Always Time for Tim Horton’s WiFi

At long last, Tim Hortons has rolled out WiFi to the majority of its outlets. I am a true Tim Hortons fan, and Tims is always my fist choice for my coffee break while on the road. But in the past, Tims has often lost my coffee dollar because I needed to use WiFi. So I was quite pleased this summer to see a WiFi sign in the window of one of my regular Tim Horton stops.

I checked out the Tim Hortons web site and learned that they had beta tested the idea in a number of their outlets with positive results. In the past, Tims was always been pleased to serve, but preferred their customers to move along after 20 minutes or so. I turns out that when customers hang about to use the internet, they often buy a second coffee or doughnut.

By now, it appears that most of the local Tim Hortons sit down restaurants have installed WiFi. The Tim Hortons mobile app lets you filter search results to show only WiFi enabled locations. In the last while, I have found only one sit down location without WiFi, and that one was quite close to a high school. Coincidence, or does the local manager not want to encourage the high school kids to loiter?

Using the service is pretty straight forward. Once you have connected to the network you have to open a browser window, and you are taken immediately to a page where you can access the network, once you have agreed to their terms. Choose WiFi free, and you are up and running. Took about two minutes start to finish to access the network. You have the option to join Tim Hortons WiFi Plus. In exchange for your email address, the network remembers your device. After accepting WiFi Plus subsequent connections were faster, and click free. You do have to repeat this process for each device, so I had to repeat the process for my laptop, iPhone and iPad.

I started checking connections speeds using the free Speed Test app on my phone, and I found speeds varies wildly from store to store. More than half that I measured a respectable 5 to 6 GB download. A few were in the much lower, 1 to 2 GB, and one outlet was a pitiful 510 MB down. The slow connection was so slow as to be unusable, so I disconnected and used the Personal Hotspot feature on my iPhone instead.

I thought at first that the slower speeds might be because may customers were sharing the bandwidth, but the slowest connections were actually in the least busy restaurants. If I see consistently slow speeds at the same location, I think that I will point it out to the manager.

So in conclusion, I find the new service pretty good on the whole, and very welcome. If you plan to use it a fair bit, it is worth signing up for the WiFi Plus service to get faster log-ins. Since I signed up Tim Hortons has not swamped me with emails.

TP-Link Nano Router

Have you ever found yourself stranded in a hotel that only offers a wired internet connection? If you have, you know how frustrating it is to  find yourself tethered to a desk. Personally, I’m n a great believer that a my laptop belongs on my lap! I love to sit in a comfy chair with my laptop perched on my knee. It’s worse, if you decided to travel light, and just carried your iPad, iPhone (or your personal favourite non-Apple tablet or smart phone), and you CANNOT connect to the hotels internet without WiFi!

Well, shopping at my local Staples, I found a prefect solution. In among the computer gadgets, I saw a tiny box claiming to contain a WiFi router. Since it was on sale for $19.99, I decided to take a chance. When I got it back to my office, I got a pleasant surprise when I unboxed it. The router nestled in the box was even smaller than expected.

At a bit bigger than 2 x 2 inches, and comfortably less than an inch thick, the TP-Link TL-WR702N wireless N “Nano” portable router is unbelievably small, and surprisingly packed with features. Out of the box, the device is programmed as a wireless access point, just the ticket for connecting it to a hotels wireless connection. You can easily reconfigure the unit to function as a full-blown router with DHCP, as a repeater (to increase the range of an existing wireless network) or as a client bridge to extend a wired network. These are features typically found only in much more expensive devices.

The device is powered via the included micro USB cable. A small USB power adaptor is included, but if you want to travel light, you probably already have a USB adaptor in you kit to charge your phone. Also in the box is a really little flat Cat 5 cable that coils up into a tiny package for easily connection to a wired network.

I was pleased to see that the WiFi security was turned on by default. It’s great to see wireless manufacturers doing this, since in the past, many users plugged these routers in without bothering to read the documentation and turn on security, leaving their home network wide open to shady characters. One criticism I can offer is that the included quick start guide is written in horribly translated english, and you have to read it really carefully to figure out how to set things up. I discovered that a much more complete manual can be downloaded from the TP-Link website. The full manual is still in horribly translated english, but at least it is quite complete, and is easy to follow thanks to the generous number of screen shots.

I hooked the device up to my home network in its default A/P mode, entered the default password on my MacBook (the password is printed on the bottom of the router in really tiny print!), and was immediately connected to the internet. I checked my download speed using the Speed Test website, and found that I had the full speed that I normally get from my internet connection. I also had access to all of the resources on my network, including network drives and printers.

I foresee another use for the router. I frequently give presentations with Keynote, using my iPhone or iPad as a graphical remote control. To do this, your computer and iPhone/iPad have to be connected to the same WiFi network. It is often hard to find an available network, or the available network may have security or other issues that make this utility hard to use. No more! My next presentation, I’m setting up my tiny TP-Link in router mode, and I’ll be good to go. And yes, I have already tested it out, and it works great.

A Different Perspective on the iPhone 5

I followed the news about the release of the new iPhone with more interest than usual, because my iPhone 3G was getting long in the tooth, and I decided a few months ago that I would upgrade when the new phone hit the streets. That’s right, I kept my old iPhone through four generations before upgrading. I think that in itself says a lot about the iPhone. It remained a useful tool for a full four years, a year longer than the best I had from any previous phone. And at the end of its service it was still in good working order, which is more than I can say for any of its predecessors.

But at this stage, I was entitled to a maximum hardware upgrade, and the new iPhone 5 offered enough new features that I could justify the cost. A lot of the new iPhone reviews that I have read over the last few years complain that the next generation phone offered just a few minor upgrades, and were evolutionary rather than revolutionary. Well, just as biological evolution can, over time, create whole new species, so the evolution of the iPhone can produce a marvellous new machine.

I brought the new phone home, connected it to my computer, and synced it. What a beautiful experience. After about 10 minutes my new phone was ready to go. All my settings, my contacts, my email, my apps, were all in place, just like my old phone. I was up and fully functional just like that, which allowed me to concentrate on trying out the new features.

The iPhone 5 is the first iPhone to offer LTE cellular service. I am lucky enough to live in a city that is well served by LTE, and is it FAST! I used the free Speed Test app to check my internet speeds. Connected to LTE, the worst speed that I have seen is 12 GB down, and I routinely see speeds of 40 or 50. That’s 3 or 4 times faster than I get with my home internet connection, and 10 times faster than my old phone. Also, the iPhone offers a service called Personal Hotspot, so I can quickly and easily share my cell phone’s internet connection with my laptop or iPad.

The camera is amazing. I have often preached the idea that you should always have a camera with you to capture those once in a lifetime moments. The iPhone camera is up to the task. Its 8 megapixel sensor is worlds above the 2 megapixel camera in my old 3G, and has fantastic low light performance. And the panorama mode is amazing. I took some panos of the fall colours in Algonquin Park, and they are immersive and wonderful. As a bonus, the camera does double duty as an HD video camera.

The iPhone 5 also features a rear facing camera to allow video calling using iChat or Skype.

Lets talk about speed. Everything about this phone is fast. The apps open fast. App switching is fast. In a pinch, I could read an ebook on my old phone, but it was painful because the page turns were so slow. With the new phone, and its larger screen, ebook reading is a pleasure. And thanks to iCloud syncing, I can read a few pages on my phone, and pick up at the right spot on my iPad when I return home. Thanks to the improved speed, I can now run Keynote from my phone, so I have an ultra portable presentation machine in my pocket at all times.

There have been a lot of complaints about the new maps on the iPhone 5, but I have not had any problems, and I understand that the maps will quickly get better as people use them. The addition of turn by turn directions makes the new phone a fully capable GPS.

Speaking of complaints, there has been a lot of moaning about the new dock connector. I do have some accessories that used the old connector, and I will be picking up an adaptor to use them. But I have to say, the new connector is clearly superior to the old one, and I am sure that we will all look at the old connector as an obsolete dinosaur in a year or two.

My old phone was a very useful tool. The combination of Phone, and PDA and internet in one small box was great, and served me well for many years. But with the new phone, I feel like I really have a portable computer in my pocket. I can’t imagine what I will replace it with in another four years!

P.S. I am now using my old iPhone 3G as a very nice little music player.

Stop Hiding Things Apple!

My regular readers know that I am a serious Apple fan. One reason that I love Apple products is that, in most circumstances, they “just work”. I give a lot of presentations, and hook my laptop up to a lot of different projectors, and so far, things have almost always worked as expected. Very occasionally, my laptop will not automatically detect the projector, and there has always been an easy fix. Just click on the display properties icon in the menu bar, (or in the displays preference pane if you haven’t anchored the icon in your menu bar), click on “Detect Displays” and your computer should find and connect to the projector. In my case, it has worked 100% of the time.

My daughter is a high school history teacher, and this fall she treated herself to a new MacBook Pro with Mountain Lion. Yesterday she tried to hook up to the projector in her classroom, and it didn’t connect automatically. She went to the displays preference pane, and guess what? The “Detect Displays” button is gone! She called me for technical support. I haven’t upgraded to Mountain Lion (I always wait for Apple to release a couple of incremental updates before I upgrade!) so I had to turn to Google for some research assistance. Turns out that LOTS of people are having the same problem. Eventually, I found the answer. For some strange reason, Apple has hidden the “Detect Displays” button in Mountain Lion. It’s still there, you just have to hold down the “Option” key while in the preference pane, and it shows up! Back at school, my daughter hit correct keys, and bingo, her laptop connected to the projector.

This is not the first time that Apple has hidden an existing feature after an OS update. Apple fans may recall the vanishing “Library” folder after the Lion upgrade. All I can say, is “stop hiding things Apple!”

Why I Hate Apple

I owe my faithful MacBook an apology. I forgot her birthday. I was thinking that it was about now, and when I shuffled through my computer receipts I discovered that,  sure enough, I bought my computer on June 8, 2008. So my MacBook is four years old!

Prior to moving to the Mac, I had been a Dell user for a while. My Dell’s were pretty good tools. Sure, Windows crashed every week or so, but I only had a frightful crash about once a year. I am faithful about backing up, so I never lost any significant data, and a serious crash was a good excuse to do a “nuke and pave”, reinstalling Windows and all my software. While it wasted the better part of a day, the process usually resulted in a much faster computer, at least for a while. But after about three years, it didn’t matter what I did, the computer was just slooooow, and the battery only lasted for an hour or so. Okay by me, I like new toys, and a slow computer and crappy battery was a good excuse to upgrade.

Which brings me to the reason that I HATE Apple. Last week, Apple released their latest family of new machines. The new MacBook Pro with Retina display is a sweet machine. I want a new computer! But I don’t need one. My MacBook runs just fine. I’ve never had to do a nuke and pave, I have the latest versions of the software that I use regularly, and it all runs just fine. Even my battery, while not as good as new, gives me a solid couple of hours of use before I have to dig out the charger. Damn you Apple!

Pinterest

I am always looking at new social media outlets to see if they have any applications for business-to-business marketing. Recently I took a really good look at Pinterest. I was introduced to the service by my daughter, who is getting married this summer. She and her friends have been using Pinterest to share ideas for a host of wedding related items like clothes, shoes, food, decor. If you’ve been involved in wedding planning lately, you have an idea of the range of things you have to consider.

So how does it work? Once you have signed up for an account, you can create a number of boards to virtually “pin” images from the internet. You can annotate the images, and the images contain a link back to the original website. If you include a price in your annotation, a price overlays the corner of the image on your board. You can share your board with friends, and follow their boards.

So what’s the business application? I see it as a great tool for project planning. For most projects, we do a lot of research on the internet. Instead of taking notes, you can just pin an image from a supplier’s site to an appropriate board. Share your boards with colleagues, and have them contribute by pinning more ideas. Imagine that you are designing a new website. You can scour the internet for ideas, pin the ones you like, and share your findings with your website designer.

Check it out at www.pinterest.com. The service is “by invitation only” at the moment, but I clicked on the link to request an invitation, and was invited to join within a few hours. Be sure to read the “Getting Started” information, accessed under the About/Help menus.

Optimize for the E-Reader

In my last post, I argued that print is not dead, and that there is still a place for printed line cards, data sheets, and such. There are still many people who just prefer not to read from a screen. While I still maintain that this is true, let’s be honest, a growing majority of folks consume most of their content in a digital format. With the growing success of the iPad and a host of other new tablets, and e-readers like the Kindle and Kobo, digital reading is increasingly easy and convenient.

In support of this, I read in this morning’s Toronto Star (print copy, I confess!) that HP is merging their printer division with their PC division to economize because sales of printers and ink are in decline. People are just not printing documents like they used to.

Accepting the fact that our customers want to consume content on their iPad or Kindle, we should be designing content, such as catalogues, manuals, and data sheets, to be easy to read on these devices. Their screens are smaller than standard 8.5 x 11 documents, so images and text need to be larger. A few tablets, line the iPad, and the Samsung Galaxy Tab, have diagonal screen sizes of almost 10 inches, but most are in the 7 inch range. And the classic Kindle and Kobo have monochrome displays (although they both now offer colour models), so check that your images look good in grey scale, as well as colour. While most devices do a pretty good job of displaying PDF files (especially if you size them appropriately) longer documents do better in formats specifically designed for digital readers. Your best bet for longer e-reader documents is probably ePub, which can her opened on most devices. Another advantage of ePubs with longer documents, is that you can include a Table of Contents and Index, and most e-readers will allow your customers to highlight, annotate, and bookmark, important passages.

So in summary, embrace the digital age. Design your publications so that they are readable by your customers in whatever format they prefer.

Boreal Technical Marketing offers full design and production services for a wide range of electronic documents, including the generation of PDF, ePub, and the new rich content iBook format. Contact us to discuss your needs.

Is the Line Card Dead?

In today’s world of websites, emails, tweets, and social media, is the printed line card dead? Not in my opinion. When it comes down to it, there is no substitute for a nice, professionally printed piece of literature. In the early days of the Internet, having a website was tangible proof that your company was a real player. Not so today. Anyone can have a credible looking website with a few hours work. But to have a nicely printed line card or capabilities brochure, that takes some real commitment!

While more and more of our customer interactions are on line, or over the telephone, there is still no substitute for a face-to-face meeting. I strongly believe that after every visit, you need to leave something tangible behind. Our customers are so busy these days, they will quickly forget that we were there. But by leaving something like a line card behind, our customer will be reminded of our visit several times, as they shuffle if from place to place, until they finally file it. Even if they ultimately file it in the garbage, they will at least see it one more time before it finally leaves their sight!

And let’s not forget the small, but significant segment of customers who hate reading from a computer screen. Give them a printed line card, and they will love you. Also, many purchasing agents still keep an up-to-date paper file of suppliers line cards.

I recently put together a nice capabilities brochure for Wayne Garbella at Primary Solution and Controls. Check it our HERE.

Verdana, Georgia

Most fonts that we use today were designed to be printed and subsequently read on paper. They have not been optimized for reading on a computer screen. In smaller font sizes, classic typefaces that are both beautiful and easy to read on paper, may be much less readable on a computer screen. With small font sizes, small or thin part of the font may be lost, and the open centres of letter may fill in.

To solve these problems, Microsoft commissioned typeface designer Matthew Carter to design two fonts for the web. Carter was best known for the design of the Bell Centennial typeface, which allowed AT&T to print readable telephone directories in a smaller type size.

 

Carter designed two fonts, Verdana, a sans-serif font, and Gerogia, a serif font. Verdana is similar to the classic type faces Univers and Helvetica. Georgia is similar to Times and Times New Roman. To make the fonts easier to read on the Web, Verdana and Georgia have a larger “x” height, and greater spacing between characters. Elements of the fonts that would be too thin in small sizes are made thicker. The bold style of the fonts is made so that the centres of letters will not fill in, even at the smallest sizes.

The two typefaces unquestionable achieve their main goal. They are indeed very readable in small sizes. With the proliferation of small screens on the iPad and other tables, and the increased use of netbooks with small screens, these are unquestionably desirable characteristics. But I am afraid that I just don’t like them. Verdana always looks TOO big to me, and at larger type sizes, the spacing between letters seems too large. Georgia is a bit better, but it still looks sort of fat and inelegant.

So what to do? Well, if your application demands maximum readability, these typefaces are worth considering, especially in smaller type sizes. For headlines, I wouldn’t even consider them for a moment. In larger sizes, more traditional fonts are quite readable. Personally, I think the best plan is to select the font that you prefer, and test it. Create your page, and view it on as many different screen sizes and in as many different web browsers as possible. If it renders well, looks good, and is readable, go for it!

Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays?

Wow, this is a tough one! They were talking on the radio today about appropriate seasons greetings. Should you say “Merry Christmas”, or “Happy Holidays”? Whichever you choose, you are bound to offend someone.

If you say “Merry Christmas” you run the risk of offending someone who does not celebrate Christmas. If you say “Happy Holidays” you risk offending people who see this as an “attack” on their special holiday.

Personally, I think we tend to get far too upset. For my part, I will accept whatever greeting I am offered, without judgement. A heart felt and sincere “Merry Christmas” from someone who loves the season and its traditions, is not meant to offend. If someone instead chooses to say “Happy Holidays”, in an attempt to avoid offense, I accept the effort, and will not take offense. An it they say “Happy Holidays” because they are uncomfortable with “Merry Christmas” for whatever reason, I respect that too.

For my part, the Christmas season is a time for family and friends, great food, and sharing gifts. It makes me both Merry and Happy. And, if you choose not to celebrate the season for whatever reason, its still nice to take a few days off. So Merry Christmas, Seasons Greetings, Happy Holidays, don’t worry, be happy!

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