There were a few events in the last week which got me to thinking about the world we live in. Okay, I'll admit that the Apple iPhone is incredibly sexy. But I don't believe in being on the "bleeding edge", a sentiment regular readers will recognize. There are pitfalls galore on the road to adopting the "latest and greatest" insofar as technology is concerned. A more prudent approach can save you money and aggravation.

UPDATE: Okay, I'll admit it: the iPhone 4 was just too good to ignore. Of course that also meant buying a Mac Mini for software development...
Sales numbers confirm that there is a major movement towards "smart phones" taking place. Application developers can no longer ignore the new platform and companies are now starting to demand apps for iPhone, Blackberry and Android. One has to keep up with technology, right?

SECOND UPDATE: (Late 2016) The more things change, the more they stay the same. I now realize that my previous comment was more than a bit naive. I should have seen it coming clearly but my crystal ball was cloudy that day. I didn't appreciate how enamored people would become with this "shiny new toy." As I said, naive.

My employer provided me with a MacBook Pro which has the ability to tether with a cellular 'phone in order to access the Internet. For reasons unbeknownst to me at the time, my provider (Fido, purchased by Rogers) wouldn't allow the laptop to access the 'net. So I called them up to inquire as to the reasons why. I was told that my plan ("City Fido") didn't include the ability to tether. They were keen to move me to another plan which would include tethering. The catch? It would almost double my monthly bill!

Fido had been changing the terms of my agreement shortly after being acquired. I was being charged long-distance rates for incoming calls according to where the call originated. This was a case of "double-dipping" since the originator was also being charged for the long-distance call by their carrier. Since it was a pre-paid plan, this resulted in dropping incoming calls when the balance in my account dropped to close to $0. As you might imagine, this caused problems when I was fielding incoming calls from customer service departments attempting to assist me with technical issues.

Like you, I don't suffer fools gladly. I don't appreciate attempts to extort more money from an existing customer. A new company called Wind Mobile was setting up shop in Toronto and was already providing underground services in the subway stations. They also had a more palatable plan which cost $45/month (City Fido was $50/month at the time) with "unlimited" data. Unlike Rogers, who would charge exhorbitant overage rates, Wind would simply slow down your data transfer speed after a certain threshold was reached.

So I went to the Wind Mobile booth in the Eaton Centre, ready to lay out the money for a new SIM card and change providers. Notwithstanding government assurances regarding telephone number mobility, I was even willing to get a new number. And then the other shoe dropped. It turns out that my iPhone 4 didn't support the new frequencies allocated to Wind Mobile. I had to get a new 'phone in order to switch. But I understand the games providers play with their plans and how they want to lock you in to a 24 month contract before they "give" you one of their 'phones. So I went to the Apple store in the mall and purchased an unlocked iPhone 5s.

So why an iPhone 5s rather than an iPhone 6 or the brand new iPhone 7? I believe in value for money. So while the unlocked iPhone 5s set me back $700, it also facilitated carrier portability. I also didn't need any of the "bells and whistles" the newer models provided. So now I'm on a pre-paid plan which permits tethering to the MacBook and costs me less per month than my old plan. Not only that, but it also includes unlimited calling (incoming and outgoing) throughout North America. So instead of gouging a customer for more money, Fido/Rogers lost me forever. Instead of going from $50 to $80/month, they went from $50 to $0. Take from that experience what you will.

Microsoft patch KB951748

Microsoft automatic update nagged at me for a couple of days regarding a security patch which I should supposedly install. I run a total of five computers at home (now seven,) all but two of which run Linux exclusively; one is a dual-boot system with both Linux and Windows 7 Professional installed and the laptop runs Windows 7 Home (not much choice there.) The gateway is a Linux box running iptables, providing firewall protection for the internal systems. See here for details.

Along with thousands of others across the globe, installation of this "security" patch knocked me off the 'net! It turns out that the patch changes the network configuration files such that Check Point's Zone Alarm can no longer function correctly. That users of Microsoft's own firewall weren't affected is not really surprising. What WAS impressive was the extraordinary effort put forth by Check Point in order to deliver a solution within 24 hours of the Microsoft patch release.

I took me about 24 hours to get my system back up and talking to the 'net. Multiple cycles of software installs, removals, reboots, etc. and I was finally able to get reconnected. I followed all the on-line solutions posted but they didn't work for me. I honestly don't know what the "magic bullet" was since I wasn't recording every step in the process. Sometimes you just have to go with your gut and rely on experience. The outcome was positive but the process was incredibly painful.

The issue here is that when you start messing about with DNS resolution, even when you're trying to address a potential DNS spoofing attack, it behooves you to exercise "due diligence". The QA process obviously failed since Microsoft didn't test with one of the most pervasive third-party firewall solutions in the world today. Breaking other people's software is simply unacceptable. When you force other companies to incur costs, that's hardly what I consider to be fair trade practices.

Apple iPhone

It turns out that even Apple isn't immune to making mistakes. While their track record is much better than Microsoft's, battery issues with the iPod and iBook product lines have caused much consumer frustration. The activation issues with the iPhone G3 underscore how important it is to build an infrastructure which can handle the load when you launch a new product. That Apple, of all companies, dropped the ball on this one is inexcusable. We have far too much experience in the industry to improperly size the activation servers for such a momentous occasion.

I was amazed when I first saw the iPhone! The touch screen, the GUI, it was all so incredibly neat. If I was to carry only one portable device, it would have to be the iPhone. But I started thinking about it and realized that I don't really like all-in-one devices. I want a cellular telephone which just makes calls, not one which includes a digital camera. I have a Creative Muvo MP3 player with FM tuner and a ZEN with MPEG4 player. Why would I need yet another device which duplicates functionality I already have? (See below)

Rogers

This is actually linked to the previous item. Since Rogers/Fido has the only GSM network in Canada, they were the only possible provider for iPhones in this country. Unfortunately, they don't exactly have a "stellar" reputation when it comes to customer support or product pricing. You don't have to take my word on this: search the 'net and make your own determination. The three-year contract term and pricing led some 60,000 people to register their discontent on ruinediphone.com.

Rogers also implemented an "opt out" pricing policy for cable services. When they introduced new channel packages, it was left up to the customers to opt out else they'd be billed automatically for the new package. In other words, the service provider could increase the monthly charges without securing the permission of their customers! Needless to say, this didn't sit well with subscribers. It's not a smart way to engender customer fealty.

Noise Cancelling Headphones

I used to travel on business quite extensively. I purchased some Bose active noise cancellation headphones (Quiet Comfort 2) a number of years ago which served me well on long airplane flights. The ANC system does an absolutely incredible job of muting low frequencies like those generated by turbofan jet engines and the on-board air-conditioning systems. When my late father went into the hospital, I provided him with my headphones, along with a Sony portable CD player, so that he could listen to classical music in peace and quiet. They weren't included in his personal effects which we collected after he passed away in the hospital. A minor loss, especially compared to the loss of my father, but I had no need of them at the time.

When I started to commute into Toronto on GO Transit (regional rail) I missed the noise cancellation technology terribly. I picked up some Panasonic noise cancelling ear-buds in the airport at Newark (EWR) and loved them! Despite what other people have claimed, I found them to be very effective at noise cancelling. There were some minor inconveniences, such as not being able to use them at all once the battery died, but they performed so well that I just learned to keep a spare battery in my carry-on bag. The wires were also a bit of a pain, often getting tangled and one had to be careful not to get them snagged. Finding a secure spot to clip the control box onto could also be challenging, depending on what one was wearing.

But technology inexorably marches on. Bose announced earlier this year their Quiet Control 30 ear-buds (scheduled availability: mid-September) with Bluetooth connectivity and I was seriously considering purchasing them when they became available. No more hassling with wires! I wear glasses so the in-ear models are far more comfortable for me than the over-the-ear ones. But as the release date slipped, I did some more research. Sony's release of their MDX-1000 headphones was most interesting as multiple reviews suggested that the noise cancellation technology outperformed Bose. The reviewers also noted a difference in frequency response, with the Sony units again outperforming the Bose in low frequency rendering. While I'm not a "head banger," into heavy rock-and-roll, I do appreciate low-frequency performance. Classical music is so much more enjoyable when all frequencies are reproduced accurately.

I found myself considering three candidates: The Bose QC30s (in-ear,) the Bose QC35s (over-the-ear) and the Sony MDX-1000s (over-the ear.) Even though I like the ear-bud design, taking off my glasses and availing myself of the benefit of additional noise cancellation provided by padded cups was a viable alternative. And it's not as though I need to view the landscape on my train trips. The more I read, the more it seemed that the Sonys would be the best choice. Even though they cost $50 more than the Bose QC35s, the attention to detail on the Sonys eventaully tipped the balance in their favour. Both over-the-ear headphones seamlessly interface with an iPhone with built-in microphones and the ability to initiate and receive calls. But the Sony has special features which enable you to do things like activate Siri and temporarily suspend the noise cancellation functionality via hand gestures. And active noise cancellation on the Sonys is still available even when using a wired connection.

I ended up purchasing a Bluetooth transceiver for my Creative ZEN and it's fairly straightforward to switch betwen that and my iPhone as the headphone source. I can control volume and skip tracks forward and backward with swipes on the right headphone. The Sony can even "customize" the noise-cancellation using some fancy technology which utilizes test tones and microphones inside the cans. Combine it with an app named PrivateAlarm and I can nod off on the train while listening to music from my iPhone and receive a wake-up alarm when a few minutes out from my destination. I love the lack of wires and the Sonys fold up nice and flat in my computer bag. I don't use all the capabilities but still feel that the Sonys provide excellent value for my purposes.

Conclusion

Given the above, I've decided that, no matter how sexy the iPhone might be, I'm not planning on signing myself up for total billings of ~$4,000 over the next three years (compare with the $1,800 I'm going to spend with Wind/Freedom over the next three years for unlimited North American calling plus full-speed 8GB of data/month.) I might have paid $400 for a contract-free Motorolla RAZRV3 but it works quite well for me and I purchase air-time as required. The holster keeps the 'phone securely on my belt and the vibrate mode ensures that I don't disturb my co-workers in the office environment.

But as one door closes, another opens. The CRTC is currently auctioning off bandwidth which could make prescient companies or individuals a fortune! Imagine if you were to bid on, and secure, the spectrums necessary to provide an alternate GSM network in Canada. Since Rogers doesn't have an exclusive arrangement with Apple (unlike AT&T in the United States), you could provide an unlimited data plan and sell millions of iPhones. Make up in volume what you lose in price and there's some serious profit potential there.

Regarding my second update above, some people saw the potential and made the smart move. And even through Wind Mobile has recently changed their name to Freedom Mobile and have been acquired by Shaw (another Canadian cable company) their offerings are still superior to Rogers. But they're not immune to missteps. They're currently upgrading their network to include LTE and are offering incentives for existing customer to switch. But since they were "late to the game," the frequencies they were allocated are not supported on any iPhone model. In fact, there are only two 'phones they offer which support LTE. I'm not keen on either and not about to agree to a two-year contract for a service which may or may not cover the geographical area in which I reside. I also don't require the higher speeds possible with LTE: 3G is working just fine for me.

As always, these are just my opinions and observations. Your mileage may vary.