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T-Mobile Internet [16 Sep 2005|12:03am]

I didn't post yesterday, because my mobile internet connection went all nuts. Maybe more on that and what I did to fix it later.

So, yesterday. I didn't do much. S went out and ran various errands. I stayed at the new apartment waiting on the arrival of her new cell phone from UPS, since it required a signature and we needed to get it while I was still in town so I could set it up for her.

She needed a new phone because she's going to use it for her internet connection. For the last year we've had a "family" cell phone plan, and for the last several months, we've been without a land line entirely. We use our cell phones for phone service, and I have Speakeasy DSL, which does not require telephone service. But, S does not care nearly as much about the internet as I do. Plus she's going to be a poor student. We've never had cable, and she currently has no TV. So the best budget solution turned out to be getting her a GPRS-capable phone, a data cable, and the T-Mobile "unlimited internet" add-on. This way, she wouldn't need to install a land line, expensive "naked" DSL, or cable TV.

I already use this with my phone, over bluetooth, and have for several months. Despite the advice of the T-mobile store salesman ("oh, you don't want to do that"), based on my positive experience, we went ahead with the plan.

I waited until today to set it up. It took a while. The data cable came with a disk, but the software did not work. S unfortunately still uses Windows (working on that), so there was nothing I could do about the fact that the software did not work, and I had to set it up with the traditional Dial-Up Networking panel.

I have some familiarity with the Hayes commands from back in the BBS days, so I was able to do some AT junk and get responses from the phone. But I couldn't get connected to the network. I knew there was a magic init string, and I didn't have it. So I called T-Mobile.

Calling T-Mobile is like playing a video game. I got to Level 4. This time they actually told me the levels as I progressed, which made it more fun. "I'm passing you up to Tier 3 now" --- pump fist in air.

As you get higher in levels, the bosses get more knowledgeable, but less friendly. The relationship is linear. Tier 3 was the worst. He kept yelling "WHAT?" in my ear each time I said "okay", and asked me my first name no fewer than 3 times. And I had to spell "William".

Tier 3 also told me that only a serial cable would work with this phone, not a USB cable (which is what I had). Our disagreement over this fact was why he passed me to Tier 4, although I did let him walk me through his whole script first.

In fact, his script had the magic information, which is the big init string that establishes all the settings. I'm sure this is on T-Mobile's web site, but I really couldn't find it before my patience ran out. With that information, and fiddling with a couple things while on hold between Tier 3 and Tier 4, I got it to work.

When Tier 4 came on, I didn't have anything for him, so I told him that I had already solved the problem, and raised another question about some T-Zones errors I'd been getting on the phone. At lightning mumble speed, he explained that some T-Zones features just don't work with some phones. The feature in question is "weather". Fine. T-Zones is a pile of crap anyway. If anyone out there is teaching a class on user interface design, I hope you'll use T-Zones as the Don't.

The end result, after nearly an hour on the phone with the TM to get a single AT command string, was a working connection, using a Samsung X-475 phone, USB data cable, some Sony Vaio laptop, and Windows ME. S was happy. She was even able to stream --- uninterrupted --- this past week's Wait Wait Don't Tell Me over the connection.

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Chicago Backpacks [16 Sep 2005|09:34am]

We took a long bus ride down 55th the other day. It was around the time of day that kids get out of school. There are a lot of schools along that drag.

Since when did they start requiring kids to carry transparent backpacks? I don't remember hearing about this. But nearly every kid was carrying a clear plastic backpack. For safety and security, I'm sure. I saw dozens of these things during that ride. Mostly junior high kids.

I was also left wondering whether a blank white t-shirt with blue jeans is the dress code at some of these same urban schools, or just fashion. Hard to tell, but almost as many guys were wearing that as were carrying transparent backpacks.

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Unimportant thoughts about Chicago transportation [16 Sep 2005|11:33pm]

I've been to the Chicago area many times in the past, but never rode any of the public transportation until this visit.

Do any of Chicago's El cars have the crossbar running parallel with the ceiling so that people standing in the aisle have something to hang on to? I was really surprised that the ones we rode didn't have them. Maybe people just don't stand in the aisle; the seating arrangement is a little different than what I'm used to in Boston.

The elevated effect is interesting. Makes for a fun and scenic ride. I'm not sure about the overall effect on the city. My first impression is, too many bridges with dark and scary spots under them. Also, you lose that nice winter benefit of waiting for your train underground.

The whole stairs-made-for-little-people thing on the commuter Metra trains is weird, as is the partial second floor. I felt like I was in someone's dorm room loft. I like our MBTA commuter cars much better. If you're going to have a second floor, why not go all the way?

Chicago's El trains run 24 hours, or at least that's the official claim. Maybe there are exceptions. When is Boston going to get its head out of its ass in this regard?

And while on the topic of train trips, this Amtrak trip from Chicago to DC is going well so far, almost 5 hours into it. So much more comfortable than flying, except for the boarding process and the fact that it takes 17 hours. Despite the assurances of some folks on IRC, there are no electrical outlets anywhere in this train car. That's ok, because I've got 7.5 hours of battery left.

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