Computers

December 2008 Poker

Send to Kindle

December was no different than November. Good results in Omaha (though not many tournaments in general), and a total wipeout in the big Sunday Hold’Em tourneys, accounting for a terrible economic showing. Bottom line for the month: -$694.60.

In one of the big tourneys, they paid the top 135 spots. I finished 137th. I probably could have squeeked in if I just folded two more times, but I decided to play like I should, not like I was tempted to. It didn’t work out.

Anyway, another bad economic month, but another satisfying round of Omaha tourneys (though still a very light playing schedule).

For the year, a complete economic wipeout: -$2,128.26.

Horrible, obviously, on every level. That said, I was playing with previous winnings, and still have enough left in the account to play a bit more (a lot more if I would avoid paying full-freight in the big Sunday tourneys).

As much as I love playing online poker, and I really do, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m secretly looking forward to running out of money in the account, so I can obsess about other pursuits that I don’t make enough time for, given the siren song that poker sings to me. 🙂

Vista speech recognition

Send to Kindle

I’ve been fascinated by speech recognition for a very long time.  I used a program called Simon on a NeXT computer back in 1992. I have toyed with every version of Dragon Naturally Speaking since v2 (now owned by Nuance). I keep upgrading my copy of Dragon Naturally Speaking (through v9, I haven’t done v10 yet), even though I never actually use it for anything real beyond checking out how much better each version has gotten.

The primary reason I don’t dictate more is that Lois and I work two feet apart 99% of the time. That makes it awkward to be speaking to the computer, from a number of perspectives. Still, I remain intrigued by the concept.

Vista has built-in speech recognition. My new laptop also has Realtek HD Audio built in, including a very high quality microphone next to the webcam, at the top of the monitor. As an example, I tested it with Skype the other day, with no headset, and there was no echo on either side of the conversation, and the other person said I sounded fine.

That made me think about the extra convenience of being able to dictate without scrounging around for headset, or wearing it for extended periods. I decided to play with the speech recognition just to see.

Basically, it works pretty well. Far from perfect. In fact, I’m not sure that Dragon 10 wouldn’t be better. That said, it’s built in, and feels much lighter weight (starts up instantly, shuts down instantly, doesn’t shift application windows around to put its toolbar up, etc.).

It took me a while to get it to work with my USB headset. Basically, you don’t tell the speech recognition program which device to use. In order to use it with the USB headset, you have to set the USB headset to be the default microphone on the system, and then the speech recognition program automatically picks it up.

You might be asking why I wanted to use the USB headset? The simple reason is that my headset has a microphone mute button on the cord. That’s very cool for speech recognition. If the phone rings, or Lois wants to talk, I can just hit the mute button, and speech recognition is off, even though the program is still listening. It simply can’t hear anything. As a bonus, in theory, the recognition should be better, but for now, I don’t care too much about that.

Here’s one annoyance. It was my intention to dictate this entire post, including all of the actual production of it (clicking the save button, publish, etc.). Unfortunately, I gave up after five minutes. I tend to write my posts in Firefox, right in the admin interface of WordPress. Even with Allow Dictation Everywhere set on in speech recognition, it doesn’t think that Firefox is a normal input program (though it recognizes that I’m in a text area).

So, every phrase gets put up in a dialog box for me to confirm. It got them all correct, but I couldn’t just speak the post. I could have dictated into Word, WordPad, NotePad, WindowsLiveWriter, etc., and in the future I might just do that, but for now, I’m typing this post…

Using speech recognition in Command Mode works reasonably well. I can switch applications easily, select menu items, switch folders in email (Thunderbird, which obviously isn’t written by Microsoft), etc. Yesterday, while eating lunch with both hands, I had an IM conversation with someone by speaking my responses and saying Enter after each one. The concept was very cool, even though I had to correct a bunch of words (I wasn’t using the USB headset at the time).

Anyway, I recommend playing around with speech recognition in Vista if you work in a room alone, or have a spouse (or co-worker) who would be amused by your ranting at the computing out loud. 😉

Welcome Back Courier-IMAP

Send to Kindle

When Matt was maintaining this server, starting back in 2001, he installed Courier-IMAP for our mail service (both IMAP and POP). It worked extremely well for many years. At one point, IMAP folders started taking a long time to open. Once they were open, performance was excellent. I think this was due to not enough simultaneous open connections allowed from the same IP address.

I’ve been maintaining this machine for a while, but I didn’t bother to do anything with Courier-IMAP even though it had started annoying me. Over 18 months ago, I switched to a new server. I decided to build it from scratch, correcting some legacy problems along the way. One of them was the above-mentioned IMAP hangs (not always, but annoying nonetheless).

After some research, I chose Dovecot as the new POP and IMAP server. I was impressed with how easy it was to install and configure. While there were tons of options to choose from, all of them are controlled in one dovecot.conf file, with extremely clear descriptions of what each choice entails. Once installed, it worked perfectly, and I was very pleased with my decision.

This joy lasted for more than a year! Then, at some point (possibly after my server was physically moved from one data center to another), a few times a day (typically 1-3 times), Dovecot would think that the system clock had moved backwards in time (it never does, and no other program every complains about that). Dovecot sees this as a very bad event (understandably) and exits automatically.

After noticing this a few times, I installed a monitoring program called Monit. I am running a 5.0 beta version, but monit has been flawless in every respect, even in beta. Since I installed monit, every time that Dovecot would quit, monit would restart it within 30 seconds, and email me that it just restarted it. That’s how I know it’s a daily event, sometimes multiple times a day.

I’ve lived with this nonsense for way too long. Each time, I assumed that the next version of Dovecot would magically fix my problem, even though it started on a version that had worked perfectly for months before the problem started! As much as I like everything else about Dovecot, I finally gave up.

This weekend, I installed Courier-IMAP (a much newer version than the one we used to run). I made sure to allow more concurrent connections from the same IP address (both Lois and I always come across as coming from the same IP address). I had a few hassles with the configuration (even though there are way fewer things to choose than with Dovecot). After about an hour of messing around (probably all my own fault, over-thinking some of the choices), I got it working.

There was only one side-effect to the change. Under Dovecot, my IMAP folders were shown in the mail client as follows:

INBOX:

———>XXX

———>YYY

———>ZZZ

After switching to Courier-IMAP, the structure in the mail clients was:

INBOX:

———>INBOX:

——————–>XXX

——————–>YYY

——————–>ZZZ

We can all live with it, and no mail was lost. It’s a minor nuisance.

I tested on a separate port, and when POP and IMAP were working, I turned Dovecot off and restarted Courier-IMAP with the correct default ports.

I then wrote an email to all of my users (all four of them). 😉

However, when I went to send the email, the send failed with a SASL authentication error. Ugh. I have saslauthd on the system (it wasn’t running, because Dovecot was performing that service as well). I started it up, but even though I played around a bit, I couldn’t get Postfix to authenticate correctly through it.

After looking at the top of the dovecot.conf file, I saw that by changing one line (which protocols Dovecot should handle) to “none”, it would run in SASL authentication mode only. That worked. So, now I still run Dovecot for authentication (since I didn’t have to change anything), and Courier-IMAP for mail fetching.

So far, the system has been running for a little over 24 hours, with no exits on the part of Courier-IMAP or the Dovecot auth daemon. I also haven’t had any hangs on opening an IMAP folder. It’s still very early, but the Dovecot IMAP server would have died at least once by now (guaranteed), so it’s already a win.

Here’s hoping that this will be a permanent change…

Update: First, so far so good. No exits in 4+ days! More important, I just stubmbled across a post that gave me the answer to my nested mailbox problem above. Apparently, Dovecot repeats the .INBOX in front of each sub-folder in the Maildir folder. In other words, .INBOX.SPAM is the SPAM folder, directly under the main INBOX in Dovecot. Courier-IMAP expects it to just be .SPAM in the top-level Maildir folder, in order to be considered a direct sub-folder of the main .INBOX.

I moved the folder names, unsubscribed the old one and subscribed to the new ones, and my folder hierarchy is now sane again. Whew. 😉

Update: It turns out that the fault lies not with Dovecot, but with some bad code in the Linux Kernel for certain hardware configurations (obviously, mine included) that causes the system clock to jump a few times a day. There is a long thread about it on the Dovecot mailing list, which points to a very long thread on the Linux Kernel maintainers list. So, while the problem definitely affected me, it’s not Dovecot’s fault, which correctly notices the jump, and decides that it’s safer to exit than to guess. Perhaps a future kernel update (I just applied one today) will solve the problem. I don’t feel like hand-patching my kernel, or Dovecot…

Welcome WordPress 2.7

Send to Kindle

I just upgraded to WordPress 2.7. It was super simple, no glitches whatsoever.

Earlier in the day, I noticed that there was an updated version of the Simple Tags plugin that I use, clearly stating that it worked with 2.7. I upgraded that while still running 2.6.5.

Then I upgraded WordPress to 2.7 on my laptop, running XAMPP. The only complaint I got was about Simple Tags, which I hadn’t upgraded on the laptop (and I updated it then). All other plugins just worked, and the new theme, PrimePress just worked as well.

I hadn’t installed any betas or release candidates before, so this is my first real look at the new admin interface. I’ve seen screen shots, and it’s crisp, clean and reasonably intuitive.

I’m officially a fan, even though I clearly haven’t exercised it in any meaningful way yet. 🙂

P.S. First glitch, the Preview link gave me a 404, so something isn’t being put where it should be. Can’t find an obvious cause, so I’m punting for now, and just publishing. I’ll track down my preview problem over the weekend…

Update: I just did a test of Preview on the laptop, and it worked fine. So, there isn’t anything wrong at the WP level. I am now quessing that something about the URL scheme for Previews changed slightly, and my own rules at the NginX level are failing (the equivalent of Apache rewrite rules). When I’m sure, I’ll update again…

Solution: This morning, I discovered that if I override the permalink in the preview URL and use the old-style ?p=NNN format, the preview worked. That allowed me to search with more detail. That turned up the following patch. Ironically, the patch was just posted yesterday, so I wouldn’t have found it on Friday anyway. I don’t know if it works (because I haven’t made a new post since I applied the patch), but at least I can preview by using the old-style URL if need be…

Vista Hotsync Success

Send to Kindle

I’ve written numerous times about the fact that Palm doesn’t support (nor intend to support!) Vista x64. I have also noted that many people claim to have success with Bluetooth Sync (and Phone-as-Modem as well).

I recently reported getting Phone-as-Modem to work over BT, but have had zero success with Hotsync over BT.

Following the instructions in this forum post, I have finally successfully sync’ed the Treo 755p with Vista x64! The technique uses a Network Hotsync, using the Sprint Network. I couldn’t test it until today when I got home and could put the correct port forwarding comnands on my router.

It worked instantly. The first sync was extremely painful (in length) because the machine correctly noticed that it was a first sync, and that the Treo had previously been syncing with another machine. In total, it took 80 minutes and drained 1/4 of the Treo battery in the process. Still, it worked with no errors or timeouts!

The second sync picked up on other things that were left out of the initial sync, and it took about 20 minutes. The third sync became a more normal sync, and took roughly two minutes (not too bad at all!).

I don’t sync all that often, so I don’t really care about the speed. Even with the cable, I was syncing roughly once a month.

This will be workable for the forseeable future even if I never get BT sync to work. The only downside is that I won’t be able to sync when traveling, because I won’t be able to control the port forwarding to the laptop. I tried doing something clever with a reverse SSH tunnel, but I think there might be some UDP packets involved, and SSH is only forwarding the TCP packets.

Either way, I’m back to being a happy camper, even if Palm didn’t help.

Also, just for the record, I am running the Sprint version of the Palm software, installed off of the Treo 755p installation CD that came with the phone. That CD claims that you need to visit Palm for an updated Vista version (which also runs on my machine). But, as I have noted before, everything seems to run fine on Vista x64, now that SP1 is out, including the Palm software that isn’t supposed to work.

Now if they only wrote a USB driver, I’d be all set!

Semi Bluetooth Success

Send to Kindle

For those who read this space regularly, you know that the one thing I’ve struggled with on my otherwise perfect new laptop is getting my Treo 755p working with Vista x64. The USB Cable option simply isn’t available, as Palm is too busy dying to support an up-and-coming version of the most popular operating system in history…

But, many people report success using Bluetooth to sync (and dial up I guess). I wasn’t able to get either working, even though I was able to pair the phone to my laptop (it has a built-in BT radio). I admit that I didn’t kill myself to get it going, but I tried many things.

Today, I decided to try again (given the hassles that I had on our trip this past weekend to Birmingham, where I connected through Lois’ old laptop using ICS). I found instructions on the Palm website for connecting Windows DUN via Bluetooth to a Treo 755p.

When I tried it, I got the same error that I did previously, “modem already in use”. This time, I had a clue (last time I didn’t). In messing around today, I deleted the original pairing, leaving myself without a device. Somehow, that hung Hotsync Manager. When I killed and restarted it, it said that it couldn’t connect to Serial Port COM41, but would connect automatically if it became available!

Aha, that was the clue I was missing, that somehow, Hotsync Manager was successfully grabbing the Serial Port, even though it wasn’t correctly syncing! After re-pairing (not repairing) 😉 I quit Hotsync Manager, and then did the normal DUN dance on the PC (with Sprint, you dial #777 with no username/password). I pay for full Phone-as-Modem (PAM) from Sprint, but on XP I use their Sprint Broadband Connection Manager application (which won’t even install on Vista x64!).

Voila, it dialed and authenticated right away. I had a semi-pokey connection, 341Kbps download and 105Kbps upload, but hey, that’s infinitely better than no connection at all!

At least now we don’t both need to share one connection. That’s not the big win though. At some point, Lois might actually want to switch to her new laptop (don’t hold your breath, I stopped holding mine!) 😉 and when that happens, we wouldn’t have had any Treo connectivity. Now each of us will be able to use our phones via BT if/when necessary. I continue to hope to never need such a connection, but at least I’m not as likely to cancel the insurance premium just yet, now that I know it works.

Sprint will continue to get a crazy premium from me for the moment, until an Android phone that I like becomes available. Now if I can only figure out how to sync via BT (others claim it works perfectly, but my phone hangs every time, instantly)… 🙁

Giving Thanks

Send to Kindle

Lois and I are truly thankful every day of our lives. We’ve been blessed in so many ways, we couldn’t accurately count. Near the top of any list of blessings for us, you would find our wonderful godchildren. In 2008, we were extra-blessed, when Laura got married, and moved to NYC with her husband. They now live in the same building we do, so we get to see them more often than we ever used to!

Unfortunately, while Laura came north, David went south. He is doing his first year of medical residency at UAB (University of Alabama Birmingham). It was his first choice, and he loves it, but we miss him. We hadn’t seen him since Laura’s wedding on July 5th. For us, that’s an unusually long stretch not to see one of them.

We’ve now corrected that, and were rewarded (blessed) with a near-perfect long weekend!

On Tuesday afternoon, we drove from Zope to Durham and spent the night in a Hampton Inn there. The next morning we picked up a very good friend of David’s (and for a long time, ours too, once David introduced us) and we headed to Birmingham, AL. The drive was going along fine, including a successful detour off of I85 to avoid a horrible accident, until we hit Atlanta (mid-afternoon). We were stuck in traffic for nearly two hours, for what should have been a 15-20 minute drive-by. All things considered, not that bad.

We got to Birmingham at a reasonable hour nonetheless, and after checking out David’s apartment, headed for a wonderful meal at La Mesa Cantina and Grill. It’s a different type of Mexican Restaurant. The place is gorgeous (including the bathrooms). You can check out the photo gallery and the menu if you might ever find your way there. I had three soft tacos, two with fried oysters and one with grilled skirt steak. They were excellent, but the oysters were truly outstanding. Next time, I’d probably go for three of them!

David Wes Le Mesa

David and Wes at Le Mesa

After some coffee and catching up at David’s, Lois and I headed to the local Embassy Suites to check in, leaving Wes and David to catch up (and play NCAA Football on the PS3).

Epic Battle

Epic NCAA Battle

I have chronicled my WiFi woes at the hotel in two separate posts, here and here. Without that experience, I would have described this weekend as perfect as opposed to near-perfect. 😉

On Thanksgiving day we headed to David’s mid-morning and relaxed there for a while. We then headed out for lunch and a movie. Amazingly, there were no places open for lunch near the movie theater, which was at a giant outdoor mall called The Summit. We even drove around a bit in the surrounding neighborhood, and every single place (other than McDonalds) was closed.

We decided to be pragmatic and we bought prepared food at Brunos (a supermarket near the theater) and ate it at a table that they provide expressly for this purpose). No one would confuse our lunch for a gourmet meal, but we all enjoyed it nonetheless, and it ended up being very convenient.

Brunos Lunch

Brunos Lunch

We headed over to the movie early, which gave us enough time to split a large buttered popcorn (which was indeed gourmet!) 😉 between the three guys.

Popcorn

Popcorn

We saw Four Christmases. Most of it was laugh-out-loud funny, with a few way-too-stupid scenes thrown in to ensure that it wasn’t a great movie… Seriously though, if you like comedies, there are definitely a ton of laughs. Both Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon do a great job, and the majority of the supporting cast is excellent as well. Wes and I were repeating lines from the movie for days, so it definitely hit the funny bone.

In addition to the humor, there are a few reasonably deep family/life insights, most of which are delivered cleverly or at least in an interesting way, so there is even a bit of redeeming value to the movie. 🙂

We returned to David’s and relaxed the rest of the afternoon, and mentally prepared for the big Thanksgiving meal. Finally the time arrived, and we headed back to our hotel for the event. In the lobby of the Embassy Suites is a Ruth’s Chris. We’ve all had many great meals at various Ruth’s Chris restaurants over the years, so we had no doubt that this one wouldn’t disappoint. We were right.

We could have ordered a traditional TG Turkey dinner, but the boys all went for steak. No surprise, as we had been talking about it for a few days beforehand. We also shared an exceptional bottle of Ridge Zinfandel (2006). Don’t get me started about how great most bottles of any Ridge wine are. It’s one of my all-time favorite wine makers.

Ruth's Chris Thanksgiving

Ruth's Chris Thanksgiving Dinner

We skipped dessert there and headed back to David’s, where we had coffee and some cheesecake that we bought earlier at Bruno’s. It was fantastic.

The next morning (Friday), David left early for an overnight on call shift. That’s 30+ consecutive hours in the hospital, usually with little-to-no sleep. We don’t understand the point, but it’s a regular part of his life/schedule, so it’s just a fact of life at this point.

We decided to take the opportunity to create an adventure for the rest of us, which I’ve documented separately. The only thing wrong with Friday was that David didn’t get to enjoy it with us, and that we didn’t get to enjoy David’s company. Otherwise, a perfect day!

On Saturday, we headed to David’s mid-morning to hang with Wes. After a few hours, David called to say that he was headed home. Lois and I went out to bring lunch back in. The plan was Chick-Fil-A (which I’ve never had the pleasure of), but rather than go to the one Wes directed me to, I allowed the GPS to pick a closer one, which ended up being closed. We brought back Quiznos instead, which served the purpose just fine.

You can tell just how wiped David gets after being on call. He needed a slightly larger shot of caffeine than Wes did. 😉

Extra Caffeine

Extra Caffeine

Right after lunch, David napped while Wes and I watched college football and caught up with emails. I created a mini-panic when I tried to fix what felt like a flaky WiFi router in David’s apartment. We had no Internet connectivity for nearly an hour. Eventually, I got it all working again, and it seemed less flaky, but there were moments when I was wishing to have flaky back. 🙁

When David woke up, we watched more football. We didn’t want to go to dinner until the Iron Bowl (Alabama vs Auburn – Roll Tide!) was over, because we were headed to Dreamland BBQ, which we assumed would be a mob scene during the game. We had an excellent meal there (with yet another round of extraordinary service!). Also, since the menu is limited (but exactly what we were interested in), they are constantly cooking all of the available items, so it’s as lightning as fast food, but clearly as good as cooked to order.

On Sunday, we headed to David’s mid-morning again (broken record). We watched the first half of an amateur movie on DVD called The Pinecone Priority. The movie is pretty poorly executed, but it has some extremely clever lines and concepts in it. Wes is one of the stars, so we were happy to watch it, even though it was over-the-top campy… If you watch the teaser/trailer (linked above), you won’t get a sense of how the movie itself is poorly executed, but you’ll see another form of poor execution. Most of the trailer is black. At exactly the 1:24 mark, you can barely see one scene. Wes is the guy on the left in that scene.

Here’s a better picture of Wes, taken by Lois, while Wes was on the TV. This time, he’s on the right. 😉

Pinecone Priority

The Pinecone Priority

We headed for PF Changs for lunch (back at The Summit). All of us count it among our favorite restaurants. The meal was exquisite, including our first taste of the Kung Pao Scallops. David and I split an order of Moo Shoo Pork, which simply couldn’t have been any better. We then did a little shopping, including picking up a Blue Ray DVD of Tropic Thunder to watch later on.

We relaxed back at David’s the rest of the afternoon and finished up watching The Pinecone Priority, and then David, Wes and Lois headed to an evening church service. I stayed at the apartment and played (and lost) in my weekly big poker tournamet (I already reported about the crushing loss I took in November…). They brought back pizza for dinner. I called the order in to Dave’s Pizza while they were still in church. The timing worked out perfectly.

We then watched Tropic Thunder. This movie is way over the top, and was definitely not a hit with the entire crowd. That said, it had some pretty funny scenes and lines in it, and the concept was quite clever, if overdone in the delivery. It seems that no one associated with this movie ever heard of the word subtlety. Given that I am a sucker for most forms of comedy (even reasonably bad ones), I likely enjoyed it more than the rest of them, but honestly, even I don’t recommend this one to anyone. 😉

After coffee and one last slice of the heavenly cheesecake, Lois and I headed back for one last night at the Embassy Suites. In the morning, we headed over for one last hug from David, and headed on the long trek back to Fredericksburg (and Zope). We dropped Wes at Durham, after stopping in the Hampton Inn where we stayed a week ago. I had accidentaly left my Treo charger in the room, and they were kind enough to hold it for me. We had to drive back through Durham anyway, so it wasn’t as inconvenient as it could have been.

We made it back to the hotel at 8:30pm, which was almost exactly 12 hours after we left Birmingham. We had essentially zero traffic the entire way, which was extraordinary, and another thing we give thanks for on this weekend.

We couldn’t be more thankful for this wonderful visit, regardless of whether it was Thanksgiving proper or not. We’re already counting the days until we find our way back to Birmingham (and Atlanta). 🙂

And, just because Lois loves this one… 😉

Ernie Tea Cup

Ernie's Tea Cup

November 2008 Poker

Send to Kindle

Ugh. That says it all. I played very little this month. I was really busy so it wasn’t a lack of desire. Unfortunately, I got to play in four of the five Sunday tournaments, and lost all four. That alone accounts for 98.56% of my loss this month. It’s a big number, and put a big dent in the account.

Total for the month is a loss of $872.58! Ouch!

Still have enough money to play all of the tourneys that I want, but I’m at a point where I can imagine running out of money in the account, and I’ve already decided that might not be a bad thing. I will most definitely not put money back in, at least not for a long while.

Given that I haven’t put any new money into the account since 2005, I have no complaints. I have enjoyed a long run (that isn’t over yet), full of enjoyment, without having to reach into my pocket in a long time.

Until next month. 🙂

Internet Connection Sharing

Send to Kindle

Internet Connection Sharing (ICS) has been around for a long time (formally, and through hack-like methods). I have never had a need for it (slightly amazing) until now. Yesterday I wrote about our current hotel WiFi woes. In that post, I wrote that I wouldn’t need to worry about it today, given that I would only be in the hotel for two waking hours.

After a very early breakfast, I decided to try ICS for the first time, just for yucks. There are a number of ways that I could have set it up, each as easy as the next, but I had one specific scenario in mind.

I set up Lois’ old laptop on the desk in the outer room (we’re in an Embassy Suites, so we have two rooms). I pulled out my small Linksys travel router and plugged it in there as well. I set my laptop up in the bedroom.

On Lois’ machine, I turned on ICS (there is a simple wizard) and told it that the Sprint Broadband Connection (through the USB cable to her Treo) was the real Internet connection. I then told the wizard that the wired port was the shared connection. I then plugged in the Linksys router to the wired port, with the Internet (WAN) port on the Linksys rather than the Ethernet port. So, the Linksys would be getting it’s IP address from the laptop.

Since my laptop is already configured to connect to the travel router, I didn’t need to make any changes to my machine. I went into the bedroom, and poof, I was on the Internet! This time, the Treo had a better connection than the day before, and I was getting 757Kbps downstream and 124Kbps upstream. That’s a faster downstream connection than I had yesterday on the paid WiFi!

I have heard that ICS on a Mac is brain-dead simple, and I have no doubt that it is. I can now confirm that it’s pretty darn simple on Windows too (Lois’ laptop that was serving the connection is Windows XP). You have to pick which network device is the real one, and which is the shared one, but other than that, nothing else to do.

I now don’t need to consider the hotel WiFi dilemma. Once Lois changes to the new laptop, I’ll have to consider getting an Express Card version of the modem, now that I know we can easily share that connection when necessary. It will still end up being an insurance policy, since we almost always have a free wired or WiFi connection wherever we are.

Victory! 🙂

Hotel WiFi

Send to Kindle

This post is inspired by my current hotel WiFi woes. I’ve likely mentioned this gripe before, but since I’m living it at the moment, I’ll repeat it, vigorously. It’s insane that high-end hotels charge for Internet use (WiFi or wired), while their low-end chains (owned by the same company!) give it away for free!

Sure, some people pay for it (including me, last night), so you could argue that it’s smart. It’s not. It’s brain-dead stupid.

We are on a mini-vacation visiting our godson in Birmingham, AL for the long Thanksgiving weekend. We left the office on Tuesday and drove to Durham, NC where we stayed in a Hampton Inn for the night. We picked up a mutual friend the next morning and drove all day to Birmingham, where we are spending five nights in an Embassy Suites (owned by Hilton, which also owns Hampton Inn). We head back north on Monday morning.

Since it’s a vacation, we’re using Hilton HHonors Points to stay for free this trip. We stay in Hampton Inns nearly 100% of the time, both for business and for pleasure. We like them, they provide good value, a predictable experience, and free Internet access.

There is a Hampton Inn not too far from our godson’s apartment in Birmingham, but there is an Embassy Suites closer, and we’re having Thanksgiving Dinner at the Ruth’s Chris in that Embassy Suites tonight (getting closer, the mouth is already watering…), and, most importantly, it was the same exact number of points to stay there as to stay at the Hampton Inn.

So, I got on to the site, and thought I saw that the Internet Access was free. I was wrong… When I logged on last night, I paid the $9.95 for the 24 hour period. I was annoyed. No, I’m not cheap, but yes, I’m value oriented. Lois has a laptop too, so are we expected to pay $20/day for access? Yes. Never mind connection sharing strategies (which I can employ, but most people can’t).

I actually could go into great detail about that, and intended to, but I’ll pass and spare the poor readers. Our new laptops use Vista x64, and as I’ve noted in other posts, the only thing I don’t have working is the USB connection to our Treo phones (in fact, I can pair with Bluetooth, but I can’t get BT to work for syncing or phone-as-modem either).

So, I can’t use my Treo as a modem to connect to avoid the WiFi fees, which is what I would have done in the past. But, Lois hasn’t switched yet (another very long story), so I did whip out her Treo, and connected her laptop instantly via Sprint. That’s why I didn’t need to hassle with connection sharing. She was fine immediately.

Since I couldn’t use my Treo, I paid. But, whereas the average Hampton Inn gives me a 1.5Mbps connection, upload and download speed, this for pay connection was 537Kbps download and 236Kbps upload. Wow. Charge me, and give me an inferior connection. Real smart. Just for comparison, Lois had a bad connection (perhaps because we’re on the eighth floor), and she was getting 236Kbps download and 126Kbps upload (not much worse than my crappy WiFi connection!).

But, I paid (you say), so they are smart. Wrong. First, if I had realized that they charged, I would not have stayed there (forget that I’m using points, the same would have applied if I were paying with cash). If it wasn’t points, that could have put me in another chain as well, not necessarily a Hilton. Second, they are ensuring that my stay isn’t as pleasant as it might otherwise be. Tomorrow, I will only be in the room for two waking hours. No way I will pay, so I will be using only my Treo for email, and I will blame Hilton.

Next, while I made this mistake this time, I’m not likely to make it ever again. So, Embassy Suites has likely lost all future business that they might have gotten from me. Considering that I’m a Diamond VIP HHonors member, that loss might not be insignificant!

To be clear, everything else about our stay is very nice. The people are delightful. The breakfast was wonderful, The room is gorgeous. And yet, instead of making me want to pay up a little in the future (over a Hampton Inn), they are guaranteeing that I will be running back to Hampton Inn (at least they have won my business for their other chain) rather than spending more for an Embassy Suites stay. That’s why it’s dumb.

Aside from the above, there is a business center downstairs, and also two Internet Kiosks. I didn’t check, but it wouldn’t surprise me to find out that the Business Center offers free Internet usage (for browsing on their machines). If that’s true, it makes it even more stupid to charge for the use in the rooms.

In this hotel, and others, there are other opportunities for the hotel to charge money (typically food, via restaurants or room service). If you encourage me to stay in the room, then I’m likely to use hotel amenities. If I feel ripped off, I’m likely to avoid anything that’s in that specific hotel. Free WiFi will tend to keep people engaged in their room, and therefore hanging around in the hotel.

Anyway, once this trip is over, and definitely once Lois switches to her new machine, I’ll be canceling the phone-as-modem options on both of our Treos. That will be a big loss for Sprint. We pay a huge premium (yes, it’s purely insurance, since we rarely use them in this mode). Since we rarely use the service, this is essentially free money to Sprint. But, since they haven’t pressured Palm to support Vista x64, and haven’t done anything about it themselves, they will lose this revenue.

Second, since the phone will no longer be a multi-purpose device, it will be slightly less useful to me. Also, since it doesn’t sync with my laptop any longer, it will be even less useful. That means that in the next few months, I’ll be in the market for a new phone, even though I like my Treo 755p a lot, and I am perhaps the only happy Sprint customer, and I pay them a small fortune every month, and I use next to zero services.

Yes, I’m an idiot, but I’m a happy idiot, and they are driving me away! More stupidity, but this time, not by a hotel chain… I believe that my next phone will likely be an Android-based one, on Verizon. I might have to wait six months to see a model I’ll be happy with, but once it exists, I’ll be switching.

I’m reluctant to go the extra step and get an express card data modem (or USB one), because I now know from experience that I will use it 3-4 days a year. It’s just a stupid premium to pay for that small amount of usage, but that too could still happen…

Wake up people, in this economy, these kinds of customer alienations will be even more damaging than they otherwise might be…