Category Archives: Mobile

Running Out of Cell Phone Minutes? Get Notified with OverMyMinutes.com

Use your mobile phone a lot? How many times have you gone over your alloted minutes? It can get expensive, I know from firsthand experience.

Web service OverMyMinutes is designed to monitor your remaining minutes and notify you before you run out. All it requires is that you create an account and register your phone with them. There’s nothing to install on your mobile phone or computer.

And the best part – OverMyMinutes is free for home and small business users.

Usage

To get started with OverMyMinutes, just fill out the simple signup form.

The following carriers are supported (at the moment):

  • Alltel
  • Cingular/AT&T
  • Nextel
  • Sprint
  • T-mobile
  • Verizon
  • Virgin Mobile
  • Vodafone

In order for OverMyMinutes to monitor your minutes usage, you must give them the login information that you use on your carrier’s website. Though they emphasize that your login information is absolutely secure, I still suggest changing your carrier’s password to something unique before you hand it over to OverMyMinutes. I used KeePass to automatically generate my password.

Once you register your phone, just choose any custom alert settings that you desire. OverMyMinutes can alert you with an e-mail or text message (or both) if you are close to running out of minutes.

Once your registration is complete, OverMyMinutes will monitor your remaining minutes and notify you if you start running low. Say goodbye to overage charges!

I appreciate that there is nothing to install. Unlike similar programs that run on your personal computer, OverMyMinutes will still work if your computer is off.

Join OverMyMinutes for free.

What do I do if my iPhone is Lost or Stolen?

Holy flaming monkey balls! I lost my iPhone! What do I do?

  1. Call AT&T Wireless at 800-331-0500 and use their menu to report a lost or stolen phone.
    This does not protect your data in any way, it only shuts down the ability of your phone to make or receive phone calls. (Your monthly bills will CONTINUE… haha.)
  2. File a police report.
  3. Try not to kick yourself for not following the rest of the instructions in this article…

That SUCKS. What Else Can I Do?

To bring back that lovely word we learned in 8th grade sex-ed: PREVENTION!

Even if you don’t like it…. it’s time to change the security settings on your phone.

  1. Enable Auto-Lock : Settings -> General –> Auto-Lock (must be ON, e.g. 3 minutes)
  2. Enable the Passcode Lock : Settings -> General –> Passcode Lock

    Turn Passcode ON (enter a 4 digit passcode twice)

  3. Require Passcode : set a time interval, e.g. “Immediately”, or “After 15 min.”
  4. Enable the Self Destruct : Erase Data –> ON (Erase all data on this iPhone after 10 failed passcode attempts)

    * Gulp… this one isn’t for the weak of heart. Ideally, all the data on your iPhone is only a copy, right? You’ve synced recently, RIGHT!? Well… there is the possibility that you’ll lose unique data if these feature ever kicks in. There’s also the possibility that some a-hole trickster buddy of yours will finger-mash your phone repeatedly in order to delete everything. No matter if your data is in the hands of nefarious users or deleted by rowdy friends, either way, this is a serious feature.
Passcode Lock Screen on the iPhone
Passcode Lock Screen on the iPhone

And for more privacy….

Turn OFF SMS Preview : Settings -> General –> Passcode Lock –> Turn OFF SMS Preview

* The preview is what displays on your phone when a text message comes in… by default the ENTIRE text and the sender’s name shows up on your screen without you having to unlock the phone. This could be embarrassing if the text is personal (e.g. if you are sleeping with your boss’s wife, and you get a bunch of XXO’s coming in during an important meeting). If you have the SMS Preview disabled, you’ll only see “New Text Message”.

And for the Good Samaritans…

There is a web site dedicated to lost and found iPhones:
www.ifoundyouriphone.com

You can register your serial number on your phone and put a message on your wallpaper where the person who finds your phone can go and contact you to get it properly returned. I encourage everyone to do this. There are a lot of good people out there, and hey, doing this simple step allows those people to be good. If all they got is a random phone that self-destructed its data, then they might just decide to keep it, but if they can look up your name and address, they might try to give it back to you. Think positively.



Taking Screen shots on an iPhone 3G

You can take screenshots of your iPhone by pressing and holding both buttons for about a second.
You can take screenshots of your iPhone by pressing and holding both buttons for about a second.

This is an (un)documented built-in feature on the iPhone 3G (i.e. phones with OS 2.0 or greater). Just prep your phone screen however you want it, then press the round application button and the power/sleep button at the top simultaneously (read: your phone’s only got 2 buttons, press them both). Hold the buttons for about a second, and if your sound is on, then you should get the obligatory shutter sound.

It’s a handy way to take screenshots!

Then the next question… how do get those pictures OFF my phone? Two easy ways: sync your phone (all the screenshots show up in your Photos application, just like anything you take using your camera). Or, view the photo in the Photos app, then email the photo to yourself. But this is a bummer because sometimes I’ve been unable to email the photo (Yahoo and a personal account).

You CAN sync up to any computer… if you plug your phone into any Mac computer, for example, iPhoto should be able to grab photos off your iPhone camera, but you can’t preview the PNG screenshots.

Don't be afraid! iPhoto can't preview PNG files, but you can use Preview to convert them to JPGs
Don't be afraid! iPhoto can't preview PNG files, but you can use Preview to convert them to JPGs

Don’t be afraid if you can’t see your screenshot! iPhoto can’t preview the PNG files, but you can drag them to the desktop and open them using Preview (or similar) to convert the file format.

5 Shortcomings of the iPhone 3G

iPhone
iPhone

Well, since I’m on the topic this week, I thought I’d mention my main grievances with my iPhone 3G.

1. Short battery life. My Motorola Razor could last a couple days without charging… perfect if I ended up crashing at a friend’s house or forgot my charger while traveling. But the iPhone pretty much needs juice every night. Moreover is that it seems inconsistent with its consumption rate. I don’t really understand how and when it’s doing stuff on the sly… like I THINK I turn it off, but it might secretly be gathering whether reports from Cuba or calculating the Shopping Days Until Christmas. (see my earlier rant).

2. Text messages don’t display dates and times on each message. I’m pretty forgetful, so sometimes I want to look back and find out when I texted someone… e.g. “Where were you on the night of the 22nd?” “Uh… I was at home.” “WHEN were you home?” “Oh, I texted my friend at… uh… oh crap…” I can just see someone going to jail for this somehow.

3. Keyboard is Vertical only. The Texting and Mailing apps don’t let you rotate the screen so you can have a WIDE keyboard… they’re stuck upright and cramped.

4. Can’t copy and paste text. Like say I’m surfing the web (cool)… then I want to send that link to a friend… uh… simple, yet impossible.

5. You can’t download stuff from web sites and save them to a file system. Yar. Even if you download them on your computer, it’s a tangled web of work-arounds to get files onto your phone. I’m stuck even trying to get my photo libraries on my phone… I know it’s possible, but I was stumped for about 5 minutes, then moved on to other more important things… like being a consumer whore (har har).

Six Weird iPhone Apps

Apple Mac
As some of you know, I recently got an iPhone 3G. I really like it… such an improvement over my other phone. What really blows me away is the vast array of applications for this device. Seriously. Who the hell is writing these things? Here is my list of strange iPhone apps, in random order.

1. Hello Cow — It’s an app that moos at you. Ok. It’s an improvement on the programmer’s perfunctory “Hello World.”

2. Useless $1000 App — Well… they pulled this one, but some guy made an app that did nothing and he charged $1000 for it. Some rich fools patronized him. Why didn’t I think of that?

3. Call Checker — This “handy” app calculates whether it’s a decent time for you to call someone… it handles times zones and such. It sounds remotely useful until you realize that the built-in clock on the iPhone can easily display times in any city and in any time zone. An improvement would be if the app could sense the mood of the person you were trying to call, e.g. if they were out on a date, asleep, with their OTHER boyfriend, or whatever… THAT would be a cool app. This app, unfortunately, isn’t.

4. iQuit — a program to help you quit smoking. Contains graphic images and in-your-face videos depicting the shocking truths behind nicotine addition. Wow. I hope this helps some people. I’m kinda upset that herds of chemists are out there working to make cigarettes as addictive as possible while some party-people just puff away without realizing how badly they might be damaging their bodies. Then again, a meteor might become crashed into us at any moment, and that would make my pompous commentary rather insignificant.

5. Wide Mail Keyboard — This one is overdue… the keypad for texting and emailing is amazing in theory, but in practice you tend to fat-finger things on an iPhone. Most apps will rotate if you put your phone into landscape position, but not the Text and Mail apps. Yar. This app promises to remedy that omission.

6. How Many Shopping Days Until Christmas? — Finally! An app for consumer whores! Seriously? Please. As a developer, I love that the platform is open, but if you want to open up development, then why not open up the other parts of development? Like product specs and quality control? This is one app that would never see the light of day if there were some sort of reality check in the process.

Well, I could go on, but I won’t. The point is that there is an app out there for just about anything. My favorites? Well, they’re kinda specific to me. I use an ear-training app…. other than that, I mostly stick to the defaults, but I will mention that the technology behind the Midomi app is amazing… you hum a part of a song, and it will tell you what song it is (and it’s pretty accurate, too!). The other app I use a lot (as a composer) is the Recorder… you can simply record stuff. Memos, song ideas, whatever. It’s really useful. You can then email the sound files around.

Sylvania -G Netbook (Hardware Review)

I recently acquired a Sylvania -G Netbook. I would never say that this machine is without flaws, but for the price tag it is a worthy competitor. I picked mine up on sale at Tigerdirect for $299 + Shipping. This price puts it a full bracket beneath Asus’s competition EeePc. Is the EeePc a better machine? In a word, yes. They have released nearly a dozen models and worked out alot of the flaws and challenges of building a machine this tiny. However, their price tag clearly displays their market domination. So I’m going to discuss why, for the right person, the Netbook is a great deal. [And hopefully warn the "wrong person" that this is not the netbook for them]

Tech Specs

  • Price- Recommended $399.00 (I have never seen it priced this high, especially with the Netbook Meso coming soon.)
  • Notebook type Netbook
  • Screen type Wide-screen
  • Display Type 7 in TFT active matrix
  • External Display DVI-out on Left Side (DVI-VGA Dongle Included)
  • Max Resolution 800 x 480 (In Linux) 1000 x 600 (In Windows)
  • Graphics Processor / Vendor UniChrome Pro IGP (Openchrome Linux Driver)
  • Processor VIA C7-M 1.2 GHz (Sub-clocked to 600 mhz for some reason [can be adjusted] )
  • Core voltage technology Ultra Low Voltage (ULV)
  • RAM Installed Size 1 GB
  • RAM Technology DDR SDRAm
  • Hard Drive 30 GB
  • Removable Storage SD Card Reader
  • USBs 2X on Right Side
  • WLAN RT8187 chipset from Realtek
  • WiredLAN 8P8C(Standard)
That is a basic full size Dell Keyboard for Scale.
User's Left Side (DVI port, SD card reader.)
User Right Side (Mic, Sound, 2X USBs, 8P8C Jack, DC-Power)

Hardware Review

LCD – 7 inches. This could be troublesome for some people, especially operating at 800×480, which is the maximum the openchrome driver can support. (At least out of the box, some wizardry in the X.org config could prove otherwise, but Sylvania claims it tops out at 800 x 400.) Under Windows, however, the drivers provided by Sylvania’s website supports a standard 1000×600; this setting is more than sufficient for most tasks.

LCD Hinges/Bezel – Since I have had some awful experiences with the iBook G4 and its amazing gap that grows between the bottom edge of the screen panel and the actually LCD display, I have grown to be wary of such things. No fear with the g-netbook, though, the LCD has its own frame that is inset into the LCD panel in such a way that it is virtually indestructible.

LCD, Webcam to the right, speakers below.

-My second fear is always with hinges. Anyone else own one of those great Dells a couple years back, where, just before the hinge plastic breaks, it severs the LCD power wires for the backlight? Well, these hinges feel solid, even when opened from an edge. They hold the screen tight and are internally beveled to snap the lid closed when it is about 1/4 inch from the keyboard. There is no play in the lid when it is closed.

Keyboard – Chicklet Keys. This is not the keyboard for the ham-fisted. it takes a little while to adjust, but after 2 weeks, full-size keyboards feel expansive. I do hold issue with the single-key-sized Right Shift Key. The Left Shift is double, but the Right Shift is very tiny and located just on the far side of the Up Arrow (you can see the trouble inherent in this, right?) Once you get used to it, though, it is cramped, but not bad.

Touch Pad – .6″ I wish I was joking. It really is. In Linux, the touch pad sensitivity is jacked so high that you just have to place your finger in the middle of the pad and kind of roll it to traverse the entire screen. My main problem with it was when I picked my finger up from the pad, it invariably moved the cursor. Yes, you can install apps to adjust it, but not with updates and installs disabled in gOS BETA. In windows, it becomes more manageable right out of the box, it takes about 3 swipes across the pad to clear the screen from edge to edge. Tap functionality is native, but on the default Linux sensitivity, I wouldn’t recommend it. On the second tap you will invariably move the cursor a good 3 inches across the display.

Yes, that is a quarter. It is that small.

Wireless – Where to begin? It has the Realtek RT8187 chipset built in. This, hardware wise, is not a bad chipset. The support, however, is terrible. If you check your driver blacklist in Linux, you will probably find 3 or 4 drivers for this hardware already blacklisted. The default driver assigned to the interface in gOS is passable. It can connect to networks, even WPA, but the connection is sketchy at best. I found the connection mostly reliable when within 10-15 feet of my router (Keep in mind, I have an external Realtek USB card [similar chipset] on a windows media station over 40 feet away that connects like super glue). Even when connected, it would drop the connection, but still display connectivity. So I tried Ndiswrapper with the windows drivers provided on the Sylvania website. It upped my range by about 5 feet, but lost WPA support. Had to switch Network-Manager for WICD and gained back my WPA, but lost ability to connect to unsecured connections. Dropped connections still displaying connectivity never changed. Needless to say, it will require some serious wizardry if you plan to get the card fully functional in Linux – not for the faint of heart.

It wouldn’t be fair to judge the machine based on poor driver choices in a BETA Linux distro, so I installed Windows on the machine to test the chipset under a supported environment. The provided Sylvania drivers still proved troublesome, so I went to the source. Realtek’s drivers on their support page, however, were out of date. It took some googling, but I eventually found the newest version, which works like a dream. Massive range, solid connection. Three drivers for the same chipset before it functions in Windows, though? Really? This is some poor company support all around.

Bios – Surprisingly adequate bios. When designing a machine without a CD-drive, the need to boot from USB cannot be overstated. The ability to boot from the SD slot is just a gift. A warning: When you first boot a new OS off a CD, the MBR will mess with you. I had to format the drive into FAT before continuing with the install.

Hard drive – 30 gigs isn’t bad. The drive is “easy” to change, if you’re not afraid of screwdrivers and dissecting a 300-dollar piece of hardware. If you do install a new OS (I don’t know why you wouldn’t), I recommend a small one. Slackware and Puppy Linux ran well on it, albeit with the same wireless problems and the openchrome via driver for video. XFCE is a wonderful window manager on this machine, if you are determined to make this a Linux Netbook.

Windows is a massive bloat on this machine. A typical XP install is between 3 and 4.5 gigs. I heartily recommend getting nLite and making your own trimmed-down version of Windows. I used a Lite version designed for the Asus EeePc – full install between 750 MB and 1 gig. Once I installed all of Office 2007, I barely topped 2.7 gigs.

Default Gos
My current system, running XP.

Sound -The two speakers are mounted directly under the LCD, providing sound on par with the EeePC’s speakers mounted to either side. They are stereo, and about the size of 2 postage stamps; the sound is as good as can be expected. I can find no information on who produced the hardware, and short of opening the machine, I probably won’t be able to get you range specs.

The sound card is another matter altogether. It works in Linux with no problems, the ALSA Mixer controls are great. The Fn+F# hotkeys even work to control sound. In Windows, I am yet to get sound configured. If anyone has found a way, let me know. Strangely, the drivers provided by Sylvania do not even allow the computer to register that there is a sound card present in the machine. This is a major downfall for the Windows install.

**Fixed** <All drivers for this computer MUST be installed after service pack 2.  Any beta versions of SP3 will destroy them and render most hardware non-working.  If you only have service pack 1 installed, you will get bizarre errors, also.  > **Fixed**

Battery -battery life is substantial. I tend to average around 3.8 hours with wireless on, 4.7 and some change with it turned off (Of course this is with the system idling). The battery is the only part of this system that does not feel completely solid. It has a little wiggle in it, even when fully locked in place. Not detrimental, but not the best fit either. This is the only piece of the machine does not feel completely bulletproof, and it bothers me enough to show you this picture:

That's how much play is in the battery, but only on one side.

DC Connector – Loose power connections on a laptop are the worst. That is no fear with the G Netbook. Its connector is so tight it is almost frightening. I’m afraid I’m going to just snap the connector off the Motherboard. This hasn’t happened, yet, so I will assume that it is attached on the inside with more than just 2 micro solders. The choice for an “L” shaped connector I find awkward, because if the L bends towards you, it blocks the USB ports. An “In Line” connector would have made a much more functional choice. If you’re an at home modder, though, go ahead and change it.

Summary

The machine is a great set of hardware for the price. The support for it, however, leaves so much to be desired that it is almost ridiculous. If you’re a Linux wizard and want a machine to tinker with that has almost unlimited potential (for the hobbyist) as a netbook, it’s a great buy. Despite my hatred for Windows, I have to recommend it as an alternative to the default Gos. It makes a far superior use of the provided hardware. For the money, I feel it’s the best deal on the market (for a ballpark 300, I wouldn’t pay too much more than that). If you can’t abide the hassle of customizing the system to your own needs, check out an EeePc. [If anyone would like to donate one, I would gladly review it side by side... <wink wink, nudge nudge>]

Smartphone Meltdown – Options for Data Backup

Disaster

I knew this would happen. Last night my Windows Mobile Smartphone suffered a serious meltdown. I tried repeatedly (and desperately!) to make it boot, but all to no avail. I tried everything from taking out the battery to yelling at it – I even thought about swinging a dead chicken over my head, but nothing helped. The device would mockingly make it to the booting logo, then freeze.

I’ve owned my MOTO Q for six months now, and this is the third meltdown that has occurred. As with the previous failures, I had to resort to a hard reset to make the dumb thing start working again. As you might suspect, a hard reset wipes out ALL the data on the device. All contacts, e-mail, and other data are gone. Poof!

Just in case you need to know, it’s easy to perform a hard reset on a MOTO Q. Heck, I’ve gotten quite good at it! While the device is off, simply hold down the middle button (between the arrows), then hold down the power button (end call). After several seconds, the hard reset prompt will appear, and your data will disappear into the mists.

Recovery

Has this ever happened to you? Times like this should serve as reminders that you need a backup system for your smartphone. Fortunately for me, I averted disaster. I was able to restore my critical data within minutes. Had I not planned ahead for a crisis like this, I may have had to spend hours re-entering all my Contacts and Calendar information.

Let my experience serve as a reminder for you to do whatever it takes to make sure your data is safe. Since my phone is Windows Mobile based, the backup solutions I mention below are written with that in mind, though they may work for other platforms. Don’t use Outlook and Activesync? Good for you! Neither do I. However, for people like us, it’s even more important to find a consistent way to back up our data.

Here are a few ways to do so:

Option 1 – Funambol (free)

  • works with Windows Mobile devices, iPhones, and BlackBerries

Funambol offers one of the simplest and most elegant backup solutions that I’ve seen. Best of all, it’s open-source and FREE. All you need to do is create an account on the myFUNAMBOL portal, register your phone with them, and then install a plug-in (on your phone). Within minutes, you can effortlessly and continuously sync your Contacts, Calendar, Tasks, and Briefcase to their server. If you’re so inclined, you can even access an e-mail account through Funambol. I currently route my Gmail through it.

It’s slick, it’s easy, and it’s free. A few months ago I wrote a full tutorial on setting up Funambol. Read it here.

Option 2 – NuevaSync (free)

  • works with iPhones/iPod Touch and Windows Mobile devices

Setting up NuevaSync is slightly more complicated than Funambol, but the sync potentials are tremendous. Best of all, it’s FREE. It allows for direct, over-the air synchronization of your Contacts and Calendar to web services such as Google and Plaxo. Essentially, NuevaSync acts like an Exchange Server, using the built-in ActiveSync (OTA) protocol on your Windows Mobile device. Think of it as a proxy to Google Calendar and/or the Plaxo social network. You don’t have to install anything on your phone. Nice!

As with Funambol, I wrote a full tutorial on setting up NuevaSync with Thunderbird, Google Calendar, and Plaxo. You can read it here.

Option 3 – PIM Backup (free)

  • works with Windows Mobile

The PIM Backup application takes a different approach than the aforementioned options. Instead of backing up data to an off-site location, PIM Backup runs locally and creates backups of your data right on your Windows Mobile device. With just a few clicks, you can create a backup of the data you choose, including Contacts, Calendar, and other data (such as Appointments, SMS messages, call log, and more). PIM Backup needs no installation – just run the EXE directly on your phone.

Because PIM Backup only saves data locally, you must regularly save the data elsewhere, such as copying the archive to your computer or e-mailing it to yourself. Of course, being the backup fanatic that I am, I have a different solution: a combination of options 1 and 3. Here’s a summary of how it works:

I have Funambol set to regularly sync my Briefcase to its server, and I have PIM Backup set to regularly save a backup straight to my Briefcase! So, the tiny backups of ALL the data on my phone are automatically and effortlessly stored on Funambol’s server. Neat, huh?

Option 4 – Sprite Backup ($29.95, $19.95)

  • supports all Windows Mobile devices

I almost never post about a paid solution to any problem, but given the popularity of this one, it’s worth a mention. Sprite Backup (by the same makers of the ubiquitous Symantec Ghost) offers and easy and effective backup utility.

So, what does Sprite actually backup? Everything, including Pictures, Ring-tones, SMS Messages, currently-installed applications, and more. It also offers scheduling, plus support for FTP transfers. Heck, it even supports backing up encrypted data on Windows Mobile 6.

No, it isn’t free, but if you just want worry-free backups, Sprite Backup may be right for you. Plus, they offer lifetime support and free upgrades, so you’ll never be left out in the cold.

No matter which option you choose, I urge you to find a solution you like and use it regularly. You never know when your phone may decide to have a meltdown of its own.

Is there a backup option that I missed (preferably non-Outlook/ActiveSync)? If so, please let me know in the comments.

Good luck, and as always, happy backups!

— Brian Bondari

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