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Verizon

The DTV Switchover Scam: Don’t Get Taken!

By business, news, opinion, rants, sarcasm, technology

You’ve probably seen those not-so-creative TV advertisements the National Association Of Broadcasters has put out in an effort to scare inform the general public about how their TVs will no longer work after February 17, 2009. Why? The federal government has mandated that all over-the-air stations turn off their analog signals by that date. The government has auctioned off the analog spectrum to private companies. For more on this, see my post, “AT&T To Bring Free Wi-Fi To Starbucks And Beyond!” where you can learn more about the plans.

Anyway, leave it to Corporate America to capitalize on consumer confusion and take advantage of all of the many people who don’t know anything about what’s really going on with the digital switchover.

Oh, before I go any further, please notice the picture on the left. I added my own caption commentary, but the picture is for real. It’s on the joke-of-a-website DTVAnswers.com. Lets have a moment of honesty and self-reflection here. Do you or anyone you know watch TV like this? Unless they just gambled their life savings on a horse race and just won, there is no way they could be this scary-happy without hard drugs. But I digress.

These TV ads are putting many people in a frenzy. My friend’s family just replaced every TV in their house because they thought without a new TV, each with a digital box connected to it, they wouldn’t be able to watch TV anymore. They already had Comcast standard cable, but they thought they needed both new TVs and to upgrade to Comcast’s digital package (hence the digital boxes) to receive programming. Comcast’s boxes and the ones the government is offering are completely different! The cable industry is raking in the big bucks this year because of misinformed people such as this family.

My grandparents recently got a second digital box from Comcast for their second TV because of the same confusion. I know there must be countless other individuals doing the same thing and flushing money down the tubes to these companies who are using shady advertising tactics to trick consumers. Don’t get screwed over by the cable industry. Here are the cold, hard facts.

If you’re one of the diminishing number of people who uses “rabbit ears” to pick up local broadcast stations and have a TV that’s more than a couple of years old, you won’t be able to pick up the signal after February 17, 2009, without a digital set-top converter box (available free or at a discount rate from the government). If you have cable from any provider at all, such as Comcast or Verizon, you don’t have to do anything. You’re not affected in any way, shape, or form, and don’t let them convince you otherwise.

The government isn’t very clear about who’s affected either. Is this Bush’s backdoor plan to help the economy by helping manufacturers selling millions of dollars TVs and related equipment and the cable and satellite industry make record profits? Okay, probably not. But that is what’s happening in these industries. Don’t get taken!

 

Short Pump Sprawl Rant

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Any of you that know me pretty well know I run a local history website (I’m in the process of revamping it now, and it looks so bad at the moment I don’t even want to link it right now). I’ve watched the development of Short Pump from a tiny rural village eleven years ago to the sprawling suburban hot spot it now is. Sure, it’s great that those of us who live in the Far West End have pretty much everything we could want and need within a few miles of us, but it’s just gotten ridiculous lately.

Take for example the shopping center that’s opening up this weekend, Short Pump Station. It’s the one that was just completed across the street from Target. Next time you’re driving down West Broad Street, take a look at it. Notice how there’s ten or fifteen retail spaces for lease in the center, and only four are leased as of now. Why are developers building these shopping centers when there is no demand? Obviously, as the old saying goes, if you build it, they will come. Yes, this is true, they will eventually fill up the entire place with tenants, but look at what’s there thus far:

1) A Verizon Wireless store. Are you kidding me? There are five (count them… FOUR) Verizon stores within a one mile radius of this new store! There’s one in Best Buy, Circuit City, Short Pump Town Center, and on Broad next to For Eyes. I can somewhat understand when Starbucks puts a store on every corner, but a cell phone store? That’s insane.

2) Petco. I like animals… shoot, I have four cats. But what’s the need? I know we have a PetSmart right down the road, so it’s only natural that their competition would move in, but seriously.

3) Five Below. I’ve been to one of these stores up at Patomac Mills in Northern Virginia. What is it, you ask? Basically take the Made-In-China crap they sell at Dollar Tree and add a few “nicer” items, up to five bucks. There you have it. It’s geared towards teens and young people on a tight budget, but it’s still crap. We already have a Wal-Mart across the street for that.

The empty shopping center trend continues as you go west of the mall to Towne Center West, which opened this summer (pictured at top, left).

Next to Short Pump Station, West Broad Village is now under construction. Despite “planned traffic improvements” that Henrico County talks about all the time, it’s still going to be even more of a nightmare than ever to drive through Short Pump when it’s all completed.

But rest assured, all you Verizon customers, you’ll always have five cell phone stores within walking distance of each other that you can stroll between when you get stuck in gridlock traffic for three hours and abandon your car on Broad Street.

Trading In, Trading Up: iPhone

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Ever since the iPhone came out in late June, I wanted one really bad. I told myself I wasn’t going to get one. Well, for one, I had Sprint and had no intentions of dropping them. But when Apple dropped the price of the 8GB iPhone by $200, I just had to take the opportunity to get one. I know I posted before about my enV (I got Verizon after I dumped Sprint about a month ago, but bought the iPhone when they dropped the price and got my money back from Verizon- they have a 30-day money-back guarantee) and I have nothing bad to say about Verizon. Unlike Sprint, I had great service with them and got a signal just about everywhere, including my office building downtown, which is a concrete barricade for most all cell providers and even the majority of local radio stations. But, I just felt that I needed more of a PDA-like device to organize all I have going on with school, work, everything I do with church, and extracurricular activities.

I absolutely love my iPhone. It’s just like my Mac: intuitive interface, easy to use, simple yet powerful, minimalistic architecture, aesthetically pleasing, elegant, and is designed beautifully. Everything made by Apple just makes sense, and this device is no exception.

I’d like to go through and review each home screen application individually, as they appear on screen, based on my personal experiences over the past week. Here’s my personal review:

Text – Sending texts on this phone resembles an iChat conversation (it’s not too far off from AIM, either) with the talk bubbles and conversation-based layout. The on-screen keyboard is very easy to use despite it’s small size because of the shear precision of the touch screen interface.

Calendar – Syncs with iCal (Mac) or Microsoft Office Outlook (PC). I have four color-coded calendars set up in my iCal: Personal, Work, Church, and VCU. They all sync seamlessly with the iPhone. All alerts, reminders, and other features remain intact and all events are editable on the fly. My Mac was already helping tremendously to organize my busy (as of lately) life, but now that I have my calendar with me at all times I always know what I have going on.

Photos – Displays photos automatically synchronized from iPhoto (Mac) or any set folder on your Mac or PC, or those taken directly with the iPhone’s built-in camera. Nifty interface with options for slideshows, transitions, and other cool things. You can also quickly zoom in or out on photos by “pinching” the screen (sliding your thumb and index finger together/apart).

Camera – Nice 2.0 megapixel digital camera that takes photos comperable to the iSight webcam built into my MacBook Pro. Good color quality with little to no brightness wash-out that you sometimes get with cameras on mobile devices.

YouTube – Excellent mobile version of the site with options for search, most popular videos, bookmarks, and more. Nice widescreen, full display of videos, fast loading, especially when connected to wi-fi as opposed to over AT&T’s Edge data network.

Stocks – As you could imagine, I’m not really into the stock market, but very nice interface for checking up on the performance of your favorite companies should you so choose

Maps – A mobile version of the Google Maps application, and just as with any Google software, it’s feature-rich and intuitive. “Pinch” to zoom in/out, view satellite imagery, get directions, search for the nearest anything (a simple search for Starbucks returns all the nearby Starbucks locations, complete with wi-fi information and phone numbers. Some even include store hours!

Weather – Simple, easy-to-use weather interface that shows the next few upcoming days’ weather forecast and high/low temperatures, easily customized for multiple locations

Clock – Includes a timer, stopwatch, alarms feature, and world clock that displays the time in any city of your choosing worldwide

Calculator – Does the job. Simple, big buttons, does what it needs to do

Notes – Similar to the Stickies application in Mac OS X, useful for writing down “to do” items or anything you need to remember

Settings – Controls for everything on the iPhone, including really cool built-in ringtones. A lot of times phones come with lame ringtones, but Apple did a good job with this.

Phone – Well, this IS why I have the thing, right? Among other things, yes. View all your contacts (synchronized from Address Book (Mac) or Microsoft Office Outlook (PC)), and just click to see all their details. Click below to get to your “Favorites” list (basically speed dial on most phones), and the voicemail menu brings up one of the coolest features: Visual Voicemail. No more dialing your mailbox to retrieve messages and listening to frustrating audio prompts from within. Visual Voicemail does just what it sounds like- visually displays your voicemail messages and lets you click on them to play (click below to stop or pause) and delete or save them, scroll through them much like you would with a song on the iPod, and call the person back, all with one touch of the screen. Amazing feature.

Mail – All mail messages and account settings are imported during sync, and you can set your iPhone to automatically check for new messages from multiple accounts up to every 15 minutes. Very sleek, nice interface, easy to read and reply. I have my two personal accounts, VCU, and GACC accounts set up and they all work together seamlessly.

Safari – The iPhone is the first phone to offer “true” internet, not the mobile version you find on most phones. With the ability to “pinch” and “pull” to zoom in and out on the page, you can easily view everything in a snap. The screen will rotate from the normal portrait mode to landscape (widescreen) when you flip the iPhone 90 degrees. Very, very cool.

iPod – All the features of a regular iPod, with the ability to actually hear the songs on the built-in speaker, and view Cover Flow (shows your album artwork like a jukebox) when you turn your iPhone in landscape mode.

So with all these wonderful features, I will say that there are actually a few downsides that I’ve noticed. Nothing’s perfect. Apple is due for another firmware update (1.0.3) within the next week or two, and I think they are going to squash most of the bugs. Here’s what I’ve found so far:

1. When I listen to music on the iPod application of the iPhone and open up Safari and get online, either Safari or the iPod application will crash sometimes. It’s about a 50/50 chance. You’re supposed to be able to multitask and have multiple applications open, so I think this is definitely something the update will address.

2. No picture mail (!). Can you believe that? A phone that can send emails, have full web access, and get on YouTube can’t send multimedia messages? Wow. There is a workaround I’ve found, though. You can email photos you’ve taken on your iPhone, so let’s say you wanted to send a picture to a friend who has Verizon. All you have to do is email it to FRIENDSNUMBER@vzwpix.com and it will be sent to their phone as a picture message. Cool, huh? It sucks you have to do that, but it works.

3. No instant messaging/AIM support. The texting application looks like iChat and resembles an online chat, but for some reason no AIM support was included. This is rumored to be included with the update that’s coming out, so we’ll see. There is a nice version of Meebo built for the iPhone, though, although it sometimes causes Safari to crash.

4. No video support. This is also a rumored update. The camera is completely capable of good quality video, so I think this will be supported.

5. Limited settings. The Settings application is very clean, but limited. For example, you can’t change the alert tone for texts, voicemail, email, or calendar alerts. Lame!

Overall, the iPhone is amazing. It’s far beyond any of the competition. Years away, I believe. I’m very happy with my purchase and look forward to the future additions and updates.

Everything’s Changing

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This has been an interesting week thus far. Things are kind of stabilizing. Nothing was ever that wrong, and I appreciate all the comments and Facebook messages (of both concern and praise) I got from my “vent post” this past weekend. Everyone seemed to share my sentiment about the mess up at The Dominion Club. I might have written all of that to let off some steam, but I wasn’t exaggerating how things are at the club, and I’m obviously not the only one by far who feels the way I do.

So anyway, as the post title suggests, I’m in a season of change in my life right now. One obvious change is college. I start classes Friday, and even though I’m living at home, there’s still so much change around me. A few of my really good friends have left this week for their respective colleges away from Richmond, and it’s just weird right now. It’s strange to think that they’re not coming back until Christmas. I feel a little disconnected at the moment not living on campus at VCU, especially after visiting Jen’s dorm and seeing all the bustling activity going on down there, but I know I’m going to meet a lot of cool people who I’ll end up becoming friends with, so it’s not a big deal. I’ve already met some really nice people in just the few times I’ve been on campus.

So I made another change today, hopefully for the better. I switched from Sprint to Verizon. Now I know I’m going to get a bunch of fingers pointed at me if I don’t first make this disclaimer: I know I’ve always told anyone who asked me why I didn’t have Verizon all the reason I didn’t want it (I was happy with Sprint, Verizon has (supposedly) bad customer service, and their phones are slow because of all the software they cram into them), but I don’t think I’m being completely hypocritical by switching. I have plenty of justification for my move. Just about all my friends, those I call and text both a lot and a little, have Verizon. Plus, for some reason, Sprint’s service has degraded a lot lately. I’m not really sure why. You’d think if anything it would get better as they build more towers and improve their network coverage, but who knows. I’ve had it for less than a day as I write this, but already I’ve noticed that I have a very strong signal everywhere I’ve been, including at church, which has notoriously been a really bad dead spot for my old service.

Review of the LG enV:

The new enV by LGThe service is better, sure. But what about the phone? It’s awesome. I got the new model of the enV by LG. The battery performance is far better than my old phone (often I would charge my old Samsung Blade all night and the battery would die after normal use by dinnertime), not to mention it’s just really cool. It has a dual-interface, meaning you can use almost all of its features on the front of the phone without opening it (and frankly you can’t even tell it opens up on first glance), but when you do open it you’re presented with a full “QWERTY” keyboard and crisp widescreen LCD that, believe it or not, comes close to the resolution of my MacBook Pro’s screen. The 2.0 megapixel camera has a very good white balance, and pictures actually look like they were taken on a full-featured digital camera rather than looking like the bright, washed-out pictures most phones’ cameras (including my old Blade) produce. Video quality is better than on many phones, and Verizon’s mobile internet service looks great and runs fast. Email came through almost as fast as over my Comcast broadband at home. Overall, after an afternoon of heavy use, I’d give my new phone 4 1/2 stars out of five.