Thursday, December 13, 2012

Google Maps iOS App Arrives!

I woke up to a happy surprise: the new standalone iOS app for Google Maps is here! It dropped last night, and finding out really made my morning. My first impression is a good one. It looks like it's at least as good as it was when baked into iOS, plus now it has spoken turn-by-turn navigation! Woot woot!

App link here:

Article link here:

Monday, December 10, 2012

Google Apps for Business Control Panel Error #1000

Google Apps is having an issue now affecting some primary and reseller customer accounts. The Organizations and Users tab won't load; it says it can't display and gives error #1000. This prevents you from performing many functions; I was trying to get on to rename a user.

I reported the issue to Enterprise Support. They updated their status page, where they describe it as an issue with the Admin control panel / API.

They're working on it but currently there is no workaround. I'll update again as soon as I hear of a workaround or resolution.

Update midnight Eastern: Issue resolved!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Dave Brubeck Passed Away

Dave Brubeck died today at 91; he would have turned 92 tomorrow. His passing is a great loss to the world of music and the world in general. Here is a link to the article from the Chicago Tribune.

I'm sad that he is gone, but I feel incredibly fortunate to have seen him play last year with my fiancée. He walked onto the stage like you would expect a 90-year-old man to walk, but he played like a young man. It was really something to be in his presence while he performed.

I don't know how he viewed things, but from my perspective, he was a lucky man. To be able to do what he loved until the end...that is not something everyone gets to have.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Small Business Saturday 2012 Results

Just a quick update on how Small Business Saturday turned out for me. I missed the chance to last year even though my fiancée reminded me. Not this year; I had multiple reminders set! I posted some details the week before signup began:

I was disappointed my local Thai place didn't sell gift cards, or I would have gone that route à la Mommy Points. I ended up buying five $25 gift cards at the hardware store Strosnider's. That will probably end up being a free weed whacker!

I've gotten the $25 credits already even though AMEX says they can take weeks to post. One credit ended up being for a restaurant I ate at Saturday night instead of the gift card I bought earlier in the day, but no matter, just an anomaly with the order the pending charges cleared.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Sign up for AMEX Small Business Saturday!

Registration opened this morning for a great AMEX promotion, Small Business Saturday. My fiancée told me about it last year, but I was too late trying to register. If you spend $25 or more at a designated small business, you get a $25 statement credit back from AMEX. You can do it once per card, and you can register multiple cards. Don't miss it, register today at! Here is a direct link to the enrollment page. Then look at the store map and plan your purchases for next Saturday.

You can register any AMEX charge or credit card, except corporate or prepaid cards. That means you CAN register cards from organizations like Macy's and Citibank. I have one of each and registered them both in addition to my AMEX-issued cards.

I'm excited to be participating in this great event that both supports small business and saves me money!

If you're looking for a local business in the DC area, my fiancée's shop in Bethesda, Wiggle Room, is on the Shop Small list. It's a great place to find stuff for kids, from clothes to toys to strollers, as well as women's maternity clothes!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Two Citi AAdvantage Cards Offering 50k Miles until 12/31/12

Update 12/13/12: Today is the last day to apply for these official 50k offers!

I noticed a new offer on today for 50k AA cards. This is perhaps not as good as the 50k offers that appear without landing pages, as those credit the bonus points all at once, but better than the usual 30-40k official offers. With this offer you get 40k points with the initial minimum spend and then 10k more with an additional spend requirement, making this almost like a retention bonus. I'm still happy to see it, though.

The offer states:

"Earn 40,000 bonus miles after making $3,000 in purchaess in the first 3 months, and additional 10,000 AAdvantage bonus miles after $10,000 in purchases in the first 12 months of cardmembership."

If you met both requirements for two-stage bonus points, you'd end up with 63,000 AAdvantage miles, not a bad haul. That's 50,000 bonus miles plus the one mile per dollar you'd earn on $13,000 in spending (unless you earned a greater multiple by making some purchases from AA).

Here is a link to the landing page that goes to both offers.

MommyPoints has a good overview of the AA card offerings here:

Friday, November 2, 2012

If you're flying AA between now and 12/31, whether you've booked already or not, you should click on this:

Double miles for free!

HT to Lucky; I saw it on his blog first and then AA posted it to facebook.

From the AA facebook post:

Thank you for your support and loyalty in recent months. To show our thanks, we’re offering AAdvantage® members double elite-qualifying miles and points through December 31, 2012. Visit to learn more.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

AMEX Passbook Integration is Live

Per the @AmericanExpress twitter feed, they are now live on Passbook. I was very excited to hear that, because I imagine I'll use it a lot more than, say, American Airlines. The boarding pass thing where you get push notifications if your gate changes sounds awesome, but apps like this and Starbucks will help me more on a daily basis.

You need to follow this link in Safari on your iOS device: 

I registered one card, and it worked, but I wondered about my other cards. I asked the helpful folks at , who replied almost instantly that you can currently link up to three cards with Passbook. Not bad, but I told them I'd look forward to it automatically adding all your cards in the future.

9/28/12 update: I discovered today that "Cards issued by third-party financial institutions are not currently eligible for this program." That means my Macy's and Citi AAdvantage AMEX cards will have to be lonely until Passbook can handle them.

Monday, September 24, 2012

How to take still photos while recording video on the iPhone5

There is a lot to say about the new iPhone5, but one thing that might not be evident is how to take advantage of the feature to take still pictures while shooting video. If you do a google search, right now the results only talk about the addition of feature, not how to actually use it. While shooting, a camera button will appear near the red recording indicator. That's it!

This is both obvious and non-obvious at the same time...that button reminds me a lot of the button to switch between front- and rear-facing cameras, so it might be easy to miss if you are trying to figure out how to take stills. A friend of mine asked how to use this feature, so I figured I'd post an example.

The image below is not a good example of what the iPhone can do as far as image quality; it's just there to illustrate where the still image capture button is located. I was moving quickly in a dark room, filming my dog in front of my shoes.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Purchase Decision on the iPhone5

I've decided to buy an iPhone 5. It's not as if I'll be the only one, but I'm sharing my thoughts because until today, I was not sure I would upgrade. The thing I did not see coming is that the purchase decision is as much about the resale value of my old iPhone as it is about the features of the new one. 

I wrote recently about spending two years with the iPhone 4, and it has been a great experience. In that post, I said "it will take quite a good offering to convince me to part with cash and my old phone for a new one." When I said that, I did not anticipate just how little cash it would take to make the upgrade happen.

Everyone is talking about 4G, but speed is a non-issue for me. It was hardly part of my purchase decision at all. 3G has been good for me in DC. I wish it was faster, yes, but if you download more than several gigabytes you will either get throttled (if you have "unlimited" data) or cut off because you hit your cap. This means that I can't do anything truly new on 4G/LTE. The things I could do on 3G, I'll be able to do faster now. However, anything that requires so much data that it was not possible over the older, slower, connection is still out of reach.

My fiancée has the 4S, and she's not upgrading; I think if I had the 4S then I'd also skip this model. However, coming from the 4, I am really looking forward to the new phone. The camera is going to be the biggest difference for me day-to-day. Faster and better low light performance is even more important than the increase in megapixels. 

There are numerous other improvements that, while not convincing on their own, add up to a nice package. More importantly, I sold my old phone for $175 to today. I could have gotten more on ebay (it is really amazing how much resale value these things retain), but that's extra hassle and dealing with bidders who might not pay. I haven't decided which model phone I'll get, but it'll probably be the base 16GB (although I wish the base was 32GB now). Granted, I'll have to sign a contract, but the ability to move up 2 generations for $25
out-of-pocket was a huge part of my decision. I am considering the 32GB model as well as applecare, so I may end up spending a bit more, but I have definitely decided to buy.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

AMEX BlueCash Everyday

The American Express BlueCash card was the third and final new credit card I got in June. And when I say June, I mean late at night on June 30th.

June was an eventful month for me in the world of credit cards. I upgraded my AMEX Premier Rewards Gold card to the Platinum card. Additionally, I applied for (and got) the Chase Amazon Rewards Visa. I was well into the process of becoming a credit card rewards geek and already planning future applications a few months ahead. Something was missing, though. Something I didn't want to go without: grocery store rewards.

I was thrilled with the Premier Rewards Gold card, and I needed something to replace my extra points on grocery store purchases. Granted, this card is not a Membership Rewards card, but cash back is not a bad deal. With the PRG card, I earned 2X Membership Rewards on grocery and gas purchases. I get gas purchase rewards on a couple of other cards, but nothing else in my wallet gave earnings multiples on grocery stores. Enter the BlueCash card, which gives three points per dollar on grocery purchases. The full multiples listing is below:

-3% cash back on groceries
-2% on gas stations and department stores
-1% everything else
-2.7% foreign transaction fee (clearly not a card to use overseas)
-Redeem for cash back or statement credit any time for $25 or more

I gave careful consideration to the BlueCash Preferred card, which offers a whopping 6% cash back on grocery purchases. It has an annual fee of $75, while the Everyday version I got has no annual fee. I did the math, and it would be worth the annual fee to double grocery rewards from 3% to 6% for me. Nevertheless, I opted for the Everyday version. I'm getting married next year and just could not justify paying an annual fee, even though it would be worth it. However, I am planning to upgrade to the Preferred version of the card next year.

A note about that...I discovered after applying that you CANNOT upgrade this card if you've had it less than a year. It's not AMEX; it's a consumer protection law that has an unexpected side effect. You can read about that here.

The wild card here is department stores. That is not a benefit I've seen offered on other cards, and I'm not sure how much it will benefit me. Nevertheless, it's not a bad thing to have. 1% cash back on everything else is not great, and is really the bare minimum you should be earning. Now that I've met the $1,000 spend requirement for the $100 signup bonus, this card will get only grocery and some gas purchases unless the department store category turns out to be useful.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Activity Can't Save Old SouthWest Credits

This may not be news to anyone, but I have confirmed that there is nothing you can do to keep your old SouthWest credits from expiring short of purchasing a reward ticket with them. I only had four credits, so it didn't make sense for me to purchase the balance needed to get to a new ticket. That new ticket would only have been valid for a year anyway, and SouthWest is not a main airline for me.

As background, SouthWest introduced a new rewards system last year that replaced credits with points.  Under the new system, points don't expire as long as you have activity within 24 months. The old credits expired in two years no matter what you did. I was hoping that after the transition, posting some activity would keep the old credits active, so I used the SouthWest mall shopping portal to buy some new headphones from Apple for in-store pickup.

Alas, no such luck. The points for the purchase had no effect on the expiration date of my old credits. That's okay; I was not upset. The old credits were always supposed to expire. I just figured there would be no harm in trying to keep them active. I pinged SouthWest about it, and they responded in less than a day with a friendly boilerplate explanation. I say friendly because it was worded much better than most of the "copy and paste" replies I've received from companies.

If you need to convert your old credits and buy a ticket, this blog has a great overview of the process.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Chase Amazon Rewards VISA

I just finished my first month with the Amazon Rewards VISA from Chase, and it works as advertised. This card is a perfect fit for me because I am a heavy Amazon user, but I fell into it sideways. Okay, heavy user is probably an understatement. I pay the the $79 per year fee for Amazon Prime, and I get more than my money's worth from that. I placed 60 orders in 2010, 76 orders in 2011, and 38 orders through the first 7 months of 2012. I'm on pace for 65 orders, in line with the last couple of years and averaging 1.25 orders per week. It may even go beyond that due to holiday transactions near the end of the year.

I was in the market for a new card due to my decision to upgrade from the American Express Premium Rewards Gold Card to the Platinum Card, which I will discuss in another post. Suffice it to say that while the Platinum Card is great for the benefits of having the card, the 1X points earnings leave something to be desired. Previously I had just put all my spending on the Gold card; with this change, it became more advantageous to diversify.

I'd been reading up on rewards in terms of frequent flyer points, cash back, and whatever else I could find. I turned up the Amazon card in a google search, which is funny because I must have seen it advertised on Amazon a hundred times. Now that I was in the market, it appealed to me instantly. It's a "cashback" card, so the points translate to cash at $1 per $100 points. It earns points with the following multipliers:

-3 points per dollar at
-2 points per dollar at Gas Stations, Restaurants and Drugstores
-1 point per dollar everywhere else

The signing bonus is not exciting at $30 currently, but it posts instantly and the spending rewards appear as soon as your statement month is over. I was able to get a $50 instant credit (it functions like a gift card) for when I signed up. Right now, the best deal I can see is only $30 though. I am not certain if it was available publicly the day I signed up or if it was a targeted offer because I was signed into my amazon account while viewing the details. If you want this card and already have an Amazon account, then better safe than sorry: make sure you are logged in before you apply!

Neither $30 nor $50 is an especially exciting signup bonus, but this is a card you buy to put spending on rather than for that perk. The only card I have seen with better Amazon rewards is the Citi Forward card which yields 5X points on bookstores, which currently includes Amazon. However, I worry that this classification will change in the future. The Chase Freedom card also gave 5% cash back on Amazon purchases several months ago, but those rewards rotate by quarter and were only good for the first quarter of 2012.

I get gas station rewards from another card, but this card will be my go-to for Amazon and drug store purchases. It will also get most of my restaurant spending for now, although that may change if I apply for the Chase Sapphire Preferred card. Speaking of which, I have heard that Chase is rather stingy with credit card applications relative to other issuers. This is my first Chase card, so I can't speak to that, but I did go into this card applications thinking it would be a good move to start a relationship with Chase so I'd have some history to back me up for future applications for more elite cards.

I don't have any affiliation with Amazon or Chase beyond being a customer, so I don't get anything if you sign up for either.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Just Saved a Legacy Card, My Macy's AMEX

I got a Macy's VISA in 2006. As I recall, opening that account took about $100 off my purchase, which is why I did it. I was in law school at the time, and I purchased a couple of suits on sale. This was a huge purchase for me at the time. It would still be a big purchase today, but at that point while I was earning very little, it was as big as things got for me.

Fast forward a few years: I've graduated, moved, and basically forgotten about my Macy's card. It lived in a box with some other old cards and my student ID. I started becoming a credit card / travel rewards geek slowly, but hit critical mass just this year. I applied for my first AMEX in 2010, another in 2011, and then just recently made several moves in terms of applying for new cards and upgrading my old ones.

It was while checking my credit report for this geekery that I noticed the forgotten Macy's card (or at least, what I deduced to be that card). 

This was on my current credit report:

Reported since 2009, but opened in 2006.

A quick google search indicated that DSNB AMEX is related to Macy's accounts. However, I had never had an AMEX before 2010. I looked back to a credit report from 2010 and found this:

closed in 2009

Unbeknownst to me, Macy's (and Bloomingdale's) credit cards shifted from VISA to AMEX while I was busy not using my Macy's card. When I figured out that I still had an open account (at least, as far as I could tell from the credit report), I immediately called in to try to get a card issued so I could keep the account from being closed. I was told that accounts were normally closed after 3 years of inactivity, but that mine was still open even though I hadn't used it in 4 years. I wouldn't have been heartbroken if this had gone the other way, but it was still a much-needed win in a period of some turmoil.

The Macy's agent really went out of her way to help me. It involved a substantial amount of work on her part since the account had been dormant for so long. Beyond that, I had moved out of state since I'd last used the card, and updating all of that was a challenge. However, she was able to get me a card reissued to my current address. I've since used it, and it works!

They had lowered the credit limit automatically due to disuse (ostensibly a protection in case the card had been stolen, and one that did not bother me). What matters is having an account that's been open for 6 years continue to stay open. The card doesn't give much in the way of rewards, so I don't foresee putting a lot of spending on it. Nevertheless, it will be valuable to keep it open so the average account age on my credit report does not fall.

As a native Floridian, I have fond memories of Burdines. I knew that Federated Department Stores had purchased Burdines and Marshall Fields, but it had espaced my attention that the company changed names from Federated to Macy's in 2007. This didn't have any bearing on anything, but I found it to be interesting trivia discovered as I followed the trail of my former Macy's VISA.

I think the take away from this is to take advantage of each and every free credit report to which you are entitled. That means 1 a year from each of the three agencies through the real free (beware of impostors). Some good advice that I've heard (don't remember where) is to pull one from a different agency every 4 months rather than doing them all at once to give you the best picture you can have without paying for a monitoring service.

Speaking of which, I recently signed up for Citi IdentityMonitor; that link will get you the service for $4.95/month (it's normally about 3 times that). Thanks to @MommyPoints for the link. I don't know that I'll keep the service forever, but right now while I've been applying for cards and contemplating refinancing, it's proving its worth with instant notifications. 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Mountain Lion Fixes "Include Networked Devices" for Scanners in Preview

I upgraded my Mac Mini to Mountain Lion yesterday (release day), and today I was happily surprised to find that my only OSX pet peeve has been fixed. Previously, when using my Epson network scanner from Preview, I had to click through the menus twice:

  1. File, Import from Scanner, Include Networked Devices
  2. File, Import from Scanner, EPSON model xxx
Preview in Mountain Lion shows the scanner directly from the File menu:

Those extra clicks didn't take long, but they sure were annoying. Well done, Apple. This didn't make anyone's list of new features, but now I know what people mean when they say this OS is more "polished" than previous releases.

There was a script available to work around this issue, but the issue never bothered me quite enough to make me mess with it. Nevertheless, I am quite happy to see it fixed.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Installing Mountain Lion and Pining for an SSD

I just finished installing OSX 10.8 Mountain Lion, and boy was it slow. This is my own fault. I bought my first Mac this year, and I went with the base Mac Mini. I did upgrade the RAM from 2GB to 8GB, but I stuck with the base 500GB 5,400 rpm drive over a faster drive or a solid state drive. I don't regret it, and I would make the same decision again. Nevertheless, the OSX upgrade really drove home the point that the bottleneck in my system is the hard drive.

A friend of mine started the upgrade after I did and finished 20 minutes before me. Mine took almost an hour, but he was done in under 30 minutes. He has a MacBook Air with a slower processor than mine but does have an SSD. Due to his faster drive, he lapped me. For business, I always recommend at least a 7,200 rpm drive if not SSD. 10,000 rpm drives are great, but these days I think it's better to pay more for solid state and smaller capacity rather than pay for larger traditional hard driver. Either way though, your performance investment will pay off.

Think of your billable time. My computer was out of commission for 30 minutes longer than it "needed" to be because of my hardware choices. It's not my only computer, so I had zero down time, but that is not the typical scenario. Most users have one computer at the desk, and if it's down for updates, that is lost productivity and therefore lost money. This is something many law offices fail to understand. Investing in your hardware is just as important as investing in your people.

Let me stress that in day-to-day usage, I am not waiting for my computer. Most of the things I do are not disc-intensive, and the Mac is downright snappy doing them. Even things like file copies and software installations go pretty quickly but are not blazingly fast. That is all fully in line with my expectations; something is always going to be the bottleneck, and in most systems, it's the hard drive. One other critical piece of the puzzle for me is that I do most of my work on a terminal server, so the specifications of my local PC are barely a factor there.

I actually went from a 7,200 rpm drive in my last Windows PC to the 5,400 drive on the Mac, and I did it with my eyes wide open. I wasn't willing to pay a 25% premium to get a 750GB 7,200 rpm drive over the stock 500GB 5,400 rpm drive. There was not even an option to put a smaller 7,200 rpm drive in, which would have been my preference. However, this is probably not the right choice for most people. I'm still happy with my decision, but today served as a huge reminder that the decision had tradeoffs.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Upgrading Legacy Credit Cards

Legacy cards can be annoying: you don't use them often because they're not as good as your primary card(s), bit you still have to use them some to keep the accounts open for the sake of average account age. Make the best of it and upgrade them to the best available cards from those banks. Just make sure you confirm that your actual account will remain unchanged, even if you get a new credit card number!

I've had my Capital One MasterCard since pretty much the beginning of time, and for that reason, I should never cancel it. Average account age plays a substantial role in your credit score, so closing your oldest accounts is generally not a good idea. However, you also should not just leave the card in a drawer, because if you go long enough without using it, then the bank will close the account on its own. I lost a Discover card account that I'd opened in 2000 to this phenomenon several years ago. I think I had a notion that the account would get closed if I didn't use it, but I didn't realize that 12 years later, I would really want another account that had been open the whole time for the beneficial effect on my credit score.

My Capital One card started life as a Plain Jane ("standard") MasterCard with a $1,000 credit limit some time late in high school. Over the years, it moved up the spectrum to a Platinum card with a larger limit (I requested the Platinum upgrade; the credit limit decisions were all the bank's and happened without me asking). I was smart enough to realize the Platinum card offered some benefits I didn't receive with the regular card, but it still took me a while to realize that I should be using a rewards card.

That led me first to the Discover Card, then later to the MBNA Platinum Plus VISA with WorldPoints (which then became a Bank of America card). Discover was not accepted at enough places to be my primary card, and in college I wasn't interested in juggling cards. I liked the Discover card, but it just didn't meet my needs at the time. I wanted one card that I could use everywhere and earn rewards.

The WorldPoints card earned one point per dollar spent, which is not bad. However, the redemptions were terrible: you have to redeem 25,000 points to get 1 cent per point of value in a $250 check. You can only redeem in 2,500 point increments. Worse, if you redeem a smaller amount of points like 2,500 points, you get just $12.50 or half a cent per point. My strategy was just to wait until I had accumulated 25,000 points and cash out for $250, but that took a long time, and the maximum of one cent per point is really the minimum anyone should be getting now for rewards or cash back value. Nevertheless, it was a good choice at the time, and I used it until two years ago as my primary card.

My fiancée had been touting American Express for years (she's been a fan since 2001), and in 2010, I got a Zync card. I've since moved up the AMEX food chain, but I'll cover that in another post. I mention it here because that was what caused me to put my Bank of America card in a drawer along with the Capital One card. I now had two legacy cards that I didn't actually want to use for spending because that would have given me poor value relative to my newer points-earning card. However, I couldn't leave  them entirely disused because then my two oldest accounts would get closed.

For the last two years, I used them enough to keep them open (my goal to use each card at least every other month) but not beyond that. It bothered me that I wasn't earning useful rewards on either card, but not enough to make me do anything about it. I was too busy with life and too excited about the other points-earning cards I had found to pay much attention to my legacy cards. However, in June, as I was upgrading to a new AMEX card, I realized I should look into upgrading my legacy cards. It was a smart move, but one I should have made much earlier.

I would have been happy moving to anything better than what I had, but the cards to which I was able to upgrade are actually pretty good, at least for some kinds of spending. It was also surprisingly easy to do. I spoke with competent, friendly reps at both Capital One and Bank of America. I was particularly surprised at how good the CSRs at Capital One were, as they have been terrible in my previous experiences with them. I have never experienced the deceptive practices for which they were just fined by the CFPB, but I know people who have been pressured alone those lines. Nevertheless, the reps from both companies were great with me for these upgrades.

Since neither Capital One nor Bank of America offers a card that would be part of my (admittedly evolving) long-term points earning strategy, I decided to go for cash rewards. Since these are never going to be cards that get a large chunk of my spending, flexible cash rewards made the most sense. I was able to upgrade my existing cards to a Capital One Cash Rewards World MasterCard and a BankAmericard WWF Cash Rewards Visa Signature.

The new MasterCard will give me 1% back on all purchases across the board, with a 50% bonus on all rewards earned that is paid out once a year on the card anniversary date. That makes the effective rewards rate 1.5%, with no annual fee or foreign transaction fee. That is good enough to be a contender for spending that would earn 1X on my primary cards, and it will be my go-to card for any foreign purchases that do not accept AMEX.

The new VISA earns 3% at gas stations, 2% on groceries, and 1% on everything else. That beats the 2% I get at gas stations with my BlueCash Everyday and Amazon Visa, and will earn my gas spending as soon as I meet the signup bonus minimum spend on the BlueCash. There are cards that earn more on gas, but none that I have right now. It also donates .25% of all purchases to World Wildlife Fund. It does not have an annual fee, but it does have a 3% foreign transaction fee so this is not a card I will use overseas.

There you have it - I was able to take two cards that were useful only for average account age and make them not only better, but sufficiently useful to contend for some of my regular spending.

I have no relationship with any credit card company beyond just being a card customer. The links above are all public links, and I receive no commission from them. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Appreciating the IRS

I think most of us spend more time complaining about the IRS than anything else, so I wanted to take the time to write about a recent good experience I had with them.

A few months ago, I found a refund check (remember refund checks?) at the bottom of a backpack. It was from 2004, so it was my refund for the 2003 tax year. Evidently I had gotten *this close* to depositing it at the bank, and then it was lost to the mysterious backpack black hole for almost eight years. The amount was a couple hundred dollars. Not life-changing, but definitely enough to be felt. That's a round-trip ticket to most domestic destinations, or all my utility bills for a month.

I had never really dealt with "found money" before. Sure, I've found a $20 bill in a jacket that I'd forgotten about, but nothing more substantial than that. My reaction was a mix of "yay!" and "oh damn, what if it's no good anymore?" Certainly it was too old to just cash at the bank. Enter the IRS.

I tried a few times to sort this out on the phone and then gave up. Hold times were long, and ultimately they told me I'd have to go in person to resolve this, which was not surprising. I made a copy of the check, confirmed that I had a few forms of ID on me, and then grabbed my Kindle and headed downtown.

The DC customer service center at 77 K Street NE was pretty much what I expected: a large, Dilbert-like world of cubicle offices and people waiting in chairs. However, everyone who worked there was unfailingly polite, from the security guards to the receptionist to the agent who ultimately helped me. The wait was long, and the atmosphere in the waiting room felt very much like the DMV. There were not a lot of people ahead of me, but time just seems to stand still in those places.

Finally they called my number! The agent I met was knowledgeable and courteous. He filled out the appropriate forms and told me they would reissue the check within ten days. I asked if I needed to do anything else, and he said no, they would just mail me the check. That was it; he sent me on my way. Barely a week later, I had a new check in hand.

I know not everyone has a good experience. Not every IRS employee will be as helpful as the ones I encountered, and sometimes even a good outcome means you are going to owe them a lot of money. Not fun. Still, it was obvious that they were dedicated public servants doing a thankless job with a good attitude and a sense of professionalism that I frankly did not expect. I can tell you that at least as far as the DC office goes, if you have a wait, it's because there just aren't enough of them. They are absolutely doing their best.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Two Years with the iPhone 4

We just passed the five-year anniversary of the iPhone, and there is some great coverage out there reflecting on that. I was reading the MacWorld article iPhone: Five years in our pockets, and it got me thinking about my own iPhone history and recent developments. Two years in, I'm still extremely satisfied with my iPhone 4. I remain impressed with the quality and smoothness of operation. For a device I touch multiple times per day, there are manifold opportunities to disappoint, but my iPhone doesn't. I'm not saying it's perfect, but it's exactly what it's supposed to be: a device that just works.

By mid-2010, I'd had a BlackBerry Pearl for almost 4 years. It was my first smartphone; before that I had been using a Motorola Razr. As I mentioned in my blog on the latest bad news from RIM, I went through three replacement batteries and two replacement rollerballs in the Pearl before I finally moved on to a new phone. My Pearl was a workhorse, and it had been a good phone for a while, but it was fading fast. Rebooting took over 5 minutes, and I had to do it often. It was time for a change.

Getting rid of my BlackBerry was thus an easy decision, but deciding what to replace it with was not. In the end, it came down to just two phones: the iPhone 4 and the EVO 4G. I chose the iPhone 4 primarily because of the Retina display. There were a number of other factors, and I did have some concerns about the tightly controlled Apple ecosystem, but the display was the killer feature that won me over. Enough has been written about it that I don't feel the need to rehash the details here. I will just say that it is as gorgeous as it was on day one, and it spoiled me to the point where I could not give serious consideration to an iPad 2.

I had no interest in jailbreaking my phone while it was under warranty (and contract). However, now that it's up, I have no desire to do so at all. iOS has expanded in the last two years to the point where there is not a single meaningful restriction that would compel me to jailbreak the phone. 

When the iPhone launched in 2007, I was not a believer. Of course, in those days it was $600 with no hope of a subsidy, but that changed quickly. I had two iPods at the time, and I liked them, but even when the price on the iPhone came down, I was a holdout. Silly things like copy-and-paste were not available in the OS. By the time the 3GS was out though, I wanted one. However, with the 4 in the pipeline, I decided to bide my time and stick with my slowly dying Pearl until its release.

A couple of things have happened in the last two years that have added tremendous value to the phone. Find my iPhone, the only feature that made me consider paying for MobileMe when I bought my iPhone, is now free. In fact, Apple has shuttered MobileMe entirely as of 6/30/2012 and is pushing iCloud (free unless you want expanded storage) instead. The basic, free 5GB quota lets me back up everything just fine, so I haven't had a need to look into the paid option. Those two changes gave me new, free functionality that make me sleep easier.

Mobile flash is now dead. I don't know that I can actually prove this adds value to the iPhone, but I believe it does. The fact that the iPhone doesn't do flash is no longer a reason to avoid it. Essentially, an opportunity cost of buying an iPhone has been removed. At the time I bought, you could buy an Android phone that could do flash, and thus your web browsing would be at least somewhat limited on an iPhone by comparison. This is technically still the case today, but since Adobe announced the end of mobile flash last November (and confirmed its end two days ago), we all know the platform is going nowhere. 

All future mobile-oriented content is going to be visible without flash. Furthermore, since mobile browsing is huge and growing, developers are not going to waste time developing flash-dependent content at all when there are no mobile operating systems that support browsers to view it. Most sites already have a non-flash version. As time goes on, more (well really all) of the web will be visible on an iPhone, and I think this adds value not only to future iPhones but to existing ones as well.

In addition to being able to view a greater percentage of the web, my iPhone 4 has gained other abilities since its launch. It can do everything it did two years ago plus more. Through iOS updates, it can now do now over-the-air (OTA) sync and backup, and even OTA updates. Another nice feature of the way Apple does things is that it can get those updates on release day. Carriers are notorious for stalling Android updates, often for months. Even worse, Microsoft just announced that there is no upgrade path at all From the current Windows Phone to Windows Phone 8 that will be released in a couple of months. 

When iOS6 was info first became available, I was not thrilled to hear that I will not be getting Siri or 3D mapping in iOS6, but I'm okay with it now after looking at the field. I am getting far more update value than any of the competition yields. Apple says those features require a newer phone with a faster chip, but whether or not that's true, I think it's reasonable to leave those features out in hopes they'll make me want to buy a new phone. I'll get the vast majority of the features in iOS6, and I'll get them the day the OS becomes available. 

Whether I will get a new iPhone in the Fall when the next model arrives is, for now, an open question. No doubt I'll be tempted by new features, but then I'll look at the trusty phone I've had for two years, the phone that has more features now than when I bought it, and I'll have to weigh my options carefully. I don't know which way I'm leaning now, but it will take quite a good offering to convince me to part with cash and my old phone for a new one.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

RIM announces new delay, posts disappointing earnings, slashes jobs (again)

I am going to go out on a little bit of a limb here make a prediction: there is not going to be a BlackBerry 10. There is talk about whether it will be the savior of RIM or whether it will be too little, too late, but the expectation is still that it will arrive. I have seen nothing to support that expectation. I believe RIM will already be in bankruptcy or sold off and divided up before BB 10 launches.

I want to make it clear that I am not here to badmouth RIM. I had a BlackBerry Pearl for 4 years. I went through three replacement batteries and two replacement rollerballs before I gave it up for an iPhone 4.  I am sad to see RIM go, but I think it's actually gone already, not going.

RIM stock is taking another whooping in after-hours trading after the latest round of bad news, but it's hard to understand why anyone would be surprised. It's hardly the first time they've disappointed with exactly the same headline. These types of disappointments should be priced into the stock already. This is a company that, while being know for mobile email, launched its signature tablet without a native email client. I know it's under new leadership now, but it's the same old story.

Lawyers were the second-to-last group to abandon BlackBerry, behind big government agencies, and even they have given up now. There are still plenty of lawyers with BlackBerries, but they are not repurchasing at the end of their contracts. They are going to iPhone or Android. Windows Phone 8 looks promising too, but there is no upgrade path from the current version of Windows Phone, so it doesn't make any sense to buy one now.

I was recently in a room with 25 fellow lawyers, and there were precisely two BlackBerry phones in the room. A year ago, it would probably have been 10. Two years ago, 18. The pendulum has swung, and it's over. BB 10 is now slated to come out in 2013, far too late to do any good.

News summary:,yahoo