Monthly Archives: June 2008

RIM enables BIS 2.5: Hotmail/Live push, HTML email on OS 4.5

If you’re lucky enough to have a BlackBerry device running OS 4.5, BlackBerry Internet Service is now enabled for Rogers and should also be ready for most – if not all other North American carriers.

4.5 OSes are officially available for most recent GSM/EDGE devices. I’d recommend staying away from beta releases, as they contain debugging utilities and aren’t as stable as carrier-certified versions.

To find out if your device has an official upgrade available, look at the stickied threads for your device at BlackBerry Forums. These forums include the 81xx, the 83xx and the 88xx.

If you don’t have OS 4.5, you can still add Hotmail, Windows Live and AOL accounts for push email through your carrier’s BIS site.

Here’s how to activate HTML email for devices running OS 4.5:

1. Sign into your carrier’s BIS site:

2. From the site, click Service Books / Send Service Books.

3. When your device receives the service books, go into Messages / BlackBerry menu / Options and choose Email Settings. For each account, change “Enable HTML Email” to Yes.

Marketing in action: Matchstick sends out a Zune

While I may not go as in-depth as Anand might or post with the furious pace common to Gizmodo authors, I enjoy reviewing new technology purchases from a few different perspectives. As a Computer Science student, tech is interesting because it’s a practical application of concepts such as linked lists and binary trees and software architecture – and how most of those concepts get thrown out the window in order to ship on time.

From a business perspective, having firsthand experience with some of the same devices our clients use is helpful from a support angle. It also determines whether we’ll recommend them to end users. I’ve had great experiences with Asus mainboards, and every system I quote includes one – the (potentially) reduced cost of going with something else is not worth the extra aggravation it causes.

And then there’s the geek who talks about RAID-5 controllers just because they’re awesome.

Free Zune, And It’s Not A Pyramid Scam?

SmartCanucks is a regular visit from my feed reader, and they’d posted an article about qualifying for a free MP3 player. Unlike most “free stuff” contests and promotional offers online, everything from SmartCanucks will be applicable to Canadians in some form. Further intrigue ensued when commenters suggested it wasn’t the traditional $20 low-end Shuffle device, but a Microsoft Zune player.

I’d heard about the Zune launching in Canada recently and had played around with one in March for a few minutes, during at an Infusion Angels conference in the Accelerator Centre. It seemed to have a nice UI, but it’s hard to judge when you’re already being inundated with the distinctly Microsoft flavour of the building and presenter. (The XNA conference was very entertaining, for the record, and very encouraging for third party developers.)

After applying through the online survey, I received a call a few days later from Matchstick asking some followup questions. Most of them were repeated from the original survey, but I expect the representative was checking for consistency; one of the biggest problems in obtaining statistics is making sure the interviewees don’t contradict themselves. Some other questions were intended to get a baseline for my pre-existing opinions about Microsoft, and I was also asked if I’d review the product on my site or other social networking connections.

When the question period was finished, I was told that I qualified to receive an 8GB Zune package and that I’d get the option to send one to a friend or recommend another user.

Since I just received the device on the 24th, the next few weeks will be interesting as I properly put the Zune through its paces and try the wireless functionality, as well as provide some technical details on the software. To give it a fair shake, I’ll use it in real-life situations before making a judgement call. I’ll be reviewing the hardware, software and online social service in separate articles over the next month or so, giving people the chance to add their own comments.

Above is the only obligatory image of the unit. There are already dozens of “unboxing” posts online – if you’re into that sort of thing, check out these other sites:

The Marketing Effort

For now, it’s probably worthwhile to talk about how the Matchstick (and ChatThreads) process is tinged with just enough marketing effort.

Let’s get one thing straight, though: a large number of people participating in this type of marketing effort go to great lengths to whinge on a certain subject. Namely, is accepting merchandise as part of a promotion ethical? There are dozens of posts from Matchstick’s Nokia 6682 efforts to this effect, with the gamut of predictable, tired reactions ranging from “I got an awesome phone for free!” to “these spammers killed my dog.”

I’m sick of this debate. Disclosing where you got the product is a significant part of the review process, and established press organizations have done this for years. If you don’t disclose your connections, you’re an astroturfer – in other words, the same as the company behind AllIWantForXmasIsAPSP.

Furthermore, being solicited for marketing campaigns is part of maintaining a reasonably popular site. How many press releases do you think Engadget receives daily? I actively sought out this opportunity, so I can’t make the same claim – but those who can’t seem to work out the “ignore” function in their email client or respond with a polite “no” need to seriously reconsider operating a website.

For this promotion, Matchstick has partnered with a company in the States called ChatThreads. Their purpose is to collect word of mouth responses and correlate them with online activity, and they deliver a set of cards as well as seek feedback though their website. Each card has a Conversation ID that links the original campaign, authorized end user, and the collected personal information.

Before receiving the Zune, ChatThreads sent an email asking me to sign up for their site, containing some interesting requests:

As part of your participation you will be sharing your feedback and conversations about Zuneâ„¢ with ChatThreads, an independent word of mouth research company working with Matchstick.

Each time you have a conversation about Zuneâ„¢ tell us about it at ChatThreads.com/zune. The conversations you tell us about could be face-to-face, over the phone, or online.

If you’d like to see exactly what the end-user survey entails, hit up ChatThreads’ site and enter the Conversation ID 102 986 0195. You’re all my friends!

My initial reaction to the page was that I certainly did not agree to provide email addresses every time I mentioned Zune to people. Even documenting conversations wouldn’t really be a problem – but signing people up for an email message looking like this is not something I’d be thrilled to try repeatedly. At least the “Providing this information is optional.” message at the bottom is present.

Another oddity involves the terms of use adorning the ChatThreads sweepstakes. As a thanks for completing the ChatThreads survey, you can opt to have the company donate up to $5 to specific charities, or win up to $500 in Amazon gift certificates. Unfortunately, even as this entire marketing campaign is intended for Canadian residents, the sweepstakes terms restrict the potential winners to zero.

Eligibility. Open to legal residents of the United States (excluding Rhode Island, Puerto Rico and all other U.S. territories and possessions outside of the continental United States and where otherwise prohibited by law)

Conversely, ChatThreads’ past winners page indicates someone from Toronto as a previously successful winner. At the very least, this point should be updated or clarified before sending out what looks like more-expensive-than-average marketing collateral.

I’ll be forwarding this post to the Matchstick coordinators to get a definitive answer through ChatThreads, before promising contest entries to card recipients. Update July 4/08: See this post for ChatThreads’ response and the corrected sweepstakes rules.

Another interesting element in the pseudo-viral marketing strategy is the ability to recommend someone for a Zune device. The signup page for this process required a weblog URL, regular visitor count and number of friends on a social network:

These requirements really discouraged a technologically adept friend of mine. While he’s active in online social networking, he doesn’t currently host an independent blog. The solution was to have him link his Facebook profile page – the “I just got a free Zune! It’s awesome!” status messages through Facebook are perhaps even better publicity from a marketing perspective than a series of posts.

What’s Next?

I’m interested in how Matchstick continues to follow up on this effort. The welcome letter indicated that there were more email messages and additional promotion possibilities in the future. Hopefully this post gives a bit of firsthand insight into the background process.

What can other companies and future marketing campaigns learn from what Matchstick and Microsoft did?

The good:

  • Don’t set terms and conditions other than what’s needed for your target market. I never felt pressured to say anything “good” about the product, which is a better way of getting feedback than three hundred faux-positive MySpace comments.
  • Attract technology-focused individuals. They’re more likely to be the recommenders and drivers of product adoption.
  • Make it easy for people to get involved. Don’t single out people arriving from high-traffic sources: these are the people you want talking about your product.

The not-as-good:

  • Try not to spam anybody who’s already expressed a lack of interest. With a Microsoft product especially, there are serious detractors in the Google search results already and they’re not as concerned about being offered a Zune, as they are with being offered a Zune.It’s always challenging to manage email campaigns. When working for Maplesoft – I did my best to ensure the programs marketing folks didn’t blast people that had already unsubscribed. (I can’t vouch for what they’re doing now, but I hope my email utility still has a good home.)
  • Get all your terms and conditions lined up, especially when using external agencies. If people start finding inconsistencies in the fine print then they might start to wonder exactly how professionally the program is managed.
  • Don’t assume that everyone manages a weblog or website. This may have been a specific target of the campaign, but some people are just as effective when posting to Facebook or other social networks. Keep the regular user – who isn’t necessarily a content producer – in mind too!

Your thoughts will help shape the upcoming reviews. What are you interested in hearing about – the service? Integration with other utilities? Metadata tagging and support for network shares within the software? Speak your piece in the comments and I’ll get on it!

Update, July 4/08:

This post is the first in the Zune review series. I received the device for free as part of a Matchstick promotion. My goal is to provide a technically engaging and impartial review for people interested in MP3 players. Other posts include:

Contrary to reports: Rogers iPhone base plan $60/400MB data

As per Engadget, there was no way Rogers would ever release unlimited data for the iPhone. The base plan starts at $60 per month, only has 150 minutes (plus unlimited evenings and weekends) and has a 400MB data cap.

Apologies about my previously optimistic post on the subject, but the lesson here is “listen to financial reports and not random dealers posting online.”

The more interesting plan is a $20 addon mentioned, which includes:

Caller ID, Who Called, Caller Ring Trax, 10,000 Sent Text Messages and 6:00 p.m. Early Evening Calling and 2,500 Call Forwarding Minutes.

This will mark the first time Rogers will publicly make a massive text message plan available. Prior to this, all plans were capped at 2500 sent messages unless you weaseled Retentions into the unadvertised “unlimited” package.

Idiot applications return: Top Friends gets banned from Facebook

As per CNet’s news.com post, Slide Inc, purveyor of useless Facebook fluff applications, has had a security breach and the “Top Friends” application has had its API key and listing pulled from the site. With one fell swoop, the MySpacization of Scary Stalkerbook was paused.

This is just a reminder that the developers of any Facebook application have full access to your profile. Privacy controls do not apply and any information that an app pulls is supposed to only be used for caching and removed within 24 hours. This was obviously not the case with Top Friends. By the way, if you have to provide additional profile information for a third-party application, they own that data and can use it in any way they see fit.

Of course, anyone reading this site will probably be well-informed about how applications work anyway – so you can instead gloat in glee at the fact that an overvalued startup with no useful product got slammed with the banhammer.

Xbox DRM repair utility now available

This is something I’ve been wanting for a while now – the Xbox Live DRM utility now functions properly. As some background information, when you download video or games from Xbox Live Marketplace, the content is licensed to two places: your Gamertag online, and your console by its serial number. If you change consoles, you can only access content if you’re signed into Xbox Live under that original profile.

For me, this was a major problem because I’m now on my fourth Xbox 360 – two exchanged through EB’s warranty program for faulty disc drives, plus a functional unit that I sold so I could upgrade to an Elite with 120GB hard drive and HDMI. As a result, some of my Rock Band tracks were licensed to the previous console and some to the new one. Offline play at a friend’s place was severely hampered and the game always required my acount to be signed in to access the content. No longer, though!

Check out Major Nelson’s post on the process, or hit up the license migration page. All my content was relinked to my 360 Elite properly and there should be some good times with Rock Band in the near future.

WordPress 2.6 to disable XML-RPC out of the box

Peter Westwood, a WordPress developer, recently announced a planned change that will disable Atom and XML-RPC publishing by default. I’m thrilled at this direction: many of my corporate and professional installations of WordPress require significant tweaking to disable remote publishing.

In the meantime, I’ve actually had no ill effects from removing xmlrpc.php from the default WordPress installation.

Another tweak I usually employ is applying a .htaccess file to the wp-admin directory. Using a set of Allow/Deny directives, you can restrict access to your administration panel to local machines only. For example, creating a new file /wp-admin/.htaccess:

Order allow,deny
Allow from 192.168.1
Deny from all

This example file ensures that only users coming from 192.168.1.x addresses can access the administration dashboard. It’s very useful because regardless of password compromise, only internal users will ever be able to access the login prompt.

Another solution that would still allow remote access by trusted users would include a dual-layered authentication system. Using the htpasswd utility and the .htaccess tutorial from Apache, create a separate login to access the administration panel. This prompt will appear before the default WordPress login. Roaming web spiders and malicious bots will have a more difficult time accessing the wp-admin directory with appropriate access restrictions in place.

Rogers launches new BlackBerry data plans starting at $30/300MB

I’ve been holding off on posting this because too many data rumors are lame, but BlackBerry Cool and CrackBerry have just announced that Rogers is upping their consumer BlackBerry data plans.

The bad news: nothing’s unlimited, and if the iPhone plans leaked yesterday are accurate then BlackBerry users are getting severely shafted. Finally, these plans are for BIS customers only. If you’re on an Enterprise Server, your choices are still $40 for 7MB, $60 for 25MB, and $100 for 1GB.

The plans are available at Rogers’ site and calling data/BlackBerry support (1-800-ROGERS1 and say “BlackBerry” at any possible opportunity, or *611 from your device). Here’s a summary of what you can get:

Plan Price Data Included Other Details
$30 300MB 50 cents per MB over. To compare, this is about half a cent per KB, much lower than the 5 cents/KB on Pay As You Go data.
$50 500MB flex plan On a Flex plan, you’re bumped up to the next tier if you go over your limit. It’s also $0.03/MB for any usage over 5GB. The packages are:
$50/500MB
$65/1GB
$75/2GB
$85/3GB
$100/5GB
$60 1GB $0.50/MB over 1GB
$80 3GB $0.50/MB over 3GB
$100 6GB $0.50/MB over 6GB

All of these new plans (except for the Flex Rate) have overage protection, which means that usage of over 60MB is only counted at $0.03/MB. Business plans that offer data pooling can’t take advantage of this feature either. Here’s how this works in practice:

  • You’re on the 300MB plan ($30 base) and use 500MB in that month because you decided to run BitTorrent off your device.
  • You’re charged for your base plan: $30 for 300MB
  • You’re then charged $0.50 per MB, up to 60MB: another $30 for 360MB
  • You’re then charged $0.03 per MB, for data after 60MB: another $4.20 for 500MB
  • Total data bill is $30+$30+$4.20 = $64.20

The good news: the base 300MB is a significant amount on a BlackBerry device – I’ve never gotten close to this figure myself, and in fact had a hard time topping 60MB/month on my Telus package. The included data can also be used for tethering to a laptop, and people likely to tether are paying more appropriate rates for heavier usage.

Rogers’ site also indicates that these plans are available on monthly agreements, meaning that you shouldn’t have to sign a data contract to take advantage of these new offerings. Of course, if you’re using a hardware upgrade credit or buying a new device directly from Rogers, you may get locked into a data package for three years. My personal preference these days would be to get an unlocked device online and activate it with an existing contract, unless you need UMA support (Rogers Home Calling Zone.)

Since the iPhone plans are still just a rumor, I’m happy with a solid release of much more customer-friendly wireless data packages, and will try to get some of my clients and associates moved to these offerings.

Canadian iPhone data plans: $30/unlimited data (plus voice), perhaps

Engadget Mobile is reporting a HowardForums post that details two potential iPhone plans for Canadian users: on top of a qualifying voice plan, unlimited data will be offered at $30 per month for individual customers and $45 for business clients. There’s also a Facebook group detailing the information.

In contrast to my previous statements on the subject, this seems like a reasonable plan falling in line with what AT&T is offering in the States. It remains to be seen if this rumor is accurate, but the original poster is generally well-informed and a community member in reasonably high standing. One other known employee/dealer has also confirmed the memo. That said – most of the usual dealers and “insider sources” have been silent on this matter.

I’m assuming the qualifying voice plan will be $35 minimum plus system access fee: Rogers has stated they’re expecting $90 per user with a combination of the voice and data plans, and $30 data plus $35 voice plus $6.95 SAF is only about $72. If they assume most people will take value packages, such as the $15 smartphone plan (text messaging/caller ID/voicemail), this figure is slightly closer to what’s expected financially.

While Apple may have given up their revenue-sharing program in favour of carrier subsidized phones, if this memo is accurate then Apple still retains a large amount of control over the available plans. It’s nearly a direct copy of AT&T’s launch memo with a few minor changes.

The plan is listed as “unlimited data (E-mail/Web)” which people are presently freaking out over for no good reason. This terminology is actually very common in the BlackBerry world, meaning that you get email access as well as having standard Internet access available – which encompasses all on-device TCP/IP data.

Forum users are assuming that GPS/YouTube/other random features will be disabled because they’re not specifically listed in the plan title. If we assume Apple still mains some control over the sales and pricing process, one thing certainly enforced is full access to all applications on the device.

One thing that’s probably accurate is the inability to tether with this plan. It’s not technically possible out of the box, requiring a hacked device. Users on HowardForums that desire tethering capabilities seem to be the most likely to abuse the definition of “unlimited” in wireless carrier terms: when you’re downloading over 5GB per month on your device, there’s a high chance you’re using the plan as an Internet connection replacement.

Is $30 per month unlimited data enough to get you to change carriers and pick up an iPhone? Myself, I’m waiting for the BlackBerry Bold (9000) and its related plans.

Rogers’ call display now includes name display

For $7 per month, it should.

As per this thread on HowardForums and the fact that I got a call from Purolator that displayed the business name. Didn’t think anything of it since nearly 100% of my calls are already listed as contacts in the address book.

Changes are, for once, reflected on Rogers’ site.

It’s interesting that they’d give up this formerly $2 per month cash cow. I’d had this feature for a month as a trial, but I assume the uptake outside of these one-off promotions must have been pretty lame.

Here’s where most people might make an unfounded assumption that this must be for the iPhone 3G, oh my dear sweet Christ. I will do no such thing and instead make an unfounded assumption that it’s because… oh, I don’t know, somebody hacked the Gibson and irrevocably set a bitflag for all GSM towers that can’t be reversed without starting an international thermonuclear war.

Adventures in C#: Excel automation

So I’ve been working a fair bit with C# and Excel automation, and I’ve picked up a few things from the whole experience so far – namely that the thing is really poorly put together and requires a whole lot of work to make things work nicely.

The emphasis there is on nicely. You can hack together something real quick in about 5 minutes that probably almost does what you want, and will be good enough if you just need the job done. However, the Excel COM uses about 3 different standards and each time you get to guess which one you’ll need to use.

Over the next few days [or weeks] I’m going to outline a few of the problems I encountered and how I went about fixing them:

Problem: The syntax for inserting a column and changing a column’s width is completely different

This might not seem to big of an issue until you realize that:

column.Insert(); exists, but:
column.Width = 10; or column.setWidth(10); or anything like that, does not exist.

The actual solutions to do these tasks are as follows. Note, they reference the variable oSheet is the Excel.Worksheet you’re working with. These samples assume a basic knowledge of C# and using the Excel COM.

Inserting a columm:

Excel.Range rng = (Excel.Range)oSheet.Cells[rowNumber, colNumber];
Excel.Range column = rng.EntireColumn;
column.Insert(Excel.XlInsertShiftDirection.xlShiftToRight, false);

This will insert a column to the left of row rowNumber.

Changing a column’s width:

((Excel.Range)oSheet.Columns["A", Type.Missing]).ColumnWidth = 10;

This will change column A’s width.

Notice that one method uses numeric identifiers for rows, while the other uses a string. Also, interestingly enough, its a bit of a pain to actual get a hold of a column using either method.