Dr. Jerry Pournelle

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Computing At Chaos Manor:
July 16, 2010

The User's Column, July Supplement 2010
Column 359.5
Jerry Pournelle jerryp@jerrypournelle.com
Copyright 2010 Jerry E. Pournelle, Ph.D.

The Apple iPhone 4 Story Continues

I don't do breaking news, but I did have to put this out; you'll see why.

The iPhone 4 Story: Apple will issue free cases and refunds for those who bought the Apple "Bumper" cases for the iPhone 4, according to breaking news from a special Apple press conference, at which Steve Jobs praised his engineers and crew and repeated that the Apple iPhone 4 is a wonderful phone and its users love it.

As I write this, returns of iPhone 4 were under 2% and Apple's stock was recovering.

I have friends who still consider this the tech story of the year. They mostly focus on the devious course the story has followed, what Apple knew and when they knew it, conspiracies and lies and marketing deceptions, and the rest.

Perhaps they are right, but I am more persuaded that the size of the story is more due to the lack of real stories, and that the iPhone Incident happened in the silly season. The real test will be the acceptance of the iPhone by users. Apple iPhone 4 sales continue strong, and my reader reports don't include any who returned their iPhones. Many are wildly enthusiastic.

I still think the real story is the continued development of the Pocket Computer and its effect on publishing and journalism and the whole computer revolution, and this will all turn out to be a tempest in a teapot. More on that another time.

The AT&T MicroCell: Happy Ending

Let me open with this:

Me, crow, eating.

That ought to be a picture of me eating a crow rather than the crow eating me, but it will have to do.

At last count the AT&T MicroCell seemed to be working in that it was connected to the Internet and all the lights were solid, not flashing, but my iPhone showed no indication that the MicroCell existed. After a couple of days of that I called the AT&T Wireless trouble number at 1:35 PM PDT. I called on a land line so that I could experiment with the iPhone at need.

The answer tree had "Press 1 to get a human being" alternative, and at 1:40 Laura answered. I told her my problem. As I did, suddenly I saw 4 bars on my iPhone. That turned out to be an utter coincidence. At 1:44 Laura had concluded that she couldn't do anything for me, and transferred me to hold, where I got some more recorded advertisements for the wonderfulness of AT&T. Let me say immediately: the recordings weren't unpleasant, and they were the worst part of this experience. All the AT&T people I talked to were polite and efficient and spoke idiomatic English with an American southern accent.

At 1:49 Andrew (he gave his last name, too) answered. I had to tell the story again. What I wanted to know was whether AT&T could see that my MicroCell was connected. Laura didn't have access to that information. Neither did Andrew. When I asked him why she'd transferred me to him, he answered reasonably that he was the only one she could transfer calls to. An interesting arrangement. In any event, Andrew then transferred me to hold, and at 1:53 Deborah came on line. We went through a number of verifications of my cell phone numbers, the MicroCell serial number, and iPhone settings. Then at 2:00 she asked the critical question. On the iPhone, go to Settings: General: Network. Is 3G enabled?

Of course it wasn't. I turned it on. Instantly 5 bars appeared. So did the notation that I was connected by MicroCell. A couple of minutes later Deborah called me on my iPhone. I answered and walked through the house. Voice quality was fine. I had at least 2 bars even in the back rooms of the house where I had never had any service at all.

It turns out that for a couple of years I have been using this iPhone in EDGE rather than 3G mode, and it's very likely that I never experienced 3G. Last night at a meeting away from my house I tried 3G for web surfing, and I am impressed. Of course the fact that I thought it was 'good enough' in EDGE mode is interesting.

In my defense I can claim that I got the iPhone during the time when they were burning out my brain tumor with 50,000 rad of hard x-rays, and I didn't pay a lot of attention to details about network settings - and I never learned that iPhones tell you 3G when they are connected by 3G. I'm learning all that now.

Meanwhile I can report that the MicroCell works quite well, and, provided that you have a 3G phone with 3G enabled, there's no difficulty in setting it up. In my case the MicroCell accesses the Internet through an Ethernet switch that connects to a router that connects to the Time Warner Cable Modem, and that works seamlessly; and I have put the MicroCell in several different locations in the house. It works best in the center of the house, and moving it from one location to another is simple. Reconnection is automatic. Just plug it in. With the MicroCell in its present location there is no room in my house that has fewer than three bars of 3G MicroCell connection.

There is one potential problem. MicroCell uses Wi-Fi, and if you're in an area of heavy Wi-Fi use it can conflict with your Wi-Fi to weaken both those signals. According to Deborah if you get dropped calls, turn off your Wi-Fi when using the MicroCell for phone calls. I haven't had that problem and there are four active Wi-Fi nets in view in my neighborhood. I expect MicroCell is a fifth. If I can find out what channel it uses I'll set my Wi-Fi to something as far away from it as I can get. That's another story for another time.

Bottom line: If you're in a very bad AT&T service location and you can get a MicroCell, do it. I find it absurd that you have to pay AT&T fifty bucks to get the service you're already paying for, but it's sure nice to have the phone work all over the house. That said, recommended.