En Route to San Antonio

I’m traveling to San Antonio today for the 2008 Questionmark Users Conference, taking place through Wednesday at the Westin Riverwalk. I didn’t find out I would be attending until late this week, so the flight options were pretty limited. I was scheduled to leave Edmonton this morning at 6 AM.

I left my house a little later than I wanted to, meaning I didn’t get to the airport until just before 5 AM. That would normally have been okay (though cutting it close), except that the self-service check-in machines were all down. So I got in the incredibly long line and started to wait. I gave up on that after about ten minutes, jumped into the first class/business line, and pleaded my case.

The service agent was really helpful, and she helped rebook me on a later flight. Frankly I was fairly surprised at how busy the airport was so early on a Sunday morning. Anyway, I’m in Denver now, on a long layover. I should arrive into San Antonio tonight at around 6:30 CDT.

The great thing about the Denver International Airport is that they have free, ad-supported wireless Internet – something I wish we had in Edmonton. I’ve been using it for a while now, and it seems pretty quick. Uploads are really fast actually, faster than my connection at home, at least to Flickr! I uploaded a bunch of pictures from Megan’s birthday celebration last night. Happy Birthday Megan 🙂

More later!

Edmonton Next Gen WiFi Focus Group

edmonton next gen Unfortunately I am not going to be able to make it to this event (I’m going to San Antonio on Sunday) but I thought I’d mention it in case someone else wants to go and can fill me in later! Edmonton’s Next Gen organization is hosting a focus group on WiFi, to discuss the next steps in their initiatives for public wireless access in our city:

Now, Next Gen and the City’s IT branch are preparing a new report to City Council, which will give an update on the success of the pilot projects over the past year, and recommend next steps to take towards Next Gen’s vision. If you would like to take part in deciding what those next steps will be, please contact Megan Pilby at megan.pilby@edmonton.ca to RSVP for our upcoming session.

The deadline to RSVP is tomorrow at noon. The event takes place on Sunday, April 13th, from 1pm to 4pm. Location details will be given once you RSVP.

For background information, you can read the NextGen report on WiFi (PDF). To learn more about Edmonton’s Next Gen, check out the website.

Starbucks to offer free Wi-Fi at most U.S. locations

starbucks It’s announcements like this one that make me wish I lived south of the border. Beginning this spring, Starbucks and AT&T will offer free and paid wireless access at “many” locations around the United States:

Starbucks said Monday it will give customers that use its Starbucks purchase card two hours of free wireless access per day. After that, it will cost $3.99 for a two-hour session. Monthly memberships will cost $19.99 and include access to any of AT&T’s 70,000 hot spots worldwide.

How freaking sweet is that?! Two free hours if you use a Starbucks card. Starbucks Gossip confirmed with PR that they mean the gift card kind, not the Duetto, which is even better! And if you work at Starbucks, you get unlimited free access:

As an added benefit for the more than 100,000 Starbucks partners in the U.S., all Starbucks partners will receive free AT&T Wi-Fi accounts allowing them to use the network in Starbucks company-operated locations offering Wi-Fi access.

Today’s news ends a six-year deal that Starbucks had with AT&T rival T-Mobile. There’s more on the story at Techmeme.

Please Starbucks, bring this to Canada! I would absolutely love to drop in to Starbucks, turn on my iPod touch, and check out the headlines (or Twitter/Facebook mobile heh).

Please? Pretty please?

Read: The Associated Press

REVIEW: Brother HL-4070CDW Color Laser Printer

Wireless!Like Tris Hussey, I received a comic from Darren Barefoot back in November with an offer to review a new Brother color laser printer. Unlike Tris, I am really late with my review! In any case, I jumped at the chance and have had the printer for a couple months now.

There were a few options to choose from (all part of the new color laser lineup) but it was an easy decision for me – the Brother HL-4070CDW has wireless connectivity! So that’s the one I received.

My first impression was "wow, where the heck am I going to put that?" The printer is gigantic, as is the box it came in. We’re talking 75 pounds of printer. It was immediately clear that this is a business printer, not a consumer one. It has been sitting on my kitchen table ever since. But because it’s wireless, I have been using it!

Setup took me quite a while, but it was no fault of the printer. I didn’t have a network cable long enough to go from the kitchen table to the router, nor did I have long enough USB or parallel cables (isn’t that odd, that a fancy new printer with wireless still has a parallel port? because it’s for "business" I guess). And while I have the popular Linksys WRT54G Wireless-G router, it’s one of the earliest revisions, so it doesn’t have the "SecureEasySetup" feature. That left me with some complicated wireless notebook setup routine, or entering the details manually via the LCD and buttons on the printer itself. I opted for the latter, and eventually got it working. I think an improvement would be some sort of USB-key support, where the installer on my computer would copy something to a USB-key that I could plug into the printer for setup.

LCD Information Panel The Printer The gigantic box it came in Parallel ports? Seriously?

I despise installing printer software, but the setup for this printer was pretty painless actually. No problems, and it didn’t install a bunch of unwanted crap. I think I’ve had a few too many horrible experiences with HP software, and that has left a bad taste. Fortunately Brother decided to keep it simple.

Oh yeah I had to stick in the toner cartridges too, but that was really easy. New printers these days are pretty idiot-proof with the labels and tape that must be removed, and the cartridges themselves clicked nicely into place. They sent me the standard yield cartridges which can print 2500 black and white copies, and 1500 color. The high yield cartridges bump that up to 5000 black and white, 4000 color.

Inside the front Now for the actual printing! Bottom line – the quality is superb. The color pages I have printed look wonderful, with really sharp, bright colors. The black and white pages are good too, nice and crisp. My main complaint applies to all laser printers – I hate how the pages are curved! Because of the heat used during the printing, the pages don’t really lie flat, they curve with the shape of the printer. Not a deal-breaker, but you don’t have that problem with an inkjet. I didn’t do an official timing, but printing black and white pages full of text seems pretty close to the advertised 21 pages per minute.

I’ve used laser printers before, and there’s one problem I’ve always had – paper jams! That’s all I can remember about the laser printers of the past. Fortunately, I haven’t had any paper jams with this printer. I have even stuck thick paper (like the greeting card quality) on top of normal paper in the tray without any problems.

How about the wireless? No surprise here – I absolutely love the ability to print wirelessly! It’s just so useful. Whenever I can cut a cord I will. It gives you more flexibility about where you can put the printer too. The printer has a sleep mode, which it goes into after a period of inactivity, but it wakes up when I send a job, even wirelessly (which I guess is obvious, but still seemed somewhat surprising for some reason).

As I said, this printer isn’t meant for the home user. It’s big, heavy, and expensive (MSRP $629.99 CDN). That said, it’s a wonderful printer for business users. Cartridges cost about $85 for standard yield, and $160 for high yield. That’s probably quite a bit more cost-effective than an inkjet. Business users who need to take advantage of the wireless capabilities should especially check this printer out. If I was doing a lot of color printing in an office setting, the Brother HL-4070CDW would definitely be on my list of printers to consider.

Wi-Fi Heartbeat

Post ImageOh man I totally need to get me one of these! BoingBoing posted yesterday about a DIY project that can give you a “sixth sense for wireless networks.” Here’s the project description:

This project is for a small electronic unit that allows the user to sense the presence and relative signal strength of wireless hotspots. It can be worn as a pendant or carried in a pocket. It is “always on” and communicates the presence and signal strength of an in-range hotspot by way of sequences of pulses – like a heartbeat you can feel. The stronger and faster the “heartbeat”, the stronger the wireless signal detected.

Just imagine walking around a city’s downtown with this thing on…it would never stop pulsing! Very cool idea though.

Read: BoingBoing

Podcasting will win big thanks to the iPhone

Post ImageThe iPhone has already had a big impact on the technology industry, what with the stock prices of both RIM and Palm falling sharply today, and it will continue to have an impact over the next couple years. Certainly when it launches this summer, we’ll find out if all the hype is justified. And there will most certainly be copycat designs.

In any case, I think the launch of the iPhone bodes well for podcasting.

Apple describes the iPhone as “a breakthrough Internet communications device” thanks to its support for Wi-Fi and EDGE. We know that it runs OS X under the hood, and that it supports Widgets. It isn’t entirely clear just yet if it’ll be possible to get a podcatcher running on the iPhone, at least from everything I have read, but the idea certainly seems plausible.

Apple’s iPhone will let you walk around with Wi-Fi Internet access in your pocket. Even if it can’t podcatch all by itself, other device manufacturers and future editions of the iPhone most certainly will. The iPhone will open up the “pocket Wi-Fi device floodgates”, so to speak.

Heck, maybe it will even prompt Microsoft to open up the Zune’s Wi-Fi capabilities.

It might not be apparent for quite a while, but I am confident that the iPhone will have nothing but a positive impact on podcasting.

Microsoft likes municipal wi-fi too

Post ImageBy now you’ve probably heard about the wifi network that Google built in San Francisco with partner Earthlink. Now Microsoft wants in on the game, and has partnered with MetroFi to blanket Portland in wireless Internet bliss. The deal is more than just a “me too” reaction:

Content providers who capture the growing municipal Wi-Fi market will be in a better position to enjoy higher traffic to their sites and greater customer loyaltyand, as a result, grab a greater share of online advertising dollars, expected to reach $16 billion in the U.S. this year, according to consultancy eMarketer. “It’s a battle for eyeballs,” says Matt Rosoff, an analyst with consultancy Directions on Microsoft.

I could care less what the battle is about, as long as they keep building these networks. I have to agree with John Battelle:

All I can say is, please, keep up the competition. I’d love a chance to select from three different Wifi carriers in every major city, each of them free/advertising based.

Entire cities covered in free wireless Internet access can only lead to goodness. Bring on wireless everywhere!

Read: BusinessWeek

Minnesota to launch solar wifi network

Post ImageYay for wireless everywhere! Let us all follow the fine example about to be set by Minnesota. According to Web Worker Daily, the state is getting ready to take a major step into the wireless world (via Tris Hussey):

From a state better known for wind chill and the latest in fur-trimmed parka fashion, a plan to create a wireless mesh network with nodes powered by batteries refreshed via solar panels is gathering steam.

The solar panels being used are apparently the same type already being used for highway signs across the country. The battery system is theoretically capable of lasting nearly seven years between replacement. And all the hardware is promised to work even during the dead of winter, through snow and sub-freezing temps.

Canadians take note! This sounds like the kind of technology we need to deploy here in our own cities. Apparently 300 residents are already testing the network (not currently solar powered) and a final decision on the project should be made on Monday.

Wireless Internet access provided by an all-weather, solar-powered mesh network. Awesome.

Read: Web Worker Daily

Anaheim goes wireless

Post ImageAnd I thought the biggest news in Anaheim was that the Mighty Ducks are now known as the Ducks! But nope, it’s not. The latest city to embrace my mantra is indeed Anaheim, which announced the new wireless network today with a ceremonial cable cutting:

Curt Pringle, the mayor of Anaheim, cut a thick blue cable with giant scissors in front of a quiet lunchtime crowd Thursday as this Los Angeles suburb joined the growing list of American cities that have launched a citywide wireless Internet network.

Anaheim is EarthLink’s first citywide network, but certainly not the last. EarthLink has signed on to provide San Francisco, Philadelphia, New Orleans and five other cities with municipal Internet access.

This one is different than most you may have heard about, as no free service will be made available. Instead, residents can pay $21.95 per month for access, and visitors to the area (such as the millions who visit Disneyland) can buy smaller amounts of access.

Still, this is great news for those of us who want wireless to be ubiquitous.

Read: CNET News.com

Another misleading headline

Post ImageI took a quick look at the headlines on CNET News.com, and one in particular caught my eye. The story is titled “Windows Wi-Fi vulnerability discovered“, and given that I use wireless networks all the time, I decided I should take a look. Here’s how the article describes the problem:

When a PC running Windows XP or Windows 2000 boots up, it will automatically try to connect to a wireless network. If the computer can’t set up a wireless connection, it will establish an ad hoc connection to a local address. This is assigned with an IP address and Windows associates this address with the SSID of the last wireless network it connected to.

The machine will then broadcast this SSID, looking to connect with other computers in the immediate area.

The idea is that a hacker could then connect to the computer and compromise it. All of that I understand. Yet as I was reading this, I kept thinking to myself, “that’s not what happens when there are no wireless networks.” I don’t experience what is described above! Then I realized why.

A full nine paragraphs into the story:

MessageLabs believes that users running Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2) are not at risk.

There’s no way they could have mentioned that earlier? All this kind of story does is spread needless FUD about Windows. If you have a properly updated machine, you’re fine! Not only that, but any firewall (like the one built-in to XP and enabled by default in SP2) would prevent any such problem.

If nothing else, I hope Windows Vista is regarded as secure, so that I don’t have to put up with articles such as this one. No matter your religious affiliation, the current Windows stuff is pretty solid. And no matter what operating system you use, if you don’t keep it properly updated, you do so at your own risk!

Read: CNET News.com