Monday, December 31, 2007

Blackberry shortcut: how to mark multiple messages as opened

I finally figured out how to fix one of the little things that's been keeping me from fully enjoying my Blackberry 8830 World Edition: I can now manage the "opened/unopened" status of multiple messages at once on the Blackberry.

I used to spend a good 10 minutes each day in my Blackberry message folder navigating from one message to the next (press N to move to the Newer message or press P to move to the Previous message) so that the read/unread status would match my computer-based email applications (Mac Mail and Gmail).

Now, I've discovered I can mark whole days' worth (if not weeks' worth) of messages as opened by doing the following:
  • In the Blackberry Messages folder, scroll down until you've highlighted a date separator
  • Click the scroll wheel to bring up the popup menu
  • Select "Mark Prior Opened" and all the messages received that day (or any day prior) will be marked as opened and your unopened messages ticker will decrease in size accordingly!
Alternatively, at the date separator instead of clicking with the scroll wheel, you can use the menu button just to the left of the scroll wheel and you'll see the same "Mark Prior Opened" option plus a "Delete Prior" option for cleaning out the messages entirely.

PS from what I can tell scrolling through the Crackberry Forums, this shortcut works on all Blackberries.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

travel security spectacle laid bare

Over the course of 2007, I traveled just shy of 90,000 miles on airplanes, including three jaunts overseas and multiple hops across the country and back. While my United Premier Executive status allowed me to sidestep a lot of the cattle-herding-and-molesting measures put in place by the TSA, I still witnessed a whole lot of "you've gotta be kidding me" measures taken on behalf of so-called traveler safety.

Whether it was the feeble grandmother in a wheel chair forced to stand and be wanded for metallic items or the blatant ignorance of TSA screeners looking away from the screen to talk to each other while several bags passed through unchecked or general unprovoked surliness on both sides of the screening process, I saw a lot of unpleasant and ridiculous stuff.

In retrospect, I dutifully acquiesced to the theatrics/process each time instead of raising a stink, so I really was part of the problem, wasn't I? Yet I always meditated on the "how exactly is this making us safer?" question to pass the time in line. (the answer was always: "It doesn't")

So imagine how pleased I was to see in yesterday's NYTimes Jet Lagged blog pilot Patrick Smith hitting the nail squarely on the head in condemning this theatrical display of security via his post titled The Airport Security Follies. Read the whole thing yourself, or skip to the punch line here:
How we got to this point is an interesting study in reactionary politics, fear-mongering and a disconcerting willingness of the American public to accept almost anything in the name of “security.” Conned and frightened, our nation demands not actual security, but security spectacle. And although a reasonable percentage of passengers, along with most security experts, would concur such theater serves no useful purpose, there has been surprisingly little outrage. In that regard, maybe we’ve gotten exactly the system we deserve.
I'm with Cory at BoingBoing: if there's a revolution, tell me where to bring my pitchfork and torch. I'm there.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

IHT's 2007 in pix: good photos but bad UI

The International Herald Tribune has released its slideshow of 2007 in pictures: images capturing the compelling stories of 2007.

When you follow the link, you'll see they actually put the slideshow of 58 images up on December 18, and I'm only sharing the news with you now because it's taken me this long to scroll through the interface for the pictures one... at... a... time and wait for two ads to load on each page.

Such an infuriating UI. No way to scan the pix. You're locked into their choice of order, and heaven forbid you're stuck on a slow connection. While the pix average 64Kb, you've still got to load two ads per page to see the pics.

The only saving grace? Each photo is captioned and includes a link to the related article. You win some, you lose some. Still looking forward to a Flickr-like preview page for these "best of" collections.

Friday, December 28, 2007

freezer recovers crashed iBook hard drive data

In January of this year, my wife's iBook died a horrible screeching death when the hard drive failed in spectacular fashion. Eleven months later, thanks to help from our refrigerator's freezer, we revived the iBook long enough to grab our "irrecoverable data" from the grave.

A little bit about the iBook's untimely death: it was over rather quickly, as the open applications started slowing down and the beach ball lingered after each click much longer than it should have. Our typical tech solution (rebooting) was the exact wrong thing to do. After the Apple "BONG" signaled the restart, the screen stayed black while we listened to something scrape across the hard drive. We didn't hear the scraping for long, as my wife's shrieking "NOOOOOOOOO!" drowned the scrape out in short order: she hadn't backed up her files. Ever. And the scrape signaled the loss of the outline and 40 pages of a nonfiction book she'd been researching for months.

We went into recovery mode: The iBook was out of warranty by a good two years. No matter, we'd pay for the fix. A trip to the Apple Store's Genius Bar got nothing but a sympathetic "sorry, dude, we can't help" from the genius in residence. We then requested a quote from DriveSavers to extract the data and they came back with a "it'll be no more than $2300, but we can't promise we can get anything at all." That's almost $60 per page of the draft... too much. So, we decided to chalk it up to a learning experience (easy enough for me, it wasn't my book that vanished) and buy a new MacBook and begin backing up our data. The iBook took up residence in the storage room downstairs and was forgotten by all by my Dad.

My dad had heard somewhere that freezing the drive could help recover the data and was itching to see if it really worked. So, on the first day of my Dad's Christmas visit he asked if we still had the iBook (yes) and a thumbdrive (yes). Then he asked if we had room in the freezer for the laptop (no, but could be arranged). Finally, he asked if we were up for an experiment (sure).

We put the iBook in the freezer about 2pm Christmas afternoon and when dinner was over that night around 8pm, we took the frozen laptop out, plugged in the power cord, plugged in the thumb drive and depressed the power button.

The familiar startup chime sounded loud and strong from our frozen iBook.

We saw the screen flicker as the raster (the grey desktop) appeared and then we saw the load icon begin to swirl. Could it be true? We hadn't gotten this far at the Genius Bar back in January.

Then the OS badge appeared and, sure enough, moments later the desktop loaded back to what we were looking at last January just before the crash. The iBook even connected to our wireless network again!

Moving quickly (we didn't know how long we had), we dragged and dropped my wife's critical files from the iBook's hard drive onto the thumb drive. Success!

I didn't test to see how long the iBook would last in its frozen state, but I was able to switch users and grab some files from my own user desktop before shutting down about 20 minutes after it came back to life.

I would never have believed this were possible if we hadn't done it ourselves. I would NOT recommend this method as a first line of defense when trying to recover data from a crashed hard drive, but if you've gotten to the end of your rope and are ready to kiss your data goodbye, try popping your laptop in the freezer before rebooting one last time.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Maytag refrigerator repair: holiday surprise

Our Maytag Ice 2 O regrigerator (model MFI-2568-AES) went on the fritz last Wednesday night around 8:30pm. Thanks to the Web, and Forbes Appliance Repair, we had the fridge fixed (for free) within 24 hours... what a surprise!

To set the stage appropriately, we like our refrigerator a lot: it's got french doors, a bottom freezer drawer and an in-the-door console with ice and water dispenser. We bought it off the floor of Lowe's when we moved to Redwood City in July 2006, and it's served us well, for the most part.

So when this thing went "on the fritz," I mean the lights on the control panel started flickering in a Close-Encounters-of-the-Third-Kind fashion while the flap on the ice cube dispenser methodically opened and slammed shut. What kind of pissed off kitchen gremlin had decided to take up residence in our 16-months-new fully stocked fridge the week before Christmas?

Left Coast Mom and I began searching for the owner's manual to try and troubleshoot the situation (in the index under "P" for "Possessed") but couldn't find the manual anywhere in the kitchen or the files or the storage room bookcases (later we'd find out we'd stored it conveniently on top of the fridge in case something malfunctioned). So, we took to the web in search of help on our dueling laptops.

I found the owners manual online at the maytag web site and 58 Mb of file download later, I found nothing in the manual that was any help beyond how to turn off power to the control panel (remove the cover over the door hinge above the panel, then unplug the wire harness) to stop the infernal dispenser racket. We were out of warranty, and I was desperately scanning the web for any information on how our problem could be fixed and how much it'd cost us.

So I googled "maytag MFI-2568-AES troubleshoot" and about half-way down the results list I discovered the ComplaintsBoard forum overflowing with posts from folks (like us) who were confronted by malfunctioning control panel/ice dispenser. I found nine pages of forum posts, to be precise, starting Feb 9, 2007, when Cheryl M posted the following:
I bought my maytag ice2o French door refrigerator from home depot 8 mos ago. Loved it when I got it, but soon after had problems with the ice maker. They replaced the ice maker. Now the ice maker is still having problems. Its not strong enough to break up all the ice. The ice cubes freeze in big blocks causing the system to clog. Last night the thing took on a mind of its own. All the lights are flashing on the control panel, the ice and water maker don't work at all. The flap is constantly opening and closing all on its own, constantly making a clicking noise all night long. Finally we had to unplug it so we could get 4 hours sleep. Plug it in this morning and its still doing it. My biggest concern is what happens after the warranty runs out. I already know this thing has mechanical problems. Did I get a lemon or is it junk?? Either way I'm stuck with a $2,800 refrigerator that seems like it has bad engineering.
It was great to follow the arc of the discussion going from first post to group-wide resolution:
  • In the first 60 days, a dozen folks chimed in to say they were affected by the same problem.
  • Within 90 days, the forum was picking up speed and the group had diagnosed the High Voltage Control Board (part # 12920710 Board HV C) as the culprit. At least one workaround had been posted to the $200-$400 "official" fix for those of us out of warranty.
  • On Day 133, the first "we're investigating a potential class action suit" post appears.
  • By Day 150, folks begin posting success with Maytag's fixing the units for free and the discussion turns to strategies for navigating the customer service phone tree.
  • By Day 180, the complaints are now focused on the repair services, not on Maytag. From the posts, it seems A&E Factory Service is either heaven-sent or demons-from-hell depending on which city you live.
  • By Day 210, the forum is mostly full of folks expressing gratitude for all the previous posts and tips and reporting success in getting their own fridges fixed.
I called the Maytag customer service line (make that the "Whirlpool Customer Care Line" now that Maytag's been purchased by Whirlpool) and found out I'd have to wait until 8am Thursday morning to speak with a live person.

Thursday morning, I got a hold of Lorraine at Whirlpool and reported my problem. Within 10 minutes, she'd issued me a QI code and offered to set up a service call for me with A&E Factory Service the day after Christmas (6 days later!). I declined the offer and instead tried to go with a local shop, leaving a message with Forbes Appliance Repair here in Redwood City.

Bill (at Forbes) called me back around 3pm to get more details. I told him the problem and he admitted he probably didn't have the part in stock and couldn't get it until after the holiday.

I tried calling A&E myself to see if I could get a Friday appointment since I assumed they'd have the part in stock. Within 2 minutes of dealing with the customer support rep at A&E, I'd learned enough to know I was dealing with the demon variety and decided to stay with my instincts to go local.

I called Bill back and asked that he order the part and come install it. Bill took my info and was surprised when I gave him the part number he'd need to order (I had it thanks to the forum posts). He said he'd put in the order and would call to let me know when it was due to come in so he could come replace it.

Within 30 minutes, Bill called back with an unexpected question: "When can you be at the house?"

Beg pardon?

Bill happened to have the part in stock and offered to come to the house to install it that evening. All I had to do was move the fridge away from the wall so he could access the panel in the back to replace the board. (In moving the fridge, I discovered where we'd stashed the manual.)

At 6:15p, Bill knocked on the door. By 6:30p, the fridge was fixed and Bill was packing up his stuff and wishing us a Happy Holiday.

Happy Holidays, indeed. So refreshing to get good customer service from a local provider.

So, thanks to Forbes Appliance Service (650-366-8388) here in Redwood City, our fridge was fixed in record time. Here's hoping your appliances never go on the fritz, but if they do, give Bill a call to come fix them.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Reuter's Pictures of the Year 2007

Glad to see that Reuters has posted their own Pictures of the Year 2007 collection,

Bummed to have to warn you that the navigation through their collection is painstakingly laborious, at best.

Why can't they do something like the Flickr set thumbnails view instead of forcing us to scroll-and-click, scroll-and-click?

I have to admit I only made it half-way through the collection out of frustration with the interface. I'm hoping I didn't miss too much good stuff.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Twitter connections in KL

Itsthomas from Twitter
Originally uploaded by Choconancy1
Funny how small this world is.

Until today, I'd only known Nancy (Choconancy1 on Flickr) from Twitter, with a minimal sprinkling of Facebook and phone. Our work has us running in the same circles of people but until we met here in Kuala Lumpur.

Based on tweets, we knew we'd both be in KL at the same time attending the same conference, so bumping into each other was inevitable.

However, in a break between meetings, I tweeted I was about to go visit Central Market here in KL to prop up the local economy. Nancy caught the news and tweeted back to ask if she could join.

10 minutes later, we met in the lobby of my hotel and hopped a cab with my friend Sanjeev and were on our way. Nancy snapped this picture during the rain-soaked cab ride back to the hotel and uploaded our tale to her Flickr stream (

And now we've got photographic proof how the world gets smaller every day.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

using blackberry 8830 in asia

I'm here in Kuala Lumpur and very happy to see my Verizon Wireless Blackberry 8830 is working like a charm: both voice and data work smoothly via the "my celcom" network in downtown KL.

It also worked just fine at Singapore's Changi Airport in transit here.

I was surprised, however, to find out that the data network does NOT work at the Hong Kong airport. There was a weak voice signal there in the terminal, but absolutely no data stream available for email or web browsing.

Maybe it was a fluke the morning I passed through (Dec 8 at 7am)? I doubt it, though.

In any case, I'll be trying again on Dec 14 when I fly home. Unless I post differently, you've been warned not to expect data on your BB 8830 in the Hong Kong airport.

Don't get me wrong. In all, I'm still pleased with the phone. I'm just surprised at what constitutes a "world edition."

eating local food in Malaysia

plate of local fresh fruit
Originally uploaded by thomas pix
It's been a good initial 30 hours here in Malaysia.

Every chance I've gotten, I've made sure to eschew anything resembling traditional Western food for something more local (at least to this part of the world).

Last night for dinner, a group of seven of us at at the Little Penang Cafe (on the top floor of the Suria KLCC mall). Unlike American malls, the food court at the Suria Mall is actually a destination place to eat good food.

So, I had a bowl of prawn mee (spicy fish broth with noodles, prawns and bok choy) for dinner and a cincau (slightly sweet tea-like drink that's full of ice and gelatin blobs). Definitely not Western fare, and decidedly yummy and filling. The tab for all seven of us to eat? 102 Ringgits or roughly US$34. sweet.

At breakfast this morning (inclusive at the hotel), I skipped the stuff I'd expect on an American buffet breakfast and went for the Eastern stuff: dim sum, maasala, sushi, samosa, Mango juice (YUM!!!) and fresh fruit. Oh, wait, I did have coffee and a miniature pain au chocolat as well (it's a weakness, I admit). Again, delicious.

And at one of the break periods in today's meeting, I couldn't help but get a plate full of fresh fruit to go with my coffee (those flecks of chocolate at the bottom of the plate are just that... I ate the bite-sized mousse first).

I just can't get over the visuals on the fruit here. None of the melons really taste like what you'd expect in the States. In the picture, the polka dot fruit (dragon fruit) tastes like raw pumpkin, the yellow fruit tastes just like watermelon and the pale fruit tastes like muskmelon, maybe the closest to what I'd get at home.

While the guide books all say "AVOID FRESH FRUIT" I'm assuming they're talking about street-purchased fruit and not the stuff professionally prepared in restaurants and catering joints. Just in case, though, I'm taking preventative doses of the pink stuff so as not to come down with TD (Traveler's Diarrhea).

Wish me luck!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

National Geographic photo contest winners announced

My favorite time of year is here: the announcement of winners from all manner of contests as well as folks announcing their "Best of 2007" lists.

First up to be featured here, National Geographic's International Photography Contest. Of course NG lives up to expectations of curating a great set of pictures. Unfortunately, the pix are trapped in a presentation method that doesn't allow me to link directly to individual photos. As per usual, my favorites aren't the feature photo on any of the splash pages for the sets below.

In the International Winners category, four photographers are chosen from 148,203 images submitted to
the International Photography Contest.

In the English Language Winners category,
Four photographers are chosen from over 24,000 images submitted to the English Language portion of the International Photography Contest.

Honorable Mentions and other selections are featured in their remaining Animal, People and Landscape Galleries.

Monday, December 03, 2007

oncoming trains can't disrupt this marketplace

Watch how quickly this Bangkok marketplace reconstitutes itself on the train tracks once the very-real train has passed. I'm most impressed with the placement of goods sitting on the ground, between the ties, so that the train barely clears them. These entrepreneurs clearly have done this many times

I'm trying to imagine what this might look like in Redwood City on the Caltrain tracks, especially when the Baby Bullet comes screaming through.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

good things come via Flickr and Creative Commons

The train to Amsterdam from Schiphol airport Courtesy Flickr mail, I just received notice, yet again, that another of my Flickr photos has been used to illustrate an article.

Back in March of this year, I blogged about my decision to put all my Flickr photos under a Creative Commons Attribution license, and since then, half a dozen, or so, of my photos have been picked up for use by others with attribution back to me (per the license). I get no money, mind you (I'm not looking for $$), but it's a nice little ego kick to see that someone likes a picture I took enough to use it in something they're creating.

This time around, it's a travel guide for Amsterdam that's using a picture I snapped on my Treo of the train at Schiphol airport station. I had an overnight layover, and I was headed to the 'Dam for some Kwok when I snapped a picture of the bright yellow train as a reminder what I'd need to look for as I stumbled back to the station in the wee hours. (kidding!) I was really just so impressed at how yellow the train was... not High-Viz Yellow (like this blog) but a bright yellow nonetheless.

In any case, the picture could have sat in my Flickr stream for a handful of us to enjoy, but thanks to the CC license, more and more people will see the yellow train (and my photo credit) in the travel guide. They might just click through to see my other photos where they could find a photo they need for another project and place it there with the credit. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

Or, seeing the photo credit, they might just google my name which will bring them here to the blog where they might find something worth quoting on their own blog with credit back to here. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

BTW, some of my favorite CC'd photo uses so far are this bamboo flooring article showing a bamboo grove pic I'd snapped at Hakone Gardens, and this picture of Mt Hood that's been used to illustrate a lesson on volcanoes in a lesson plan book for middle school students titled Google Earth and GPS Activities for Intermediate Science just published this fall.

Quite the virtuous circle that Creative Commons has facilitated. And to think CC is just about to celebrate its fifth birthday this month.

Who knows where another of my photos will end up next?