The Big Migration: Moving From a Verizon Droid Bionic to a Galaxy Nexus on Straight Talk

Definitely a superlative title for what actually is a pretty simple process, but I thought I’d document what I’m doing to dump my Verizon Droid Bionic and move to an unlocked Galaxy Nexus phone. I’ll spare you my complaints about Verizon and just summarize by saying they’re beyond overpriced and I don’t like all the evil crap they do.

What is relevant to this discussion is the fact that I am sick and tired of having my phone be controlled by a carrier. From not keeping up with new versions of Android to forcing applications on my phone that I don’t want and can’t delete, I’m done with it. “Famous last words” may apply here, but at this point I’ll state that I will never buy another phone from a carrier.

It’s worth it to pay the extra money for a phone (and in the case of the Nexus it’s only about $100 more than I paid for my abandoned Droid Bionic) and have more control over the phone as well as choice of carrier. (Relevant Lifehacker article on this topic if you want to learn more about how the carriers are the driving force behind Android fragmentation and stifle innovation every chance they get.)

But enough about all that — here’s specifically how I’m going about making this switch.

First, I ordered a Galaxy Nexus phone since it’s the best bet on being able to upgrade the phone continually and since it’s unlocked, I have a choice of carriers (within the limitations of the phone being GSM of course).

I’ll keep my review of the Nexus phone itself brief and simply say: awesome. Thin, light, beautiful screen, ships with Jelly Bean, extremely smooth, fast UI, no crappy carrier/Motorola customizations I don’t want — simply a fantastic, fantastic phone that’s so good it makes me mad I didn’t get one a long time ago.

Next step in the process — I ordered a SIM from Straight Talk. One of my many major gripes about Verizon is I was sick of paying for a ridiculously overpriced phone plan when I’m on Wi-Fi the majority of the time. Straight Talk offers an unlimited everything plan for $45/mo with no contract. You buy the SIM for $15 and give them a credit card number to bill you for the phone plan, and that’s it. I’m already saving over $100/mo simply by changing to Straight Talk.

Straight Talk SIMs are either AT&T or T-Mobile. You do not get to choose, they choose for you based on your area (and I assume other business-related factors). I wound up on AT&T which is fine — I have AT&T for my work iPhone and the signal is great in my area. If I were able to choose I would have chosen T-Mobile, but of course with an unlocked phone if I really don’t like what’s happening with AT&T and Straight Talk I can always switch. So far AT&T is working very well and I actually see a stronger signal on the Nexus than I do on my contracted iPhone.

Both the SIM and phone were delivered today, and setup was extremely simple. You follow the instructions that come with the SIM to activate it, which basically involves filling out a form on the Straight Talk web site and giving them your billing information, then stick the SIM in the phone. By the time I got the SIM into the phone and powered it on I was already able to make calls.

Note that when you activate your SIM you have the opportunity to port your existing number to Straight Talk. I didn’t do that because I have a slightly different plan in mind (see below).

Next, to use the data features in the phone you have to enter a new Access Point Name (APN). Here’s how you add a new APN on the Nexus:

  1. Open “Settings”
  2. Under Wireless & Networks, click on “More …”
  3. Click on “Mobile Networks”
  4. Click on “Access Point Names”
  5. Click the three vertical boxes on the bottom right of the screen to bring up the menu, and click on “New APN”
  6. Enter the information included with your SIM
  7. Reboot
With the setup out of the way my Nexus is working great with a new phone number, and of course since all my contacts, etc. are associated with my Google account all that stuff magically appeared on the new phone.
I made the conscious decision not to port my number to Straight Talk. Instead, when I’m ready to cancel my Verizon account (and pay the punitive early termination fee — good riddance) I’m going to port my current cell phone number to Google Voice.
Why am I doing that? Again, it’s all about gaining more flexibility and control. Once my cell phone number is a Google Voice number I can change plans, phones, etc. underneath that and never again hassle with porting numbers between carriers. The abstraction of having the phone number not tied to a specific device will be quite nice, and then I can take full advantage of all Google Voice has to offer.
If you follow me on Google+ you know that I’m also a huge fan of Republic Wireless. I’m on one of the beta waves for Republic Wireless and am still very enthusiastic about what they’re doing (anything that disrupts the wireless industry is a good thing), so I will still be getting a phone from them when my wave comes up. Yes, I’m a gadget junkie, but I also want to support what they’re doing, and if it works exceptionally well since the Nexus is unlocked and I have no contract with a carrier, I can simply cancel my Straight Talk account and sell the Nexus on Swappa. There’s that flexibility coming into play again!
Hope that helps give people who’ve been considering this sort of switch more information to help with the decision making process.

It’s Official: Moxi DVR is Dead

I’ve been expecting this news for some time now, but I went to the Moxi web site tonight to be greeted by the following:

The Moxi HD DVR and Moxi Mate are no longer available for purchase. Program guide data and technial support for the Moxi HD DVR will be available until December 31, 2013.

Hell’s bells. Such a nice setup but I knew they wouldn’t be around forever.

My reason for going to the site tonight is because I think the hard drive in mine is starting to die and I was going to poke around to see what’s involved with replacing the drive. I guess I still have nearly two years of life in the thing if I can get the hard drive replaced.

But, this is timely also because maybe it’s the push I need to get off cable anyway. Particularly with the latest announcement from Amazon of their content agreement with Viacom (and more to come, I’m sure), do I need cable? I have Netflix, Hulu Plus, PlayOn and PlayLater, computers galore, Roku … is the DVR as we know it finally irrelevant?

Well Moxi it’s been a pleasure knowing you. If my hard drive holds out or if I can get a new one put in there, I guess I have about 22 months to get this figured out. Clock’s ticking.

The Firefox 5 Brouhaha: Why Version Numbers Don’t Matter, and Why People Who Think They Do Need to Get Over It

Mozilla caused quite a stir in the “enterprise” (whatever that means) crowd recently with their oh-so-bold move of releasing an update to the Firefox web browser and calling it … holy crap on a cracker … version 5. Firefox 5 was released only three months after Firefox 4, to the great consternation of people who–judging by the alarmist articles on this subject at any rate–have the uniquely bad combination of lack of IT knowledge, fear of change, and positions of power in IT.

To people who are freaked out about this move, I have three words for you:

Get over it.

Here’s the secret you fraidy-cat manager types need to know about version numbers: they’re totally arbitrary. They don’t imply the things you think they imply. Developers just make them up. No seriously, developers just make them up. Sure, certain loose rules apply that some people follow, but there’s no science to any of this. The number of a release is whatever the people involved with the project decide it should be.

First off, in this particular case it’s not as if Mozilla hasn’t been telling people they were going this route for several months. They even made the very clear statement that the security update to Firefox 4 is–wait for it–Firefox 5, which of course only led to cries from people who don’t know any better that Mozilla was “abandoning” Firefox 4.

Let’s all take a deep breath and think through this logically, shall we?

First of all, how much development do you think actually happened on Firefox in the last 90 days? A fair amount, to be sure. (1000+ bug fixes in 90 days is awesome. Free software FTW.) But it’s 90 days people. It’s not the typical two year (yes, two year–look it up) cycle of Internet Explorer releases. And from my perspective as a web developer, where do these lengthy release cycles for IE get you? NOWHERE SLOW, thank you very much, Microsoft.

Still with me? It’s OK if you continue to breathe into your paper bag to deal with the hyperventilation aftermath of the Firefox 5 release.

So, to those of you freaking out over all of this, forget about the actual version numbers for just a moment and ponder a more generic scenario. Regardless of what label gets arbitrarily slapped on a product, would you prefer …

  1. A predictable, frequent release cycle that provides bug fixes and a manageable number of new features and changes, or
  2. A long, big-bang release cycle that is a major upheaval, perhaps even meaning you have to upgrade your entire operating system to get the latest browser. (I’m looking at you, XP users. Do the rest of the world a favor and upgrade already!)

When you look at things that way, the people who are most unsettled by Mozilla having the audacity to call the latest Firefox “Version 5” are precisely the people who should be happy about more frequent releases. More frequent releases on a relatively predictable schedule means fewer changes at a time, which means a much, much smoother upgrade experience over time. Think of it as the thousands of minor course corrections you make as you drive down a highway versus waiting until you’re about to drive into a ditch and jerking your wheel hard right to correct your course.

To put it another way, would the people who are freaking out still be freaking out if they called Firefox 5 Firefox 4.1 instead? How about 4.0.00000001? A browser upgrade by any other name …

Which leads me to my next point. This situation isn’t unique to Firefox. Google Chrome has gone from version 6 to version 12 in about a year. That’s a major version release every two months. (Get yourself a fresh pair of shorts. I’ll wait.)

Heck some GNU/Linux distributions are even talking about moving to a rolling upgrade cycle, which would mean that everyone gets upgrades to everything as they happen, and maybe once every so often the developers bundle up whatever’s current and slap an arbitrary version number on it.

There was also a great to do over a comment made by Firefox evangelist Asa Dotzler on some whiner’s blog post, which I’ll quote here:

Mike, you do realize that we get about 2 million Firefox downloads per day from regular user types, right? Your “big numbers” here are really just a drop in the bucket, fractions of fractions of a percent of our user base.

Enterprise has never been (and I’ll argue, shouldn’t be) a focus of ours. Until we run out of people who don’t have sysadmins and enterprise deployment teams looking out for them, I can’t imagine why we’d focus at all on the kinds of environments you care so much about.

Allow me to translate that since I think most people who are up in arms about that comment completely miss the point.

Think about things from Mozilla’s perspective. They release a general purpose browser. For free. Anyone in the world who wants to use it, can.

Now let’s think about who’d be whining about a simple version number. I’ll tell you who: companies where environments are so incredibly fragile that something as tiny as a major version number change versus a minor one, even though it’s nothing more than a label, causes mass panic.

This would be an absolute nightmare to deal with, particularly when you’re releasing a free product designed for all-purpose use. You’d have company A wanting some specific tweak made to fix application A, and that would conflict with company B who needs exactly the opposite for application B, and then there’s company C who simply can’t upgrade until after this quarter’s big sales push but needs the security fixes in Firefox 5 rolled back into Firefox 3.6 right away …

How could Mozilla possibly manage that? Who’d pay for it? And don’t overlook the comment about enterprise deployment teams and sysadmins. This isn’t Mozilla’s job. Their job is to make the best browser they can and do what they think is best for the product for all their users. They can’t get sucked into the enterprise black hole and continue to innovate and please the vast majority of their other users, including all the ones who work places (“enterprises” if you will) where people don’t lose their lunch over a label.

So while the whiners may see it as insensitive for Mozilla to be truthful and say, in the vastly oversimplified, un-nuanced summary version, that they don’t care about “the enterprise,” and while Microsoft, since they’re on the ropes, will choose to capitalize on that statement (“Go with Microsoft! We give you stuff more slowly and make you pay for it!”), when you strip away all the rhetoric we’re talking about a single number, arbitrarily applied, that’s at the root of all this nonsense.

But let’s get back to my main point here. Which release model should the risk averse suits prefer? Why, smaller changes more frequently of course. But to which release model do they tend to gravitate? It makes no logical sense. None.

Finally, if your business has a death grip on a particular version of a particular browser, you’re doing it wrong.

When it comes to web development, and this includes whatever crap your vendors throw at you that you mindlessly pay for, you’re doing it wrong if …

  1. You panic when a new browser release is announced, and double panic when it’s a (ZOMG) major version change
  2. You can’t push a button to run a suite of tests to verify functionality in your mission-critical web applications in new versions of browsers
  3. You still have applications that require Internet Explorer (extra points if you have apps that require IE 6)
  4. You think thoroughly testing every version of every browser for weeks or months on end before releasing it to your users or allowing them to install it themselves is a reasonable way to do business

I could go on, but you get the picture.

This is the Internets, people. Stuff moves fast. Figure out how to deal and how to roll with it, “enterprise” or no, or go do something slower. Just don’t expect the rest of us to put on the brakes because of your hangups.

‘Code for America’ Programmers to Work in City Governments

Four cities will each receive a team of five open source Web programmers for 11 months, as selected by Code for America, a new nonprofit that’s pairing Web geeks with city governments.

The selected cities were Boston, Seattle, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. Each city paid $250,000 to participate, which included submitting applications and proposals for what they wanted from a team of fellows.

Code for America recently announced its 20 fellows for 2011, chosen from among 360 applicants. The fellows will work mostly from Code for America’s San Francisco headquarters; the programmers will spend February of next year at the actual local governments they’ll be serving.

Really cool stuff. Can’t wait to see what comes out of this in Seattle.

“Shiny app syndrome” and Gov 2.0 – O’Reilly Radar

This was sent to me by a coworker–the entire article is really great but the person interviewed in this video makes some excellent points about the dangers of requiring specific devices to access services. This is bad from the standpoint of freedom and technology in general, vendor lock-in, etc., but is absolutely horrible when it comes to government services.

Unless they’re developed by a third party completely independent of any particular government agency, citizens fund the development of the applications that make the promise of letting them interact more directly and more effectively with their government. By limiting access to a specific device, it’s like simultaneously spitting in the face of the citizens that fund the development and handling Apple a check.

With the decreasing cost and increasing availability of technology the digital divide was supposed to get smaller, not bigger, but by requiring citizens to buy one of the most expensive phones on the market and sign up for an expensive data plan through one specific wireless carrier, we’re making it far, far worse and the conspiracy theorist in me has to wonder if something nefarious is going on behind the scenes.

Thankfully there’s a simple solution to this problem. First, follow the “just give us the data” mantra of Gov2.0 advocates, and second, build apps with standards that don’t lock people into any one device. There is absolutely no reason any publicly developed application should only be available on one particular device, and if there aren’t any rules in government that mandate cross-device compatibility as a requirement, there should be.

City in a Box: Municipal Makeover Comes to Texas | The White House

Today I am in Manor, Texas (pop. 6,500), to celebrate the burgeoning open government movement underway in America’s towns and cities. Manor is embracing the Obama Administration’s vision of creating effective and efficient government that fosters transparency and innovation. By using new technology to enable open and collaborative ways of working, government—whether federal, state, or local—can deliver better citizen services with fewer resources.

Just goes to show all the things that can be done with technology TODAY, regardless of the size of your resources. Really exciting stuff, and the best part is that many of the initiatives around this mean that the code will be available for other municipalities to use.

It’s nice to see that we’re finally making some progress in using technology to have an actual impact on people’s lives. And if a town of 6500 can do it, there’s really no more excuses large cities can use for not moving in this direction.

Why I won’t buy an iPad (and think you shouldn’t, either) – Boing Boing

The model of interaction with the iPad is to be a “consumer,” what William Gibson memorably described as “something the size of a baby hippo, the color of a week-old boiled potato, that lives by itself, in the dark, in a double-wide on the outskirts of Topeka. It’s covered with eyes and it sweats constantly. The sweat runs into those eyes and makes them sting. It has no mouth… no genitals, and can only express its mute extremes of murderous rage and infantile desire by changing the channels on a universal remote.”

The way you improve your iPad isn’t to figure out how it works and making it better. The way you improve the iPad is to buy iApps. Buying an iPad for your kids isn’t a means of jump-starting the realization that the world is yours to take apart and reassemble; it’s a way of telling your offspring that even changing the batteries is something you have to leave to the professionals.

These two paragraphs sum up my opinions about the iPad (and Apple in general these days) better than I ever could. I did find it curious that Doctorow left “Or by voting in presidential elections.” off the end of the Gibson quote, but it’s amazingly appropriate despite the omission of what I see as the punchline.

There’s another great reference in the post to the “Maker’s Manifesto,” which states that if you can’t open it, you don’t own it. “Screws not glue.” I used to like Apple, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that over the past 5 years or so they’ve locked down their products well beyond the point of ridiculousness. They want you to buy early and often, and spend spend spend on apps and content. Great business model for people who don’t care or don’t know any better, but definitely not for me.

Pragmatic Dictator » Tech is for Sissies

So often I see companies create job specs for engineers where the key requirement is to hire someone who can hit the deck coding like mad using whatever tools have been selected. To that end they load the specs up with endless tech hubris and at interview ask the details of this or that bit of syntax or API call. But what about the next project within the company where the tech is different? All those engineers that just got hired are now useless, they don’t have the skills and we lose time whilst they learn. Or we could fire them and hire another lot?

Couldn’t agree more. The longer I’m in this business the more weary I grow of one-trick technologists. Yes, I think it’s important to spend a lot of time with a few select tools so you don’t fall into the “jack of all trades master of none” camp, but frankly better that than complete inflexibility or unwillingness to try new things.

Using Logitech Unifying Receiver on Linux

I recently got a Logitech Performance Mouse MX as well as a Logitech K350 Keyboard. Both these devices use Logitech’s new Unifying Receiver, which is a great concept and since the receiver is so small it’s ideal for a laptop setup.

Unfortunately if you have two separate devices that both use the unifying receiver the devices need to be paired to a single receiver using software, and of course there’s no Linux version of the software.

Once the pairing of the devices with the unifying receiver is complete, however, it doesn’t rely on the software to work. What this means is if you’re using separate devices with a unifying receiver on Linux you can first configure the devices on Mac or Windows, and then plug the single unifying receiver into Linux and it will work.

A Linux version of the software would be nice but if you have a Mac or Windows computer laying around this is a handy workaround.