30 miles out, zero bars

I’ve spent some time over the last few weeks up near Mt. Baker, in a rural part of Washington. Isolated, but near a ski resort, this area caters to fast-driving college kids from nearby Bellingham and Vancouver. The two lane twisty road gets icy and it isn’t uncommon to see cars in the ditch, precariously close to the 30-50 foot drops to the icy river below. If you get in an accident up here, you better hope someone stops because your trusty blackberry isn’t going to help you here. There is no cell service.

My question is, why? Why isn’t there cell service in these spots? This is a state highway, 30 miles from a town of 70,000 people and there is no cell reception? Is this level of service really cost prohibitive? How far do cell towers broadcast in rural areas where signals have trees and mountains to contend with and, roughly, how much does a cell tower cost the carrier on average?

The truth is, cell phones aren’t just a luxury anymore. For many, a cell phone is their only means of calling 911 or reaching family in the case of an emergency.

Is this a problem of being cost prohibitive for any single carrier to build out their proprietary networks? Could the rural cell towers create some sort of generic network so all carriers can use the same hardware, then the equipment could be subsided by government for rural locations?

It’s time for government and the cell carriers to come together to increase cell coverage in rural locations, landline use is declining and the telecom industry needs to wake up and smell the 3G.

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The Netbook revolution – the death of …anything?

The web is all-a-twitter with netbook commentary and reviews lately.  Personally, I’ve had the pleasure of playing around with a few different netbooks lately.  First, the Hot Pink MSI Wind U100 that my significant other won via the MSI Wind Valentines Day promotion (that’s me, the guy in the first picture!), then my coworker’s HP Mini 1010NR.  I like both of them to be honest, the netbook form factor has won me over. The MSI Wind is super light and has a great battery life, the HP wins in the style department with its slick looking design, but I’m poised to buy and I think I’m going to go with the ASUS Eee PC 1000HE

The ASUS seems like a breakthrough to me.  Its $375 over at Amazon and has roughly the same features as all the other netbooks in the same price range with one huge difference. It boasts a 9.5 hour battery.  Even with the standard battery-life-puffery that goes on with the laptop manufacturers, the 1000HE’s battery is  likely to last a full day with WiFi enabled and normal usage.  My feelings are bittersweet when I realize that the possibility of 8 hours of constant usage is better than my iPhone.  I use my iPhone for browsing a couple hours a day between bus commuting, lunch hours, twittering in the evening, etc and if I don’t recharge it over night, it won’t make it through the next day.

What will I use the Asus 1000HE for?  Everything.  Sure the size of this netbook is small, but it is adequate enough to do work on and its 160GB hard drive will suffice for everything but large amounts of media, something I gave up obsessively collecting long ago.  For those media hungry folks out there, you can always pick up a 1TB external USB drive for just over $100, and you can use it on multiple PC’s if you want, always a nice bonus.  These days, I do most of my work on the web and portability is key. Take it to work, use it on the bus, take it travelling, etc…these netbooks seem like they’ll be capable of doing 95% of of what I need to do on the computer. 

I’ve spent the last few weeks thinking about the impact of these new netbook PCs.  What will they replace, what type of form factor is going to suffer?  Desktop PCs are already struggling to stay relevant in the average household, but they are the only reasonable solution for businesses where redundancy and speed is key (think RAID, massive memory support, fast graphics cards, etc).  Full size laptops have replaced desktops for many home users, but they’re a bit too clunky to carry around day-in, day-out.  I think the netbook market is going to take a chunk out of both desktops and laptops but, just like the laptop revolution over the last few years, it’ll take a few years to have full impact due to the upgrade cycle.

I think the best targets for these netbooks are service personnel, sales people and students.  Service people can bring these netbooks on site with them.  They’ll have full internet connectivity, making troubleshooting and diagnostics a breeze.  Sales people can take these on the road with them easily and output to a regular projector/monitor for client presentations.  With USB support and bluetooth, they can use pointers, full size keyboards and any other standard PC accessories they’d need for their sales pitches.  Students will love netbooks because they are stylish (many colors, designs, etc) and cheap.  Spending $400 will get you a low quality, heavy, ugly standard laptop or a top of the line netbook that weighs half as much and looks twice as good. 

For the first time in a while, I’m excited about the future of the personal computer industry. These netbooks seem like a breakthrough and, because they entered the market at $300-$400, they may be candidates for getting ridiculously cheap over the next 12-18 months as manufacturers and vendors start to optimize for this platform.

Jott is growing on me

As I posted a few months back, I hesitantly laid down $300 recently to pick up an iPhone.

It’s an awful phone, but a great little device for everything else.

The iPhone app store offers a ton of free apps for all kinds of uses. Most of the free apps (and probably the paid) are garbage, but there are a few gems.

Jott is one of the cool ones. I learned about it from a talk the CEO of the company gave at Lunch 2.0 in Seattle a few months back.

Jott is basically a scratchpad…that you talk to. You record something, Jott sends it off to a server with speech recognition (or a real person if necessary) and then saves it in your Jott account as text. If you don’t have an iPhone, you can record and replay Jotts on the phone or through their website. It’s all free, AWESOME!

sent from my iPhone…

Well, I finally managed to track down an iPhone in the Seattle area, no thanks to apple or at&t’s web sites. I’ve only had it for a few hours now, the verdict? Neat device but, so far, painfully slow to type on.

They were out of the 8gb models so I had to get a 16gig. I don’t use itunes currently so filling 8gb seems like a challenge, let alone 16. AT&T was kind enough to lock me into two years though so I’m sure I’ll find some way to fill it as more and more uses are found for the device.

If you are completely sick of the iPhone chatter and don’t mind some crude humor, google “maddox iPhone” and enjoy. It’s crude, don’t say I didn’t warn you…