30 July 2014

FreedomPopped

In a perfect world we would all have warp-drive wireless internet connections that follow our devices wherever they go and costs us nothing. If the focal point of your concern is the "free" part of that scenario then FreedomPop has you covered.

Back in the geologic iPhone 4 era (aka 2011), FreedomPop opened their virtual doors to customers who want to take advantage of unused bandwidth at carriers and pay nothing or next to nothing. As Clearwire and Sprint let them steal away their buckets of craptastic technology in their corporate dog house and dejected WiMax network, the pops of freedom continued to expand their geographic footprint to lure in more and more customers. They hope that you will be stupid enough to purchase their add-on items including additional data, voicemail, phones and whatever else - or maybe you will become their golden sucker who buys a contract.

Kudos to them for delivering on their free internet connection. Yes, the device might not work at first and you may be spending a half hour on hold with someone from Pakistan to get it working, but I have tested a phone and a cellular wireless access point (WAP) with both delivering on the promise of "no charge". The devices themselves were inexpensive, too, compared to the big four cell carriers. However, you do get what you pay for.

The quality of the WAP was quite good, despite not working initially, though the battery life leaves a little to be desired. The phone, an old HTC device that never should have left the tech graveyard it crawled out of, is good for only a half hour of use before the battery dies along with a laundry list of other problems.

That said - cheap devices and free internet, so no problem, right?

Their network is somewhat limited to what is left of the WiMAX system (depending on device) and that will leave much to be desired. In Alaska it is non-existent. In California and Seattle it is spotty, at best. In Texas it was also hit and miss. If you need this sucker to work in a certain area then you will want to check with them before purchasing because they do not accept returns. Ever. For any reason.

Then there is the network speed. Download speeds are generally fine for basic web browsing or downloading emails. Upload speeds are fine for emails that do not contain attachments. If you are thinking of using this for watching videos or downloading apps - think again. The gerbils running inside their WiMAX routers can barely keep up with animated GIF images.

Where does that leave us? Despite the fact that FreedomPop is a mess compared to even the least expensive pre-paid services, I am very happy they exist. Even nausea-worthy web browsing is better than none at all, and our country needs a "free" option for anyone who cannot afford the thieves at Verizon. As a backup connection in case your primary cell network goes down, this might work. As a device for a son or daughter that only very rarely needs to text you, this freebie might do the trick. If you are very forgiving of tech that runs at 1200 baud modem speed while on the road and live on wireless networks at home and the office, then this is an amazingly inexpensive option.

Unfortunately, for the rest of us, a free FreedomPop connection is just way too expensive for what you get.

17 July 2014

Microsoft is jumping ship to leave the bloat behind.

Not long ago I typed on these pages about a Microsoft Titanic that could never make the turn to catch rapidly changing technology. Their new CEO, Satya Nadella, appears to served up a four course meal of my own words, because he is intent on switching the vessel into a lean, mean tech creating team.

A rapid pivot causes a maritime lean and some 18,000 employees will be swept overboard. I suspect they have some nice life rafts available in Redmond, though the space may be limited for teams in less friendly waters. Most of the lost workforce will result from the Nokia merger but the most promising aspect is the middle management disintegration.

The structure of an old organization is where most of the weight sits. The Redmond offices were the living embodiment of Office Space dysfunction with supervisor sandwiches served with retardo review relish throughout the firm. When an org chart calculates middle management levels in scientific notation, you know that any idea will sink long before it swims. It is only the believed brilliance birthed from the board of directors womb that have any chance to tread water, and even then it can take an eternity before it floats through the flood of team meeting decks to create a completed product.

Apple and IBM were once drowning in a similar ocean. IBM saved itself by dumping their core business and donning their dunce cap proudly. You can still hear them sobbing into the history books today. Apple avoided this fate when Steve Jobs' life boat brushed up against their sinking ship. He eliminated everything that was not directly linked to his core goals and since the only ideas in place were being concocted in his head he could micro-manage the process throughout the organization.

Satya can see some similarities. Microsoft was the leader of the geek world but now that Android and Apple have consumed their lunch. They no longer coin the course for crafts on the silicon creativity sea.

Microsoft refuses to cower in the "we were once important" corner with IBM and the first step in healing is to admit you have a problem. Microsoft has done so, stating plainly that they now control only small percentage of the consumer market. They are the underdog and, as such, Satya has focused the light on their opportunity to grow. They need to fill the cracks in the desktop market by making operating systems that individuals and corporations with a keyboard and mouse want to use. They will address the infiltration of Chrome OS by creating Windows devices that compete at the same price point. Finally, they need to create phone, tablets, wearables and new products that no one has heard before to grab a share of the expanding consumer portable market.

Yes, even Microsoft's captain now admits that they hit an iceberg. While Balmer was doing the monkey macarena the competition was gushing in. Mr. Nadella has arrived with a new ship. It is more agile with far fewer decks separating the crew but it only has room for the people he needs. Many will be left behind on the Titanic to sink. Smart move. The only question is whether the new flotilla is nimble enough. They will take their best shot at becoming a leader again. Regardless of whether they succeed or not, I tip my hat to Sadya and his crew. It is thrilling to see them riding in a new ship that gives them a legitimate shot at becoming the world leader again.

04 July 2014

It's time to be happy for our country.

A new day, a new chart saying our country is doing great while our lovely media digs through whatever it can to take a stinky dump on it. Even left-leaning news outlets cannot help putting a morbidly obese but(t) behind every story that even slightly indicates that the American economy is rocking. Well, suck it up, people. It is America's birthday and it is time to admit what has been painfully obvious for a couple of years now: America is back!

If you compare our economy to where it was before Bush left office then, yes, you might find some numbers that make the economy look less than perfect - but even that game is getting nearly impossible. While it was easy to brush this ridiculous comparison point aside in the past by admitting the numbers at the beginning of 2008 were fabricated, that is no longer necessary. The stock market, housing prices, consumer confidence, pricing index and even our trade deficit were being dramatically impacted by a Wall Street hoax of selling false derivatives back in the "good ol' days". After all, this is the very reason our economy crashed and millions lost their jobs, homes and their very way of life - so comparing our economic indicators to the bubble is as accurate as negotiating for a 2014 Ford Mustang based on the price of a dead horse.

But, we do not need to hide behind this excuse anymore. The only way to battle the Ditto Heads is to define our success with a dead horse, so I'll do it:

There are 9 numbers that indicate the health of the economy and on every single one of them the United States is doing better than nearly every other country in the world and even performing better than we were before the "Great Recession".

1. Housing Prices: Best since Q2 2008
2. Consumer Price Index: Best since Q2 2008
3. Unemployment Rate: Best since Q3 2008
4. Trade Deficit: Best since Q1 2005
5. Personal Income / Spending: At Pre-Recession Levels
6. Personal Spending: At Pre-Recession Levels
7. Gross Domestic Product: At Pre-Recessison Levels
8. Consumer Confidence: Best since Q4 2007
9. Stock Market: Best ever recorded

I can hear Rush Limbaugh screaming: "You forgot the debt!" Take an Oxycontin and relax, my man. Sure, you never talked about the debt when it was blowing up under the two Bushies, but I am happy to entertain your partisan silliness.

The national debt has no bearing on the financial health on Main Street today, as can be seen in the indicators above. Most economists acknowledge that the debt is less of a financial problem as it is an unwillingness by Congress to fix it. Our current debt is not the problem since, as a product of our GDP, it is historically reasonable. The problem is when the Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid bills start to accumulate down the road. Can that problem be solved without gutting current programs? You bet. Simply changing the retirement age in our country could get us most of the way there. So - get to work you silly donkeys and elephants.

When you ignore the political noise it becomes clear that our economy is doing extraordinarily well. Is everyone making more money than they ever have? No. Would anyone complain if they were making more money? No. However, that is true of any point in the history of our country. The game the media keeps playing is hunting for someone out there that says "it does not feel better" and balancing that against the good news.

Well, screw that. Of course it does not "feel" like the country is doing well when every media outlet keeps shitting on America's parade. The talking automatons at Fox News will not admit the truth until Obama is shipped back to his mosque in Kenya. Well, today is when we start to ignore them. It is Independence Day. It is time to celebrate the amazing men and women who have brought our country back from the abyss. The United States of America has never been more economically healthy than it is today - so please join me in parking your new Ford, putting down your American made Moto X, cracking open a micro-brew and lighting some Chinese fireworks you purchased at the local Indian reservation to celebrate.

God bless America.