You

A few months ago I saw a one man monologue in New York by a guy named Mike Daisy. It was called “The Agony and The Ecstasy of Steve Jobs“. The show was amazing. Over a number of fast moving hours Daisy intercut the story of Apple and the story of where and how Apple (and other electronic) products are manufactured. Robots you say? No. Too expensive. Everything is made by hand. It’s an incredible story and it changed my perspective.

The show closed and I was really bummed since I wanted to tell people to see it. Interestingly enough it seems that he’s bringing it back. I highly recommend it.

Luckily for you Ira Glass, the host of “This American Life” saw the show as well and was equally moved. He had Daisy perform an abridged version of the show focusing mostly on the China aspect and then did an analysis of its claims (all validated). I urge you to give the show a listen. It really is a great story.

The show is number 454 and can be found here.

Am I done with Facebook?

I really can’t stand using facebook anymore. They really made the web UI way too complicated. And on top of that I don’t have any idea of privacy anymore. So many things have changed that I don’t know where things I post are going. I’ve got status updates from my friends showing up everywhere but where I want them, the email notifications are all messed up now, and the newsfeed is a fucking disaster that I imagine I could fix by going into each friend and selecting a level of how much I want to hear from them but I’m not going to do that.

Then there’s the fact that where ever I go on the web Facebook knows. And don’t tell me they don’t. Almost every site has FB integration set up so when I see some content I get this ‘these friends like this place too’ stuff going on that lists my friends! You know that means that FB knows where I am. This isn’t cool and I think it goes too far.

I know I could just live a public life and then I’d be happy, but even then do I want FB to rule the world? Do I want to contribute to their dominance? Not really.

What do I get out of facebook anymore anyway? I’ve thought about this. I can (and do) now share a lot via G+ and I could do more on Twitter. I barely go on the FB website so I don’t really know what my friends are up to anymore and I’m finding I’m ok with that. But that’s not 100% true. What if they share something cool like photos of some party I was at? I’d never see them. This is a bummer that I’d have to learn to live with.

I think the biggest thing I would miss is the integration with my android phone. I have icon photos of most of my contacts and that’s still provided by facebook. I don’t know why it’s not from google but its not and I would miss that a bunch. Then there’s the phone number and contact integration that FB provides to android as well. I’d loose that too.

But I have to say that more than any time previous I am considering dropping FB completely.

My new car stereo

The title of this post is misleading. I don’t have a new car stereo but every time I use the one I have, I think about how awesome it could be if just a few changes were made. And I know how to get exactly what I want (since no car stereo maker seems to ever think of user interface.. this goes back about 30 years now).

But first lets talk about my current unit. About 2 years ago I bought a Kenwood DNX6140 from Crutchfield (highly recommended company). I wanted a unit that had GPS where I could also plug in my iPod (attention thieves, I keep a 80GB iPod in my glovebox with low bitrate copies of most of my music library). This unit fit the bill and seemed pretty awesome. So far, it’s met my needs and that’s about it. Where does it fail? Let me count the ways..

But the 2 key failure points are the GPS and the iPod integration. The GPS (by Garmin) is a piece of crap. It gets me where I’m going pretty accurately, but the map graphics are very weak and it has no traffic updates, etc. Of course I’m spoiled by the awesome, super awesome Navigation app by Google that I have in my phone combined with the awesome lookup functionality of points of interest. The iPod integration works, but the interface is just poor. For example, say I want to hear me some Tupac. I have to go to a menu that lists by Artist and then scroll down through all 500+ artists until I find Tupac. I can’t search for it at all. I have to scroll and that takes forever. Same for songs and albums, etc. Just poor.

So what’s the solution? I’ve written and ranted in the past about making stereo head units that could use any mapping/gps software but now we’ve got a better solution available and this is totally marketable (who will be the first to do it? probably some garage startup) : Android!

Someone needs to build a car stereo that is built around an Android OS tablet. How awesome would that be? Imagine having it connected all the time to your wireless carrier, streaming tunes from Pandora (or maybe your own music collection), with the awesome Google Navigation and the ability to add apps as well. How cool would that be? The only thing we would need is an interface/connection to your car power and speakers and an amplifier and presto : awesome car stereo! Configurable and open and awesome!

Who wants to build this for me as a prototype? I will pay for it and then we can start a company!

My new Phone

Well. For those of you who follow my life with a fine tooth comb, you’ll know that in December I bought the new Nexus S to replace my broken down Droid. I really loved the phone a lot. The battery life was great, pure android 2.3 was spectacular, and the speed of the phone was really nice. But the phone was essentially unusable due to it’s inability to find a signal anywhere. Either it was the phones radio or T-Mobile, but I couldn’t use the internets and I couldn’t make a call in my home. It was horrible.

So I decided to bite the bullet and buy something else. After a lot of research (and after convincing myself that waiting for the next best thing was pointless), I decided on the HTC Thunderbolt (which is on Verizon). First off, moving to Verizon was a definite requirement. I love their service in Philadelphia and since that’s where I am 99% of the time, there was no other choice. And from what I heard 4G LTE was the real deal (not some marketing hype).

I didn’t move to this phone quickly. There was a lot of fear going in. The biggest fear I had was moving to a phone that had a skin on it (in this case HTC Sense). I really loved the pure android experience on my Droid and on the Nexus S. As a techie, I really don’t like things added on to my UI just to make it pretty. I prefer the more utilitarian approach : get the job done efficiently. Plus I was really afraid all the gizmos running would kill my battery life. Then I heard that there is a lot of bloatware on the phone put there by Verizon that you can’t remove. That again really made me scared since the only way to remove the battery and memory hogging crap would be to root the phone (something I never want to do since I prefer to remain ‘stock’ as much as possible).

Well, here’s the deal. I bought the phone and fully charged it and after 4 hours it was flat out dead. The battery life was insanely poor. This I had also heard but I wanted to see for myself. My thought was that I could charge it at home and then charge it at work and be fine, but wow. I could almost see the battery life indicator moving downwards.. This was a bad sign!

Before I go on, a little note : What the fuck Verizon!?! How can you sell a phone that out of the box doesn’t work? What is wrong with the technology sector today that a company actually sells a premium product that doesn’t work? I have to say I really am upset that Verizon is marketing this phone as it is.

So I had two options at this point : 1) return the phone and then search for something else (don’t say “get an iPhone!” Don’t even get me started on that shit) or 2) take matters into my own hands and ‘root’ the phone.

Reluctantly I chose option 2. I found a really nice walkthrough and I got to work. Sadly, rooting completely resets your phone so the 2 days of getting the phone the way I liked it was going to go to waste, but I just had to bite the bullet (lots of bullet biting today!).

I have to say that rooting was kind of painless. It took me about an hour and the phone was exactly the same with one difference : I could do what I wanted to it! First up was removing the bloatware (you don’t actually remove it but move it out of the system into some other location so if you need to get an update from Verizon you can move it all back). Removing all this crap (and there was a lot) felt awesome. Next up was adding a program called JuiceDefender that actually turns off the data connection when I have the phone in standby. It also opens it up on occasion for my apps to connect and it’s fully configurable. Lastly I had considered removing HTC sense but I figured I’d give it a try first since that was going to be complicated.

The result? Well, the battery life was not only manageable, but pretty awesome. The only downside was that when I popped the phone on I had to wait a sec for the data connection to come back. This is an ok tradeoff for me and the only downside of the phone right now. HTC Sense I have to say is pretty amazing. The keyboard is 100 times better than had expected and the UI is more usable than stock android. I turned off some of the flash like their friend feed and the stocks app, but overall I am really really impressed with the usability of the phone directly attributed to Sense.

Overall I have to say this. 4G LTE is amazing. It’s as fast as WIFI. The phone itself? Well, this phone is pretty damn awesome. The screen, HTC Sense, the speed, I’m happy! But if you are going to use it stock, good luck. Verizon has screwed you there.

 

I need a new Blog

I need a new kind of blog. It needs have some specific features. Many of them inspired and copied from Facebook. See, I like Facebook in some ways. In others, not so much. Let me back up a bit and tell you how and why I use the Face in the first place. I like to share. It’s as simple as that. But I like to share in a few different contexts. Some things, like photos, I like to share mostly with just my friends, some photos just my family. Same goes for videos and sounds (though FB does a poor job of making that easy). Some things, like my mini reviews of books and movies and links to important things in the news I like to share as well, but to a wider (maybe even public) audience. Of course I like to connect with others and see what they are up to (wall/status updates) as well so that’s another reason I use FB.

In fact, that was the original reason I started on FB and I would argue the only reason to really use it at all. The reason I share so much there is because of how easy it is. Every tool I use links to FB and every person I care about is available to comment on things. And I love that it’s not anonymous. I like knowing what my friends think (and knowing that others can see who said what).

But there are issues. Most of them related to three things: Privacy Levels, Content Exposure and Sharing. Let me explain what I’m talking about.

Privacy Levels: I’m not talking about advertisers mining my posted stuff for info, or people figuring out my email address, etc. These issues don’t concern me. I can write about 10 pages on that stuff but it’s not important to this conversation, so I won’t. What I’m talking about is having levels of privacy that would enable me to decide if a given post (or class of post) is available for viewing by different groups of people. And yes, don’t even start to say it, I know this exists in FB but the system they have is a) cumbersome, b) complex, and c) incomplete. I simply want to have a fully public space to share (right now I use Google reader sharing to solve this for RSS links) and the ability to mark some things with a privacy level so only certain groups can see. This is hard to do in FB. I would need to make my profile public and then have lists of users and then take extra steps to mark each non-public post. But doing this on FB would ruin my non-sharing (i.e. Social) experience.

Content Exposure:  I use this RSS plug-in on Chrome called Feedly. What this does is take my Reader account and revisualize it as sort of a magazine, exposing things that I would never have seen otherwise. Sometimes there is an old post that pops up on top, sometimes ones that have been marked as liked more than others will pop up in a prominent location, etc. I would like to see my FB posts displayed to the public in sort of the same way. The central problem here is that some things I post are more important than others. I want some control over what people see from my group of posts. As an example, say there is a post on my Wall pointing to this blog post. After a week, it will be gone from view on my wall. This content will never get exposed again. In addition, there’s also the chance that the post doesn’t even make it to main FB news feed at all. And who these days looks at peoples profiles directly anymore?

Sharing: The FB Friends news feed is cool, but there is a big problem with it. There are some people I really want to follow. I want to see every post they make. Others, not so much. And I also need to be in FB to see it. This problem was solved way before MZ entered college. It’s called RSS. Why can’t each persons wall be RSS exportable? Why can’t I just read all of these in Reader? Choosing who is more important along the way?

So, What I want is this. I want to stop sharing things on FB. I want to just make it a place where I post photos and status updates and connect with my close friends in a nice, safe walled garden that’s totally private. For sharing I want a blog where I can share links, photos, videos, reviews of movies and restaurants. But I want all my tools to connect into it. So when I post a review on Yelp, it shows up on my blog, or a video I like on youtube will show up on my blog. And I should be able to post to it from my phone, or the web or anywhere I find something interesting.

Yes, I could probably pull this off to some extent with current tools and technology, but then how do I build my readership? On FB I have this machine helping me expose myself (albeit to my friends). I wouldn’t have that if I left FB. I know that each of you checks FB every day like your email. How many of you would check my blog daily? This is why I stay. But the FB experience is pretty terrible for what I want it to be and I don’t think I’m alone. Someone needs to address this.

Versioning of Webapps

As we move more and more of the work we do to the cloud, we as consumers of these services should demand a way to stay with a specific version. What am I talking about? Well, for example, many of us use Facebook and they are constantly changing the interface and the services behind the interface and many people aren’t happy. The same for gmail and googles calendar app. I’m happy with what I have now and I don’t want to have new ‘features’ or interface designs forced upon me. Clearly I do not pay for these apps so I really have no rights, but still, its inevitable that people will really start complaining en mass and these services depend on users. The makers of these apps should start thinking about how to manage change and how to allow users to lock in to a version they are using. I would pay a little for this. I don’t mind paying for applications as long as they do what I want them to do. What about you?

Google Maps

I know there’s a way to do these things. I just don’t feel like spending more than the 40 minutes I’ve already spent trying to figure it out. So I leave it and I suffer a little (suffer == don’t use tech the way I’d like to).  Here are the tools I have :

  1. desktop computer connected to the internet
  2. a list of the stores I want to go to
  3. an android phone
  4. a garmen GPS built into my car

The problem I’m facing is simple:

  1. I don’t know where the stores are (there may be more than one in my area) .
  2. I want to visit them as efficiently as possible.
  3. I don’t want to write anything down.

Solution attempt:

My plan involves google maps since I have a phone with google living on it and in general I assume that google has this problem already figured out. I first logged on to my desktop and fired up google maps. I thought that they should have (which means they probably do have) a feature where I can just type in the stores/locations and it would a) find them and b) plot out a course to them from my home. I could not find such a feature. So I started by searching for my first store “Babies R Us”. I found one in Depford. I then looked for my second store “Home Depot” and it found one near Depford since I guess I had the map focused on the Babies R Us. But it lost the BRU waypoint/pin. Hmn.. problem here. Eventually I learned that you could save these pins to a custom “my map” (which by the way is public by default.. dumb). Finally I had all my points plotted . Feel free to check it out since I haven’t bothered to figure out how to make it private. So far, not bad. Not exactly the path I wanted to take to this point (I wanted gmaps to figure this all out for me) but I’m here.

Now the easy part (I would assume, and be proven wrong) is to just connect the pins and then print out a list of directions. Nope. You can’t do it. I tried all kinds of things like plotting a route to one and then ‘adding’ destinations, etc.  Finally I gave up and figured I’d just d/l these waypoints to my phone somehow and then use the excellent google turn by turn on the android to solve the problem. Nah. Can’t do that either. I could, however, email a link (the one above) to my phone and when I clicked on it I was able to import it to my phone google maps, so that’s a start but it’s not what I want exactly.

Anyway, I have to go shop and participate in the great global economy now. No more time to write. Any solutions?