Wednesday, March 31, 2004

SmartPhone again...
I made the purchase. I'm in Des Moines teaching a class, and over lunch yesterday, I decided to roam the local mall. I found a T-Mobile store, and so I wandered in and asked if they had the PocketPC phone. "This is your lucky day," said the fellow behind the counter. They had gotten one in that morning, the only one they've had in the last six months. This is the new version with Pocket PC 2003 OS installed. I plunked down my $400 and walked away with a new toy.

I've been trying to become accustomed to this new device. The obvious advantages of having this thing are many. If you use a PDA, it's great to have your calendar, contact information and inbox all accessible on this small device that you can carry with you wherever you go. The problem I've found is that I end up not carrying it around everywhere, and as such, I don't use it like I should. The device that I do carry with me everywhere I go is my cell phone. So, if the cell phone were also a PDA, wouldn't that force me to start using it? I would hope so.

The PocketPC phone edition is capable of sync'ing to my company's Exchange server. So, no matter where I am, I have access to my inbox, calendar and contacts. When new emails arrive, my phone notifies me, and I can respond.

This works great - when it works. I've been having difficulty with getting the sync to work with our server. It was failing everytime I tried a sync, but then this afternoon, it started working. I foolishly reset my device, and now it's failing again. :(

So, after about 24 hours of tinkering, the jury is still out. So far, I do like the device. It's compact, fits nicely in my pocket, works great as a phone. It came with a case for clipping it to my belt, but I'm not sure I'm ready to announce my geekdom to that extent just yet. If the sync issue can be worked out (and hopefully, my company's admins are willing to work with me on it), I think it'd be the perfect tool. Especially for someone who finds himself in airports fairly frequently.

Stay tuned, since I do have a 14 day trial period...

Friday, March 26, 2004

SmartPhone Update

I visited the Verizon store yesterday to learn more about their PocketPC Phone. Verizon offers the Samsung SCH-I700 PocketPC phone which, to me, is the best device on the market today. I saw the device in the store. It's fairly slim, small and light for the functionality it packs (PDA, phone, camera, etc).

The price of the phone is similar to the Hitachi G1000 that Sprint offers - around $600. I was ready to purchase until I checked into the monthly service fees. Verizon, like T-Mobile, offers a calling plan and then you can add internet access to the plan. T-Mobile's internet add-on runs about $20 per month. Verizon's internet add-on runs $80 per month. A huge disparity there. The total monthly charge for Verizon (calling plan plus internet) would run around $120 per month, compared to T-Mobile's $60 per month.

I may go with T-Mobile, since their phone is the only one running the new Pocket PC 2003 Phone Edition and their monthly service is reasonable.

Stay tuned....

Last night, in a rare night game in Arizona, the Royals played the Angels to an 8-8 tie in 11 innings. Jeremy Affeldt got the start for the Royals, and while he got knocked around a little bit (11 hits, 5 runs, 2 walks, 3 strikeouts in 5 innings), the good news is that he threw 88 pitches with no sign of irritation on his troublesome middle finger.

It was interesting to hear his remarks during the radio broadcast of the game last night. He said that he feld good and that the curveball was coming out of his hand good, but the dry air prevented it from breaking the way it should. He was confident that once they head to KC and get into more humid air, his pitches will all be working well. When we saw him pitch in Surprise a couple of weeks ago, I noticed his curveball wasn't quite as good as it normally is.

It might be interesting to look at how pitchers do at Bank One Ballpark in Phoenix, compared to other, more humid cities.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Smart and Smarter Phones

After spending a few days in Arizona with Dan Fox, I began to realize how nice it would be to have a smarter phone.

Dan has the T-Mobile PocketPC Phone. We were both in the desert to get away from work and enjoy some Cactus League baseball, but we also both needed to periodically check email.

I have a Samsung N400 on SprintPCS. With my phone, I can access the "wireless web" and log into Quilogy's wireless intranet. From there, I can access a company directory, look at recent sales numbers, etc. I can also access my Exchange Inbox and read, delete and reply to emails. Sounds fine, however it actually quite difficult. One issue is that when I access the intranet, I need to peck in my username and password. My user name consists partially of my last name, which is 9 characters long. Using a numeric keypad to enter that is quite cumbersome. Additionally, I need to re-enter my username and password to log into Exchange. I can then read and delete emails easily enough, but replying presents the same problems with typing. (as an example, to type "Quilogy," I would have to peck 77884445556664999.)

Meanwhile, Dan was checking email on a device that presented a larger, easier to read screen. Also, the device is pre-configured with his username and password, so he simply needs to "sync," and the device automatically syncs his Exchange information. Not just email, but also contacts and calendar information, which I have to keep separately if I want that information on my phone. His phone also includes the convenience of being able to dial directly from his Exchange Contact list.

Of course, the downside is that I had a nice, small phone that clipped to my belt. He had a larger device that he kept in his pocket.

So, since returning from Arizona, I've been researching various phone/PDA combinations to see if one of these devices would be right for me. Off the bat, I felt I wanted a PocketPC phone. I've been using a PocketPC off and on for a couple of years. There are things about it that just can't be beat. Now that the Microsoft Compact Framework and other development tools for mobility are available, I'm also excited about being able to write custom applications for my device. My current carrier is SprintPCS, so I checked their web site to see what kind of PDA Phones they had available.

The options with Sprint are basically the huge and heavy Hitachi G1000 and the poorly reviewed Toshiba 2032. The Hitachi has a builtin thumb-board for easier input, but adding that makes the device really too big to carry everywhere you go, IMO. The Toshiba doesn't run PocketPC Phone Edition, rather it runs the standard PocketPC OS with proprietary phone softward built on top of it. I've seen nothing but poor reviews for this Toshiba.

Another carrier in my area, Verizon, seems to be ahead of the curve on devices. They are currently offering both a PocketPC phone as well as a SmartPhone. The SmartPhone is a newer device. Like the PocketPC, it can sync to my Exchange so it has my calendar, contacts and email, but it has a smaller form factor, much like a standard cell phone. It doesn't have a touch screen, so unlike the PocketPC where you tap the screen to interact, the SmartPhone uses buttons and the numeric keypad for input.

Verizon is offering the Samsung SCH-I600 SmartPhone and the Samsung SCH-I700 PocketPC Phone. The I600 is the only SmartPhone available in my area, that I am aware of, and the I700 is the most advanced PocketPC phone available.

Finally, TMobile, who was the first to offer the PocketPC phone, is still offering their phone, but now offers it with the new PocketPC 2003 OS.

After muddling through all of the information, I'm not sure I've decided what device is right for me. It seems all devices offer something of value, but none seem to offer everything.

In the meantime, I'll keep pecking away...

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Hot Dogs

Here's a pet peeve for me. You're at the stadium enjoying a game. You decide to head to the concession stand for a hot dog and a drink. You agree to also pick up some extra items for your friends or family.

So you wait in line, and finally order 3 or 4 hot dogs, a few sodas, and some nachos. The hot dogs are nicely wrapped in foil, keeping them warm. The problem is that you want some ketchup and mustard for your dogs. No worries, right? You'll just grab a few packets and head back to your seats.

But, no...

You find that to get mustard and ketchup, you need to walk to the condiment station. There, you wait for the other folks to finish so you can elbow your way in. Then, you have to unwrap all of your hot dogs and squirt the mustard and ketchup on them. But the mustard is usually on the opposite side of the table from the ketchup. And one of the two is usually empty or otherwise non-functional. Once you get the condiments dispensed, you then wrap your dogs back in the supplied foil.

When you get back to your seats and unwrap your dogs, the mustard and ketchup is no longer on the dog, but all over the foil.

Annoying! Is it really that expensive to provide ketchup and mustard packets so folks can apply their condiments at their seats?

Interestingly, Surprise Stadium (where the Royals play their Spring Training games) implements the condiment station described above, however, their hot dogs are served unwrapped in a paper basket. That's a little better, since the unwrapping/rewrapping/unwrapping process is eliminated.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Spring Training
We just returned from Arizona where we took in some Cactus League ball games. On Sunday, we arrived and drove straight to Scottsdale to see the Cubs take on the Giants. Since we had just come from KC, the 90 degree heat was pretty tough to take. Plus, our seats were way down the third base line in the bleachers. We ended up spending most of the game walking around in the shade and smearing on the sun screen. The Giants ended up winning the game 11-3.

On Monday, we drove to Mesa and arrived early enough to see the Cubs Minor Leaguers in their workouts. My son Joey was pleased when they tossed a couple of balls over the fence to him. We then took the long walk to the stadium to see the Cubs take on the Royals. We had great seats, thankfully in the shade. Jeremy Affeldt pitched well for the Royals, but the Cubs prevailed 3-2. Before the game, we saw the great Buck O'Neil. My son took a ball down for him to sign. Buck told Joey he had to catch the ball before he'd sign it. He made Joey go up the steps, and he then tossed the ball and Joey caught it. Buck then signed it. He's a very charming man. After the game, we drove up to Usery Pass and walked through the desert. It was an enjoyable walk, even though we didn't quite make it all the way to the top of the mountain.

On Tuesday, we drove to Surprise and arrived early enough to see the Royals work out before their game. It's fun seeing these guys in this relaxed atmosphere enjoying themselves as they prepare for the long season. During batting practice, Joey and I moved out beyond the left field fence to try and snag a home run ball. Juan Gonzalez hit one that was coming right toward me. I thought I would have a chance and grabbing it until it went over the fence - into the next field. The shot had to be about 430 feet. He can really mash. We got Garth Brooks' autograph and then headed into the stadium for the game.

The Royals played the Rangers and they hit well against Kenny Rogers. The Royals ended up winning 12-7. We saw Mike MacDougal wandering around the concourse, so we got his autograph.

What a great trip. I'm really anxious for the season to start, and am already planning next year's trip to Arizona.

Saturday, March 13, 2004

Dev Days

Microsoft's Dev Days event passed through KC this week. I was pleased to have been asked to present at the event, and enjoyed the experience a great deal. In the final web app track session, Rick Kight and I split a presentation discussing Microsoft's entry into eWeek's OpenHack competition.

In 2002, eWeek sponsored a competition in which applications could be submitted, posted on the Internet, and opened up for hackers. Oracle and Microsoft both submitted applications, and Microsoft's withstood the challenge. (The Oracle application did allow cross-site scripting. This isn't a weekness of the Oracle product, just careless coding).

It was interesting digging into a "secure" application and learning various techniques. Most important to me were the input validation and scrubbing techniques. Basically, on any web form, using ASP.NET's validation controls can help prevent a malicious user from submitting script into our application by validating the input to limit what characters are allowed. To prevent malicious input through the query string parameters, a "CleanString" method is used for any and all input. This method scrubs the input before allowing it to be passed to a stored procedure. Also, any output to the pages is passed through a method that HTML-Encodes it.

I also enjoyed visiting with friends and co-workers Dan Fox and Jon Box.
The Ordinary Man's Game
Here's a great snippett from Buck O'Neil's book, I Was Right On Time:

"The black kids were just playing basketball and football. This is why RBI (Riviving Baseball in the Inner-Cities) is trying to rejuvinate baseball in the inner city. And we want these kids to play baseball. Right now the majority of blacks in the majors are from Latin countries. There are a lot of kids in our cities who are good atheletes, but they'll never play pro basketball or pro football because you have to be big and quick to play those sports. But in baseball you can be five-foot-nine and be a superstar. It's the ordinary man's game."

I've not had the pleasure of seeing Ken Burns' film Baseball, so my knowledge of Buck O'Neil comes from living in his adopted hometown. Even at 93, he's still a very visible fixture in this city. I see him at just about every Royals game I've attended, sitting in his same seat behind home plate, scorecard in hand. Last year, my son Joey and I were fortunate enough to get some seats right behind home plate for a Royals game. Joey was on the aisle, and we were filling out our scorecard before the first pitch. Suddenly, Joey's cap was flipped down over his eyes. He pulled the cap up and looked up to see a grey haired old man walking down the steps. Buck turned around and gave my son a wink.

After we return from Arizona, Joey and I plan on visiting the Negro League Museum, located right here in KC. It's amazing how you just never bother to appreciate the things that are in your own backyard. Joey has been interested in visiting the museum ever since our trip to Atlanta earlier this year. We were strolling through Underground Atlanta, and there was a cart selling Negro League merchandise. Monarchs caps, Clowns jerseys. They had everything. The "cool" factor was enough for Joey. I'm looking forward to the visit and learning more about these great players.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Baseball Survey
In an earlier blog, I mentioned a survey in the latest issue of Baseball America. It's an interesting survey, which asks about the popularity of baseball compared to other sports. Here are my thoughts...

Yes, Baseball is my favorite sport. I like baseball because it is relaxing. I can count on baseball everyday of the summer. I can listen to games while I work around the house. I can take my son to baseball games and we both enjoy it without having to put up with a large, drunk, obnoxious crowd (NFL anyone?).

My next favorite sport is NFL football, probably just because that's the other major league sport in my town (KC). Football is a great sport for TV. For over 12 years, I've had season tickets to the Chiefs, but over the last few years I've found it less enjoyable to go to the games. With tailgating, it can be an 8 hour affair. Without tailgating, you get to the stadium and have to park way far away (and pay $20 to do so). Then you walk to the stadium and wait in a mob to get in the gates. Then, almost without fail, drunk loudmouth fans will be around you. My son is 10 years old, and I still do not feel comfortable sharing this experience with him.

I don't believe MLB needs to do anything to make it more appealing. The biggest mistake MLB can make is to try to make baseball more like football or basketball. I'm afraid that baseball will get desperate to remain a popular sport and will start tinkering with rules to try to make it "less boring." The "boring"-ness of the game is what is so appealing.

This reminds me of the steroid debates that are raging this year. I keep hearing the argument that "fans want to see more homeruns." I disagree. The beauty of the game is the strategy, the gracefulness, the chess-match moves that managers make throughout the game. It isn't a game for huge brutes. I would argue that it's more exciting seeing a runner try to go first to third on a base hit than seeing a bulked up monster trot around the bases.
Last weekend, the Royals Radio Network broadcast their first games of the season - two Spring Training games on Saturday and Sunday afternoon. Here in KC, the weather over the weekend was beautiful - sunny, and warm. Having the Royals on the radio while I worked around the house in the warm weather had me in paradise. My favorite moments in life involve taking care of household projects with the voices of Denny Matthews and Ryan Lefevre in my ears.

In only 4 days, I'll be heading to the Phoenix area to take in some Catcus League baseball...

Thursday, March 04, 2004

Baseball Survey

There's an interesting survey in the latest issue of Baseball America. Here are the questions:

  • Is baseball your favorite sport? If yes, why? If not, why not?

  • Besides baseball, what is your favorite sport? Why?

  • What does MLB do that makes it more appealing than the NFL? The NBA? The NHL? NASCAR?

  • What do the following sports do that make them more appealing than baseball: the NFL, NBA, NHL, and NASCAR?

If you have thoughts, send me an email. I'll be posting my thoughts in a blog to come...

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Rotation News

Miguel Asencio is experiencing tightness in his elbow - the same elbow that was operated on last season. Though the Royals are being cautious, I don't think he will pitch again. Even when healthy, I'm not sure he could be a consitently effective pitcher.

I think it's starting to look more and more like Zach Grienke will open the season in KC. He's the young pitching phenom who has been outstanding in A and AA ball. He's with the team in Spring Training and has impressed everybody. In an inter-squad game today, he got out of a jam by getting Juan Gonzalez to ground into a double play. Beltran reached base on Ken Harvey's error and Mike Sweeney hit a single setting up an interesting match up with Juan Gone. After working the count to 2-2, Juan hit a grounder back to Grienke who started the double play.

The Royals keep saying that they want to make sure Grienke's ready before promoting him to the big league team. Allard Baird has said that he wants him to experience failure so we will know how well he can bounce back. My feeling is that if he can help the team win now, let him pitch. Injuries are mixing up the rotation to start the season. They've already lost Kyle Snyder. Asencio is questionable. Appier supposedly won't be ready for opening day. Affeldt's blister problem may keep him in the bullpen. That leaves several lefties for the rotation (Gobble, May, Anderson, George). Grienke would be a nice fit.
Royals BLOG
Just found a Royals blog at Bradford Doolittle's Page.

There's some pretty interesting stuff there. Bradford writes a correspondent's column for ESPN's fatansy baseball page.

Monday, March 01, 2004

Royals Lineup
The Royals lineup is beginning to take shape. Yesterday, Tony Pena announced that Angel Berroa will begin the season batting leadoff. I think this is a good move. Berroa was the leadoff man late last season, and hit .333 and had a .371 OBP hitting first. Berroa's not a real patient hitter, but he may not have to be. In an interview, Carlos Beltran announced that Pena had told him he would bat second. That means Berroa should see some pretty good pitches as pitchers try to get him to make contact to get an out instead of potentially walking him with Beltran coming up. Following Beltran, we should see Sweeney and Juan Gonzalez. That's a pretty good bunch of hitters at the top of the lineup. Here's how the lineup looks:

Berroa - SS
Beltran - CF
Sweeney - 1B
Gonzalez - RF
Randa - 3B
Stairs/Harvey - DH
Santiago - C
Guiel - LF
Relaford - 2B

It also looks like Brian Anderson will begin the season as the number 1 starter, pitching against the White Sox for Opening Day on April 5. Spring Training reports also indicate that Affeldt's finger is doing just fine, so far. Personally, I'm hoping the blister problem is behind him and that he can give us 200 innings this year.