Court Rules AT&T Must Pay In Throttling Case

An unlimited data plan should be exactly that–unlimited. Instead cell phone companies often use the word unlimited to sell plans but don’t really mean it. For example, AT&T has been throttling down the speed of phones, even if not using very much data compared to limited plans. The phones still work, but they cannot be used to stream video, and web browsing becomes very slow.

Matt Spaccarelli sued AT&T, complaining that his phone was throttled after using only 1.5 gigabytes to 2 gigabytes of data during a billing cycle. In contrast, people purchasing a tiered plan for the same price Spaccarelli paid at $30 would get 3 gigabytes of data. Spaccarelli was awarded $850. Unfortunately AT&T’s small print prevents class action suits so each customer in his situation will have to sue individually.


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Turning the Nook Tablet Into A True Android Tablet

The announcement of Amazon’s plans to sell the Kindle Fire at only $199 created hopes of an inexpensive yet useful Android tablet becoming available. The hopes did come true, but not from Amazon. While the Fire has many problems, which Amazon is promising to fix, the real bargain in Android tablets came from Barnes& Noble.  The Nook comes with both more internal memory than the Fire plus allows use of internal memory cards to expand this further.It’s benefits are well worth the price which is $50 higher.

Both the Fire and Nook are being sold at loses in the hopes of promoting additional sales. While I greatly prefer the Nook, I actually spend many times more money as a member of Amazon Prime than I do at Barnes & Noble. I have been using a black and white Nook as my main eb0ok reader for the last several months because, wanting to avoid being limited to any one company’s device, I found that it is easy to side load ebooks from any source onto the Nook (using Calibre to convert to epub format if necessary). It didn’t take long to find that downloading an Android program with the browser provided access to a hidden menu option to allow side loading of programs from outside sources to the Nook. I quickly added the Amazon Market, as well as the Amazon programs to play the free Prime videos and all the music in Amazon’s cloud where I have unlimited storage. (The increase in storage for the year came with the purchase of a single album at the cost of $1.)

This already provided an Android device capable of handling my material from Amazon and other sources far better than the Kindle Fire was capable of. I also added many other programs, including ones from the Android Market and ones copies from my Droid. I added a custom launcher, and found a program to ensure that my launcher loads instead of the stock Barnes & Noble one. The built-in browser is ok, but it is an even more powerful (and fast) browser after adding Dolphin.

This was all done quickly without rooting the Nook Tablet. It is possible to have a useful Android tablet with rooting, but rooting provides far more. Rooting was necessary to add all of Google’s material, including their Market, and to add custom keyboards, making this a full Android tablet. Amazon did set their video player so that it will not stream free Prime movies on a rooted device. I’m not sure why as someone’s  goal was to try to capture the videos I would think this would be far easier to accomplish when playing on a pc as opposed to a small tablet. Regardless, there are two ways around this. The videos will play in the browser regardless of whether the tablet is rooted, and the program OTA RootKeeper, which is available on the Market will temporarily unroot an Android device. Netflix and Hulu Plus work well, regardless of whether it is rooted. HBO GO isn’t working, but I believe that is a common problem with all Honeycomb devices. I’ve read claims that getting this to work is a high priority at Barnes & Nobel

It takes a little work to download and install these programs, many of which can be found through the xda developers forum, but it is well worth the effort if you desire a powerful Android tablet for only $250.

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Xoom A Flop So Far

Business Insider reports that the Xoom is a flop with only 100,000 selling so far. Personally I’d wait longer before buying any tablet because I expect more powerful, less expensive ones to be out in the next several months. That’s the advantage of an open system, but also means it will take longer for a lot of people to buy one. However, if it is a flop, they could always sell it at a loss and I’d pick up a cheap one now.

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Watson To Provide Uses Beyond Winning On Jeopardy

Accessing large amounts of information is an area where computers have an obvious advantage over humans. This, along with being better at playing the buzzer, allowed Watson to win on Jeopardy this week. Watson had an advantage in answering questions due to being programed with the information from a massive number of reference books, but even simpler systems are providing benefits to us mere humans.

At present I can ask my Droid a question out loud. While I do not receive a verbal response like those given by Watson, the screen does display the results of a Google search with pertinent information along with information within the Droid. Besides typing in or speaking questions, searches can even be done based upon pictures. For example, yesterday I was wondering where a picture on the cover of a book was taken. The Droid ran a search and gave me  information on the resort where the picture was taken along with identifying the picture as the cover of the book where it was obtained.

There is obvious commercial use for a device such as Watson which can answer questions out loud. This includes providing information for physicians:

For I.B.M., the future will happen very quickly, company executives said. On Thursday it plans to announce that it will collaborate with Columbia University and the University of Maryland to create a physician’s assistant service that will allow doctors to query a cybernetic assistant. The company also plans to work with Nuance Communications Inc. to add voice recognition to the physician’s assistant, possibly making the service available in as little as 18 months.

“I have been in medical education for 40 years and we’re still a very memory-based curriculum,” said Dr. Herbert Chase, a professor of clinical medicine at Columbia University who is working with I.B.M. on the physician’s assistant. “The power of Watson- like tools will cause us to reconsider what it is we want students to do.”

I will be looking forward to purchasing one for my office. At present, simply having a Droid in my pocket with web access and several medical references, along with computers in the exam rooms, makes things much simpler than in past decades to quickly obtain whatever information is necessary.

For those who are worried, Watson apparently has no tendencies towards throwing people out of air locks:

“People ask me if this is HAL,” he said, referring to the computer in “2001: A Space Odyssey.” “HAL’s not the focus, the focus is on the computer on ‘Star Trek,’ where you have this intelligent information seek dialog, where you can ask follow-up questions and the computer can look at all the evidence and tries to ask follow-up questions. That’s very cool.”

Or course the fictitious inventors of HAL probably intended to develop a computer to assist the crew as opposed to killing most of them.

House Republicans To Allow Electronic Devices

Republicans might live in the past on social matters, and often deny science, but at least House Republicans are adopting modern gadgets. House Republicans are going to allow the use of cell phones and tablets on the House floor as long as it doesn’t “impair decorum.” Now members of Congress will be able to goof off on Facebook while at work, just like everyone else.

My Current Facebook Status

The hardest thing about carrying around a Droid is constantly being stopped by iPhone users who want to borrow it because they need to make a phone call

Comedians, Porn, and Government

There’s good reason why, with the exception of Al Franken, we have comedians work in comedy and not government. Two comedians have suggested very bad ideas recently. Woody Allen has suggested giving Barack Obama dictatorial powers (assuming Fox got the quote right):

Woody Allen has a strange take on the democracy that allowed him to become rich and famous.

The “Scoop” director said it would be a cool idea for President Barack Obama to be dictator for for a few years.


So he could get things done without all the hassle of opposing views getting in the way.

In an interview published by Spanish language newspaper La Vanguardia (that we translated), Allen says “I am pleased with Obama. I think he’s brilliant. The Republican Party should get out of his way and stop trying to hurt him.”

But wait – there’s more!

The director said “it would be good…if he could be a dictator for a few years because he could do a lot of good things quickly.”

As much as I wouldn’t want Barack Obama to have dictatorial powers, I’d want Steve Jobs running things even less. Bill Maher suggested this during the New Rules segment of his show last week (video above):

America needs to focus on getting Jobs — Steve Jobs. Because something tells me that Apple would have come up with a better idea for stopping an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico than putting a giant box on top of it.

In 2001, Apple reinvented the record player. In 2007, the phone. This year, the computer. I say, for 2011, we let them take a crack at America. Our infrastructure, our business model, our institutions. Get rid of the stuff that’s not working, replace it with something that does. For example, goodbye US Senate — Hello Genius Bar! So good luck, Steve — you’ll need it!

No thanks. Ironically Apple, which became big after running the classic ad attacking IBM as Big Brother, has become far more like Big Brother than IBM ever was. I’ve never liked the closed nature of Apple products, and in recent weeks Steve Jobs has received frequent criticism for the restrictions placed on the iPhone and iPad. Jobs defended his policies by offering “freedom from porn.” While I’m more concerned about the non-porn programs which Jobs does not allow on his products, I also do not want someone in charge who thinks their role is to give us freedom from porn.

I realize that many people love Apple products and do not share my dislike of their closed systems. In the marketplace this is fine. We can all purchase the type of products we want. I would not want this attitude in government and therefore will reject Bill Maher’s suggestion.

HP Buys Palm

Palm is a company which has made great products but without the ability to compete with the bigger players in the market. If they cannot make it themselves, I’m happy to see them get purchased by HP.  Besides all the business advantages, this gets two companies together which have produced a large number of the devices I’ve carried in my pocket over the years.

When calculators replaced slide rules, my first calculator was a scientific calculator from HP which I believe cost $400 back in 1973. Years later, when calculators were replaced by PDA’s I wound up using a great pocked sized computer from HP. The device ran DOS apps and with Software Carousel it could even run multiple apps at one time.

Eventually as DOS died out I moved from HP to Palm, and I still get a lot of use out of my Palm Tx. The Palm Tx has been so useful that I resisted buying a smart phone for years, carrying both the Palm and a cell phone. I finally gave in and got a smart phone this year. It was a tough decision between a Palm Pre and a Droid. The deciding factor was that, even though there were some advantages to the Pre, I see the Android operating system as being more likely to dominate the market while I feared Palm might not even survive. One big advantage of this acquisition is that consumers will be more confident in purchasing a Palm device which  has the backing of Hewlett Packard.

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I dare you to go into a Verizon store and start telling people, “These aren’t the Droids you’re looking for.”

Kindle DRM Cracked

My big opposition to the Kindle has been that it is based upon selling copy-protected books which initially only worked on the Kindle. They later added support for the iPhone and iPod Touch. Once Barnes and Nobel came out with a similar ebook reader which added the ability to read purchased books on computers, Amazon followed quickly with software to also allow this. Still the problem remains that books purchased for the Kindle cannot legally be transferred to other brands of ebook readers.

It was inevitable that the Kindle format would be cracked. An Israeli hacker has developed a crack which will convert Kindle books into Mobi format.

I’m sure Amazon is not happy but the irnoy is that I now might consider a Kindle if I was still in the market for an ebook reader. I purchased mine based upon its ability to read many open formats. I wouldn’t have considered Kindle as long as the books could only be read on the Kindle but I would now consider it with the option of converting books to the Mobi format.

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