Friday, July 30, 2010

Magic Trackpad - the missing feature

The Magic Trackpad is the product I've been waiting for Apple to release since the first Mac Mini came out lo those many moons ago.

I bought a mini almost immediately after they came out to use as an HTPC, and it's served that role very well indeed. The only drawback is that we've had to use a wireless mouse to use the thing. That's less than a couch-friendly solution. We have a table between our two chairs in the living room, but that means that if you're in the right seat, you have to mouse with your left hand. Not very convenient.

The Magic Trackpad solves all of that, since it doesn't need to sit on an actual surface in order to work (unless you want to actually make the internal button click - then you must push the pad downwards on its feet. But the trackpad can work just fine without ever having to be clicked physically).

But now the only problem is that the trackpad is a separate unit from the keyboard.

If you set the trackpad next to the Apple Bluetooth Keyboard, it's obvious that they were designed to sit next to each other. It's only natural that you'd want to actually attach them together so that you could pass them back and forth on the couch as a single unit.

So why didn't Apple include some sort of mechanism to do exactly that?

There are some objections that need to be overcome. First, when the two are side by side, the battery door of one of them will sit right on the power button of the other one. So the two would need to be able to be routinely separated in case you needed to push the power button and to change the batteries.

So duct tape and rulers aren't going to be a 100% solution.

No, this is going to require some sort of rail and groove setup to allow the trackpad to slide into place, yet still be able to be slid off to change the batteries.

I look forward to multiple postings on There, I Fixed It covering this topic.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Microcell: Light at the end of the tunnel

It turns out that, thanks to the 3G Microcell support forum, we might have discovered an explanation for the problems we've been having with the microcell.

If, while the phone is connected up to the microcell, you have the cellular data switched on, that can cause the audio of the call to get garbled.

To test this out, I called my parents' house several times and had them recite poetry. Those calls where the cellular data was enabled suffered periods of choppy audio, and those calls where the cellular data was turned off did not.

Furthermore, while the cellular data was turned on, I turned off wifi and ran a speed test. That, however, did not induce the problem. So it's not all data use during a call that causes this problem, but only certain data. My speculation is that it has something to do with either location services or push notification.

The workaround for now is to disable cellular data while at home connected up to the microcell. This is not really a very good workaround, however, since the steps to go turn it on and off are 3 levels deep in the Settings app, and without cellular data turned on lots of capabilities of the phone are unavailable.

Hopefully, AT&T will figure out what's going on and fix it sooner rather than later.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Microcell: You're Fired!

We've had the 3G Microcell since they became available in April, and since then we've suffered three particular symptoms that have made using the phone aggravating:

1. There's an extra third to half second of latency.

2. About every fifth call or so the calling party will, at some point, vein to sound like they're speaking in tongues. This will clear up after a few seconds, or the call will drop, one of the two.

3. Sometimes when you place a call it will just immediately say "call failed" and you have to retry.

We've had a support ticket open all that time, and it just never got any better. But the very last straw was when it started shunting incoming calls straight to voicemail without ringing.

Enough is enough. I went to Fry's and bought another YX510. With that, at least the phones work properly in the house.

I really want the unlimited calling plan from home. That plan dovetails nicely with how Scarlet and I use the phones. But the device simply doesn't work. All the more surprising given that the spent almost two years in field trials.

And, apparently I'm not alone. A lot of forum posts I see make the same complaints.

Our microcell is currently exiled at a friend's house. He says it's working ok for him, for now. We'll see. But if it does wind up being a success, then it's likely because the macro network at his house is weaker than at our house. That too would dovetail with the reports I've read. So maybe the microcell works well at filling in coverage where no coverage exists, which is arguably it's purpose, but not merely as a means to offload AT&Ts macro network (and get unlimited calls in the bargain).

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Solving electric cars

People moan about electric cars having poor range and long recharge times. Those are, basically, the two issues stopping every driver in America from having an electric car right now. Take those two issues off the table, and electric cars are superior in every way. Namely, a far superior torque curve which allows them to have a much simpler design, resulting in less weight. They're not only quiet, they're almost entirely silent (only a downside if you're a blind pedestrian), and, of course, they are emission-free (which really means that their emissions are coming from the electric power plant that's charging their batteries, but that's still better given that that plant will have much better emissions controls).

I don't have a solution to the range issue, but the time-of-charge issue can be tackled fairly straightforwardly.

Lots of devices we use on a daily basis are battery operated, and most of them take batteries that are field-replaceable consumables. It's so common to replace a pair of AA batteries in a device we don't hardly think about it anymore.

It used to be that backyard gas grills that run on propane tanks required you to take the empty tank to a propane filling station. But in the last few years, this has been replaced with propane tank swapping stations at many grocery stores and pharmacies.

By now, I think most of you can see where I'm going. Electric cars could be designed to have their battery packs quickly exchanged instead of field-recharged. You'd go to a battery exchange and swap your drained battery for a fully charged one. You'd pay for the cost of charging, plus perhaps a small amortization of the cost of replacing packs once their useful service life has elapsed.

Swapping out a battery module, if the process is properly designed, could be done in about the same amount of time as filling up a tank of petroleum distillate, and the danger of fire and explosion would be markedly reduced.

The downside is the design engineering involved in coming up with an industry standard battery pack and getting the entire industry to agree on it. Additionally, like all alternative fuel arrangements, it creates a chicken-egg problem where you won't have the fueling infrastructure in advance of the ubiquity of the vehicle and vice-versa.