Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Yes, I'm Still Here

I know I haven't posted much here lately, I find it easier to write in shorter, 140 character segments and only use blogging for longer posts.  However with the increased limit to Facebook and the unlimited limit of Google+ the need to use a blog for longer posts is not as great.

That said I do intend to spend some more time here next year.  I need to find a better way to link the longer posts of Facebook and Google+ with my blog so I'm not posting the same thing multiple places.

I have linked my blog to my Google+ profile so we will see where that takes us. I also need to figure out how to better tie this to Facebook and Twitter. Folks interact differently online so providing a seamless content approach to multiple platforms improves the interaction I can have with folks online, I just haven't figured a lot of that out in relation to my blog.

I'm also working on updating my layout using Dynamic Views and some other cool new Blogger features.  It will also be interesting to see how linking my Blogger account with Google+ provides features to make the content experience richer.

See you in 2012.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Another Daylight Saving Transition

Here I sit again on the eve of another Daylight Saving Time change having just wandered the house updating the clocks that aren’t smart enough to update themselves.  So between now and 2am some of the clocks are already set to the non-DST time while other clocks are set to the actual real time making the next moment of consciousness completely insane.

I’m constantly amazed at the misinformation surrounding Daylight Saving and why it exists.  First of all, there is no ‘s’ on the end of Saving.  It is not plural.  It is Daylight Saving Time, no ‘s’ but most folks, including those in the media, call it Daylight Savings Time perpetuating the misinformation.

The reasons for DST are also not cut and dry.  It isn’t for the school kids nor is it for the farmers.  The reasons and misguided perceptions that led us down the DST path are well defined in 2 books. Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight Saving Time and Seize the Daylight: The Curious and Contentious Story of Daylight Saving Time are both excellent reads and do a great job clearing up the mystery.

My passion against DST began years ago when our governor wanted our state to begin observing DST.  I’ve lived in Indiana for most of my life and our great state for the most part didn’t bother to observe the non-sense.  Some of the counties up by Chicago and some down near Cincinnati did to try to make things easier for their residents but for the most part most of Indiana stayed on the same time year round.  Working in IT this made things easy, as our clocks didn’t have to be changed twice a year.

At hand was the issue of confusion, as no one knew what time it was during what part of the year in what part of our state.  To make it easier our governor pushed for the entire state to be on DST so at least you knew what time it was where as it was the same year round.  Our state is still split with the counties by Chicago observing Central time while the rest of the state observes Eastern Time but at least it was consistent.

I personally met with our governor and several of our local legislators to express my objections to DST however, despite my best efforts in April of 2006 DST was turned on for Indiana.  This provided numerous technical challenges with scheduling systems and other calendar based databases that were not coded to observe DST so a lot of work had to be done to make things work, which is one of the key reasons I opposed it.

Then to add insult to injury the federal government extended the DST observation period by 4 weeks starting in 2007 so we had to make it all work one way in 2006 and then change it up again for the extended dates in 2007 doubling my disdain for DST.

So as we sit on this eve where I wonder what time it really is I hope you have enjoyed this reflection of how we got here.  Additional posts pertaining to this crazinessare available here.

I hope you have enjoyed fooling yourselves regarding what time it is as much as I have.

Until the second Sunday of March………

Monday, October 24, 2011

iPhone 4S Battery Life

A quick search of the internet reveals no shortage of people expressing dismay with the battery life of their new iPhone 4S devices running iOS 5.  I too have joined the fray and expressed some frustrations with the lack of battery life of the 4S.

My iPhone 4 had tremendous battery life.  My typical iPhone day starts when I take it off my bed side charger between 7 and 8am and ends around midnight.  My iPhone 4 would typically be around 70% with normal usage at the end of the day.  The only times I really ran my batter down to the 30% range was when traveling and off WiFi and uploading a lot of pictures using spotty 3G service.  Otherwise the battery life was outstanding.

My 4S however is usually around 25% when I end a normal day - a huge drop in performance and no where near what Apple promised.  If I have any variables now to my normal daily schedule my battery buffer is only 25% before I run out of power.  

One of the things I've always held of my Android friends is that my iPhone battery lasted a long time and they all would agree the iPhone had the better battery, that is until the 4S.

I've invested fair bit of time trying to figure this out but have determined there isn't anything I can do.  I've experimented with all sorts of configurations and with no luck.  So here's what I suggest you do if you too have a 4S and the battery life is disappointing.
  1. Stop wasting time on it.  Just use the phone and stop tweaking the settings in a futile attempt to resolve the problem.  There are too many variables and current evidence suggests it isn't your issue anyway.  You probably have it configured fine, just like you are probably holding it fine too.
  2. You are not alone, if you do find someone who posts their 4S has the same battery performance as their old 4 did please let me know.
  3. For most of us the battery does last the entire day and for me that lets me get my stuff done.  It is just frustrating that compared to what we had before the latest and greatest appears to be under performing.
  4. Turning things off will eventually turn the iPhone into an iPod.  I'm going to use the phone and the features I bought it for and until this gets fixed keep a charger handy.
  5. My iPad is also running iOS 5 and while it's battery life appears affected too it is not as great.  Typically I can get several hours of use out of my iPad on the previous iOS version and only drop around 15%.  Now I'm dropping around 30% but the iPad holds it battery life better when in standby then the iPhone does.
While I don't like this I intend to be patient and wait this one out, with a charger close by.  My guess is the engineers at Apple, who are much smarter than I am, will figure something out and resolve this problem soon enough for us all to go back to bragging to our Android friends that we again have superior battery life and superior devices.  Until then welcome to the bleeding edge of technology.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

iCloud Exemplifies Technology Short Comings

I’m a firm believer that technology should be designed to make our lives better and easier, not more complicated.  With the release if iCloud last week I’ve been working hard to figure out how it can help improve my personal use of technology but also be used in our enterprise.

Anytime I can use technology to automatically keep all my access point current then I consider it a win.  For example, we have an Exchange server, which allows me to keep my email, contacts, calendar, and tasks updated and automatically synced between all my access devices.  For me that is an iPhone, iPad, laptop, and desktop.

One issue has been bookmarks.  I like to keep my bookmarks synced between my devices so if I need to remote into an appliance on the network I can do that easily without having to remember an IP address.  I used to do this using Live Mesh however that only did my laptop and my desktop.  Live Mesh also failed when we started redirecting profiles for Windows 7 users, which included Favorites.  Live Mesh is not able to sync a redirected folder or any network based folder so it broke and stopped working.

I was hoping iCloud would be the solution to my problem but it isn’t, as iCloud also can’t sync to files on a network, which would include any folders you redirect.

I think this is a major failure of technology companies.  The argument is probably that these features are for home users to keep things in sync and not for those of us who use technology both at home and at work.  How short sighted can you get?  I’m sure I’m not the only person on the planet who thinks using iCloud to keep my bookmarks in sync between multiple devices, including those on an enterprise network they may have redirected folders and network based storage is a good idea.  Why cut your market share in half here when from a purely technology perspective how hard can it be?

My work around to being able to use iCloud at work was to ask our IT guy (me) to exempt my profile from redirecting the Favorites folder.  That allowed iCloud to work and work beautifully – much better even than Live Mesh ever did.  Live Mesh would replicate files but you lost icons and sorts.  iCloud perfectly mirrors what you have including custom sorts and icons.  I was able to exempt my policy through a little GPO magic which would allow me, if I was so included, to provide this same service for others who might want to sync their Favorites between their work machine, home machine, and iDevices.

I also did an extensive internet search to see if anyone else was having this issue and to my knowledge, I’m the first person to post that:
  1.  iCloud will not work with redirected folder.  Period.
  2.  iCloud syncs better than Live Mesh.
  3.  GPO can be used to allow users to work around this limitation while still maintaining a backup of their Favorites using roaming profiles.
Maybe the genius’ at Microsoft or Apple will catch wind of this and figure out a way to open up their sync applications to work both on and off corporate networks thus helping even more people to enjoy their products.  Why make technology harder than it has to be.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Island of Google+

Well, here we are still marooned on this island. I'm ready to take the next boat out of here. Google+ usage is plummeting and Google has even admitted unless they get some sort of integration running then time is running out on this service.

People don't want 3 platforms to manage. Facebook and Twitter at least have their own built in levels of integration and if you don't like that then there are lots of apps that can help you post to both and manage both. Google+ has none of the above relagating them to mostly uselessness.

An interesting survey was taken at a NASA HQ Tweetup I was at on Thursday. Over 75% of the room said they use Google+ but almost 100% of those who said they use it said they didn't like it because it was all by itself.

If Google doesn't get with it quickly Google+ will become the next abandoned internet playground. MySpace anyone?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

HootSuite’s Achilles’ Heel

At long last, I have finally figured out why I can’t post to Facebook reliably from HootSuite. It took some doing to figure that out. You can read about it here, be sure to view the comments as HootSuite responded multiple times to my post about this issue.

HootSuite is a cloud-based service meaning the software and processes happen on their servers. This is one of their selling points because you don’t have to install the software on every machine but can access the software and data through the internet. The one catch is the software doesn’t update the data. If you make a change to your streams on your iPhone, those changes are not automatically reflected in your other apps or platforms. Perhaps they will get there someday.

The issue with this approach in regards to Facebook, as pointed out in the comments from my last post on this is that all traffic goes through HootSuite’s servers and is viewed by Facebook as a single connection. As a result, if there is too much traffic going to Facebook then users are blocked.

Here is what HootSuite posted on my previous blog post:
When people communicate through HootSuite to Facebook, they're going through a centralized server that parses the API calls. If Facebook hits a certain limit (we don't know what this limit is) from a certain profile, they will hit "the wall" so to speak -- and will be unable to send messages to Facebook until a certain time.

When people install a client like TweetDeck on their computer, they're not going through a centralized server. Rather, their computer is communicating directly with Facebook's API. To be frank, they still are being ratelimited, but the results may be skewed due to not communicating through a centralized server.

The advantage of parsing through a centralized server is that, no matter where you are in the world, you can log into HootSuite and know that the same messages you have scheduled will be visible in your Publisher queue. Hence, there is no need to install HootSuite on multiple machines since HootSuite is a service that is offered "in the cloud".
That isn’t well documented anywhere that I can find on HootSuite’s support and help sites.

To me this is a major issue as my reliability of use is directly affected by how much all the other users are posting.

I can think of several programming fixes that would address this and I hope HootSuite spends some time figuring it out. Until they do, I will still have to use TweetDeck as a backup for when I’m limited in posting to Facebook through no fault of my own.

Friday, October 7, 2011

HootSuite Support Issues

I recently posted a comparison of TweetDeck vs HootSuite.  Here is an update to that post.

I've been having issues with posting to Facebook multiple times from HootSuite.  As you know I tend to post a lot when I'm at various events.  A few weeks ago I was at the launch of the GRAIL space craft at Kennedy Space Center.  I was posting a lot and kept getting errors when posting to Facebook from HootSuite.  I could post to Twitter fine but not to Facebook.  It appeared that Facebook would only allow me to post so many times in a row and then it would block me for a certain period of time.

I only had this issue with HootSuite.  From TweetDeck I was able to post to both Twitter and Facebook as many times as I wanted in as short a period of time as I wanted without issue.

I'm a HootSuite Pro user due to the number of accounts I manage so I'm paying for this service.  That also means I get support.  They closed my first ticket on this issue without a resolution so I opened it up again.  Below is what they said.  They basically repeated themselves and said it isn't there fault despite the fact that this only happens with their app.

In the mean time when I'm doing a lot of posting, as I will be doing next week at the White House, Capitol Hill and NASA HQ I will probably have to use TweetDeck so that I can post without getting blocked.


Support Ranger, Oct-07 10:49 (PDT):
Hi Jonathan,
We do know that this is a result of Facebook's rate limiting. At the moment, we do not know what the exact amount of posts that triggers the rate limiting, but we do know this occurs. Do note that the rate limiting is not result of using HootSuite, but it is a result of sending a certain amount of messages to your Facebook profile.
As Facebook's API is not something HootSuite controls, we can not adjust the amount of messages you are able to send within a certain period of time.
At this time we suggest that you reduce the amount of Facebook messages you send out in a given period of time, and space out these posts in longer increments.
Thank you for using HootSuite,

Jonathan Smith, Oct-05 17:21 (PDT):
Thanks for the response and confirmation that Facebook has a limit but isn't public about what triggers it. That is very helpful.
However that doesn't explain why HootSuite gets blocked but I can switch over to TweetDeck and get my messages to go through just fine. If Facebook has a limit I would think it would apply to all apps using the API and not just to HootSuite so once my account was blocked from posting via HootSuite that same block should apply to TweetDeck if it is a function of the API. I have never had an issue posting in rapid fire fashion via TweetDeck.
Again, I appreicate your response and that does help but in some ways it creates more questions than it solves. Does TweetDeck us a different API that is not limited?

Support Captain, Oct-05 16:55 (PDT):
Facebook does rate limit the amount of posts you are able to send during the day. At the moment, we do not know what the exact amount of posts that triggers the rate limiting, but we do know this occurs. Do note that the rate limiting is not result of using HootSuite, but it is a result of sending a certain amount of messages to your Facebook profile.

If you would like Facebook to give you further insight into this matter, please visit Facebook Help Center:
Do note that because HootSuite does not build Facebook's API, we can only provide service as is.
Thank for using HootSuite!

Jonathan Smith, Oct-05 16:38 (PDT):
It doesn't appear that I'm communicating effectively as I've answered all these questions before. Let me try to sum up what I've already said in the tickets.
1. I can post to Facebook, it just stops working when I post 3 or 4 times in a row and then I have to wait an unspecified amount of time before I can post again. So when I travel and am posting frequently it fails for periods of time after 3-4 posts in a row, within a minute of each other. To get around this I have to use TweetDeck which allows me to post over and over again with out issue.
2. The error message is just a red bar that says Trouble Sending to Social Network. When I send to Twitter it always works but when I send too many times in a row to Facebook I get this. After waiting for an unspecified amount of time it lets me do it again but after a few in a row it stops. The only error message is Trouble Sending to Social Network, no details or anything.
3. It seems to me as though HootSuite has a limit on the number of times you can post to Facebook within a time period and once that is violated it makes you wait for an amount of time before you can post again.
4. On a normal day I post to Facebook 8-10 times but they are not in a row. When traveling and at events i'm covering I'll post back to back to back posts and that is where the problem appears.
5. I have done everything asked of me in the tickets to try to solve this. I believe this to be a HootSuite problem that needs corrected. Resetting my account yet again or disconnecting from Facebook and reconnecting yet again won't solve this as I've done that and the problem keeps happening. Facebook states they have no limits that would cause this and I should check with my vendor.
I apologize for being so blunt but I hope you can understand my frustration - especially when the ticket is marked closed and no solution has been provided.

Support Ranger, Oct-05 12:29 (PDT):
Hi Jonathan,
Are you still unable to post to your Facebook account?
Are you seeing any error messages in your Facebook Pending stream? Are you seeing any red messages at the Past Scheduled section of Publisher? If a message has not been sent, there should an explanation in both views for why this is the case.
Thank you in advance.

Jonathan Smith, Oct-05 12:18 (PDT):
This reqeust was closed but I don't see any reason why it was closed. I have not had the problem lately as I haven't been posting as much however next week I'll be traveling again and posting a lot so I need to know that my paid HootSuite app is going to work and reliably post to both Twitter and Facebook every time. Otherwise I'm going to consider cancelling my paid account and using TweetDeck. Even though it is lacking in featurs it relaibly allows me to post to both Twitter and Facebook all the time regardless of how many posts I make.
It is a bit frustrating that I did everything you reqeusted, no resolution was made available, and yet the ticket was closed.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

A TSA Experiment

Next week I’m going to try an experiment with the TSA at the Indianapolis International Airport. I travel frequently and as you know from reading this blog, I’ve had many unique experiences with the TSA.

I’m traveling to Washington, D.C. for 3 events. First, I’m attending a Tweetup at the White House for the arrival ceremony for the President of South Korea. South Korea is the most wired and connected country in the world. I’m looking forward to learning about how other cultures connect via Social Media. Attending the arrival ceremony on the South Lawn will also be cool.

Second, and my dad will be joining me at this part of the day, we are meeting with Senator Coat’s office from Indiana for a tour of the Capitol and gallery access to watch both the House and the Senate in action.

Finally, our day ends with a NASA Tweetup event at NASA Headquarters with the crew of STS-135, the final shuttle mission. I saw STS-135 launch and am looking forward to meeting the crew.

One of the biggest hassles with traveling is taking my pocketknife with me, especially as I rarely check a bag. I feel lost without my Leatherman Micra. I’ve even had to mail it to myself a few times but for the last 15 years I’ve been able to hold on to the same one. The Micra can’t travel on planes because it has a small knife blade.

Leatherman Style PS

The good folks at Leatherman make a TSA approved device, the Style PS. My dad, who you can follow on Twitter @4faraday found this and suggested I get one since I fly frequently. 

When we found out we were going to DC together he suggested I buy one. If I can get it through the TSA then he will buy one. If it is confiscated then he will buy me another one. Deal and game on.

So, next week I will be taking this device through the TSA checkpoints at IND and then again at DCA on the way home. According to the online reviews, folks are able to get this device through as it is fully compliant with TSA requirements – to see how my luck works out be sure to subscribe to this blog.

I haven’t decided if I’m going to just put it in my bag and see if it is flagged and examined or if I’m going to put it in a bin on its own to see if the TSA is familiar with it. As a backup, I do plan to have the website printed out to show them should any issues arise. Part of me hopes I don’t have to use the print out, part of me does. Stay tuned.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Invited to the White House

This is what I got in the mail today.

South Korea is the most wired country in the world.  On a per capita basis they have more people connected to the web and more users of social media than any other country.  Instead of a White House they have a Blue House which uses social media progressively to communicate with their people.  

I'm looking forward to this unique opportunity to learn more about how another culture uses social media.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

TweetDeck vs. HootSuite

There is no doubt that social media is now ingrained in our lives, much in the same way that email has become as common as the telephone. The one thing that has not become common is how we interact with the various social media platforms.  

With email, there are common apps that allow us to manage different email providers all through a single portal. Social media has yet to come up with a solid, single portal. Most social media providers want you to use their website or their own specific app to access their social media platform. There is little collaboration to make it easy for their end users.

I know I’m not the only one who uses both Twitter and Facebook. I enjoy using both since each provides a different way to communicate but I don’t want to have to visit multiple website or use multiple applications between multiple devices in order to manage these services. This gets more complicated when you add additional social network like Google+, Foursquare, etc. 

In an attempt to be more efficient I have tried many program and for many years I settled on using TweetDeck, a free app that works with Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare and more. However, TweetDeck was lacking in features that other programs were providing and making available on multiple platforms. In addition, the acquisition of TweetDeck by Twitter, which has publicly said it is trying to limit the ecosystem, meant the multi social network support in TweetDeck probably wasn’t going to continue.

As a result, I started checking around for another platform. After all, how hard should it be for a software provider to be able to create software that will allow me to reliably post to Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and any other social network that comes along and also provides the latest features so that I don’t have to bounce from one app to another and post the same things multiple times?

Surprisingly enough, it is much harder than you think. I’ve found many feature comparison posts helpful so here is my feature comparison post between TweetDeck and HootSuite. As additional points of comparisons come up, I’ll do my best to update this post. These are in no particular order.

Platform Support
  • They have an Adobe Air app for Windows desktops and a Chrome app.
  • An android app.
  • Earlier this year they released v2.0 of their iPhone app calling it a completely new app. I believe that it is a new app however; they left out a lot of features from the old app.
  • They also used to have an iPad app however, it wasn’t very good, and recently TweetDeck removed any references to it from their website. Their site used to say coming soon but even that has been pulled.
  • One of my biggest reasons for needing a new platform was the lack of iPad support. Running the iPhone app in 2x mode stinks and in an attempt to use my laptop less and my iPad more I needed a Twitter/Facebook app built for the iPad.
  • TweetDeck has also had other browser-based apps in “coming soon” mode for many months. TweetDeck seems long on promises and short on delivery.
  • I don’t see that trend improving now that they are owned by Twitter. TweetDeck feature and upgrades have also been very slow since they were purchased by Twitter, which makes me wonder what they are doing to the program, like removing Facebook support.
  • They have a full blown browser app
  • An Android app
  • A Chrome app
  • A native iPhone app
  • A native iPad app
  • Updates are also fairly regular.
Sync Between Apps and Platforms
  • Provides central account on their servers that store columns and searches. You access this by logging into the app. Changes made on one are not updated on the other.
  • Does not sync anything else.
  • You can sync read/unread tweets, application settings, etc. if you use a program like DropBox or Windows Live to copy the application settings folder between computers but it does not sync any of this on its own. It only stores columns.
  • Syncing isn’t great here either. They provide a central account that syncs columns and searches as well but it also does not update between apps. If you add a social network on your iPhone, it won’t appear on your iPad unless you add it manually.
  • Does not sync anything else.
  • Program settings do sync between some apps. For example, the Chrome app to Chrome app will sync settings between computers but changes are not replicated between an iPhone and an iPad.
  • Read/unread tweets do not sync and there is no ability to copy settings using DropBox, as the data folders are not stored like TweetDeck.
  • There is a radical way to make update changes from one device to another. If you add your Foursquare account to your desktop, you can add it to your iPhone by logging out of your iPhone and then logging back in again. This resets all your feeds by pulling them down again from the HootSuite server. Why they can’t do this live I don’t know but this does work provided you do it in the right sequence.
It is a bit baffling to me that both these programs provide the ability to replicate and store some of your settings on their servers but they don’t provide any replication of your full account. Email has evolved to the point where settings and changes, folders, read/unread all replicate between clients and platforms. I wonder how long it will be before social media apps evolve to the same point.

URL Shorteners
  • Provides many different choices however, these choices may be narrowed down to only using the new Twitter shortener.
  • You can only use their built in shorteners.
  • Allows you to use many different image services including YFrog and TwitPic. This may change now that they are a part of Twitter and Twitter has recently rolled out their own image service.
  • Posts pictures to Facebook gallery as opposed to wall called Mobile TweetDeck uploads. This is also better than just posting the text of the shortened link which forces Facebook users to click on it to see it.
  • One benefit is TweetDeck can do both at the same time, which is very helpful from a mobile phone. You upload the image and select Twitter and Facebook and it does the rest however, this only works on the old version of TweetDeck for iPhone. The new version removed this feature and only posts the text of the shortened URL to the Facebook page.
  • Only allows you to post images via the HootSuite system, there are no other options available.
  • Post pictures to Facebook as wall images so the image is visible on your wall as part of your wall album as opposed to being in another album. Very nice for your users as they can preview the images without going away from your wall provided you post with previews turned on. If you turn them off then it only posts the text of the shortened link.
  • This feature works very well on all the apps and platforms.
The problem I have with this is that I have been using TwitPic for years so I have a lot of pictures there. Switching to HootSuite for pictures would mean starting over. In addition, I use the TwitPic gadget on my blog so thumbnails of my pictures appear on my website. HootSuite has no such gadget.

Downloading Tweets
  • Desktop runs off Twitter’s live mode, which provides updates as they happen in the live stream. You can customize the settings to slow it down if you want on the desktop app.
  • The iPhone app updates live as well so you are always current.
  • None of the apps run in live mode. The desktop app will only update at preset intervals with the fastest being 2 minutes. You can manually force updates but it does not run live.
  • The iPhone app only updates manually, you have to pull down each stream to get them to update.
  • The iPad app updates similar to the desktop app.
  • Regardless of what app or platform you use HootSuite does not update automatically or provide real-time access like TweetDeck does.
  • Provides the ability to schedule posts but only through the desktop apps – they keep promising it will be expanded but as of yet that is just another promise.
  • Provides the ability to schedule posts on all apps and all platforms.
Twitter Lists
  • Provides a great integration and use of Twitter lists however, when too many lists are in use the apps all become unstable.
  • Only limitation is you can’t add those you follow to lists from the apps.
  • Provides a great integration and use of Twitter lists and is stable regardless of how many you use.
  • The organization also is better in terms of how the lists of access.
  • You also have the ability to add and remove people from your lists.
  • The only drawback, which only affects the desktop apps, is that you can’t add someone to a list unless you have the list in a stream. The iPhone and iPad apps don’t have this problem.
  • Free, however they have stated ads are coming soon.
  • Free for up to 5 accounts. They state you will get ads but I haven’t seen any.
  • There is a $5.99 monthly fee if you need more than 5 accounts.
  • The downside is they charge you monthly; you can’t pay for a year at a time, which adds to the old paperwork.
Misc. Items
  • Stays open all the time, never goes to sleep.
  • Uses more system resources.
  • Can delete any tweet you post.
  • Easy to report spam and block users.
  • Goes to sleep and has to be woke up so there aren’t any notifications when the apps goes to sleep.
  • Uses less system resources.
  • Can only delete your DM’s, can’t delete anything else from within the app.
  • Harder to report spam and block users.
For me and how I function, I ended up going primarily with HootSuite. I needed an app that worked well on my laptop, my desktop, my iPhone, and my iPad and provided similar features between them all. HootSuite also seems to be more forward thinking. They have already said they will incorporate Google+ while TweetDeck has said they have no plans to build in Google+.

However, I still end up using TweetDeck from time-to-time. I have an open ticket with HootSuite now regarding some issues posting to Facebook, as it appears there is a limit to how many times you can post to Facebook in a specific time period. I’ve also had some issues with the iDevice apps not working when I switch between wireless networks.

I also continue to use TweetDeck to post pictures from my iPhone so I can continue using TwitPic as I haven’t decided if I want to leave TwitPic and start over using HootSuite’s image system.

As you can see, there is no perfect solution here. I think HootSuite is better and is going to try to stay there while TweetDeck’s future will be determined by Twitter.

I look forward to the day when social media clients are as robust and universal as email clients do. For now, we have to make do.

This list was compiled over several months and parts of it may be outdated before this post can be updated.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Hummingbirds and Tweets

Every once in a while a hummingbird flies into your garage and you don’t know what to do about it. Ever been there? Tonight I was there. My wife got home and left the garage door up for me. When I pulled in there was a hummingbird flying around between the lights.

Unfortunately, the bird would not fly down lower and out the doors as he was hugging the ceiling. I tried using a broom and even a wide shovel to guide the bird down but I was not able to get them over the bird as it just kept flying up against the ceiling.

So I turned to a solid source of knowledge, the Twittersphere and asked the tweeps what one does when one has a hummingbird in the garage. The first suggestion was to set a large red bowl full of sugar water on the floor of the garage near the door. An hour later, the bird was still in the garage.

The second suggestion was to close all the doors, turn off all the lights, and leave the bird in the dark for about 20 minutes. Then I opened the doors and hoped the bird would fly towards the light. At first I didn’t think it worked as I didn’t see the bird fly out but after about 5 minutes of the door being opened and me not watching from the driveway the bird fled.

So if it hadn’t been for Twitter the hummingbird might still be in my garage. What problem will I encounter next that Twitter is able to solve? Stay tuned.

Monday, August 29, 2011

NASA GRAIL Tweetup Media Release



Lafayette, IN Resident is One of 150 Selected to Attend NASA Tweetup for Launch of Twin Lunar-Bound GRAIL Spacecraft Sept. 7 - 8, 2011

NASA Twitter Followers Will Tweet from Kennedy Space Center, Fla.

Lafayette, IN August 29, 2011 - NASA will bring together 150 Twitter followers to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center for a two-day Tweetup, Sept. 7 - 8, 2011, for the launch of twin lunar-bound Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) spacecraft aboard a Delta II rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Lafayette, IN resident Jonathan Smith has been selected as one of 150 @NASA Twitter followers to attend and Tweet the event. The launch window opens at 8:37 a.m. EDT on Thursday, Sept. 8. The two GRAIL spacecraft will measure the moon’s gravity field from its crust to core and provide scientists with a better understanding of how Earth and other rocky planets in the solar system formed.

As a NASA Tweetup attendee, Smith and the other 149 Twitter users will interact with engineers and scientists from GRAIL and other upcoming NASA missions as well as tour the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. If all goes as scheduled, participants will view the spacecraft launch. In addition, the Tweetup will allow participants to meet other tweeps and members of NASA’s social media team. Attendees were selected through a lottery system in which more than 825 @NASA Twitter followers registered.

“NASA provides a tremendous opportunity to learn about our nation’s Space Program and see a rocket launch up close and personal.” Smith said, “Very few people are allowed this level of access to NASA facilities.”

Smith is the Director of Technology at Faith Ministries in Lafayette, IN and an avid space follower. He has attended several Tweetups including STS-132 and Pilot Day 2011 at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. As a result of attending the STS-132 launch tweetup Smith traveled to Florida and saw the final 3 launches of the shuttle program. Follow his tweets at

NASA Tweetup participants are traveling from across the United States and the globe to attend. View the list of list of registered attendees on the NASA Tweetup Twitter account:

NASA held its first Tweetup on Jan. 21, 2009, at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. NASA’s Tweetup Twitter account is and participants will be using #NASATweetup in their updates while tweeting. Information about NASA Tweetup can be viewed on .

About the GRAIL Mission
The two GRAIL spacecraft will fly in tandem orbits around the moon for several months to measure its gravity field from crust to core. The mission will answer longstanding questions about Earth’s moon and provide scientists with a better understanding of how Earth and other rocky planets in the solar system formed.

GRAIL's lift off is the third of four space missions launching this year under the management of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. Aquarius launched June 10 to study ocean salinity; Juno will launched Aug. 5 to study the origins and interior of Jupiter; and the Mars Science Laboratory/Curiosity rover heads to the Red Planet no earlier than Nov. 25. Visit for additional information about GRAIL.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Big Bang Theory Q&A

By far the most popular posts on my blog are the ones about attending a taping of The Big Bang Theory in March of 2010.  I’ve received many contacts and questions from folks all over the world but I think there are a few things I need to clear up as the 2011-2012 production season gets underway.
  1. The purpose of my blog was strictly for entertainment and information purposes. 
  2. I can’t get you tickets.  It doesn’t work that way.
  3. I can’t get you a job in the US Entertainment industry or in Hollywood. 
  4. If you are lucky enough to get tickets from then follow their instructions and get there as early as you can.  They provide very clear and specific instructions online.
  5. The Big Bang Theory tapes on Tuesdays at Warner Brothers in Burbank, CA.
  6. Don’t plan a trip just to see a TV show taped.  Plan to do other things in case you don’t get in or something happens and the taping schedule is changed.  Remember that guaranteed admission tickets, especially for popular shows are very difficult to get.
  7. I can’t get you tickets.
  8. I can’t get you a job in the US Entertainment industry or in Hollywood
  9. The taping lasts between 4 and 5 hours.  They do provide you with a bottle of water and at our taping each member of the 200 person studio audience got a single slice of pizza from Little Caesars. 
  10. There are no restrooms located at the sound stage so don’t drink a lot before you go as getting to a restroom will cause you to miss a lot of the production.
  11. Leave your cell phone, camera, and anything else in the car as that will dramatically speed up security.  Plan to be unplugged from the world for 4-5 hours.
  12. I can’t get you tickets.
  13. I can’t get you a job in the US Entertainment industry or in Hollywood.
  14. There is no promise that anyone will stick around to sign autographs.  The Big Bang Theory provided us with a program for the episode we saw taped and we did get a few autographs but that is by no means a sure thing.
  15. Have fun, enjoy the process, and remember to laugh.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Importance of Community

Folks in the IT community are often stereotyped as being pocket protector wearing nerds sitting day and night in front of their computer screens and rarely interacting with other human beings.  Unfortunately, this notion is often true and is more detrimental than many IT pros would care to admit.

Let’s face it, we are all busy and have enough job security to last us several lifetime’s so socializing with others who do what we do doesn’t often rise to the top of the priority list.  I personally would rather spend a quiet evening at home than spend time with “friends” out on the town.  That’s how I’m wired so I understand it isn’t easy to make gathering with others a priority.

Granted we are all great at being super independent and solving any problem with just our experience and a few Google searches but often times that is not efficient.  How long do you spend trying to solve a problem on your own before your just call one of your numerous support contracts?

There are 2 groups that I’m a part of from which I’ve reaped numerous benefits.  The first group is the CITRT, the Church Information Technology Round Table.  This is a national group of IT professionals that work for churches and non-profit ministries.  The second group is GLITS, the Greater Lafayette Information Technology Society.  This is a local group of IT professionals that work in and around the greater Lafayette area. 

These communities remind me that I’m not all alone in my struggles with technology but that there are others who are willing and able to help me.  The challenge is that I’m good at taking from these communities and learning from them but I need to get better at sharing with them and giving back.  That happens in person as well as electronically.

Not being a part of these groups also leads to missed opportunities.  I wouldn’t want to miss an opportunity to help those in the community around me because I didn’t want to spend time getting to know them so I could learn about their needs while at the same time they learn about mine.  I recently had the chance to help some local organizations in their use of social media because I was available to learn about the opportunity.  Synergy and not silos also applies to the Information Technology field.

So make a plan to get out and meet those around you who do what you do.  Plan to invest in them and allow them to invest in you.  And if you haven’t been out in the sun in a while then don’t forget the SPF 50.  Oh, leave your pocket protector on your desk.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Equipment for Sale

Faith Ministries is selling some of our sound equipment we no longer need through a series of upgrades.  Here is a list of the equipment complete with details and our asking price as well as contact information.  All equipment is available for inspection at Faith Ministries in Lafayette, IN.

For more information and any questions please contact:

Jonathan Smith
Director of Technology
Faith Ministries
5526 St. Rd. 26 E.
Lafayette, IN 47905
765-448-1986 x158
765-448-2985 fax

Allen & Heath ML 4000 Series Mixing Console

48+2 channel console complete with 2 redundant power supplies, talk back mic, and light kit.

Asking price: $8,000.00

This console was purchased and installed at Faith Baptist Church in 2003 and has only been used in this fixed venue.  It is in great shape and has recently been cleaned.  In 2008 the console was serviced and several LED lights were replaced.  In addition the Direct Outs on each channel were switched from post fade to pre fade.

Console has a few LED lights that are out but easily replaced.  There are also 2 channels on the board that are not working however since we replaced the console we haven’t done additional troubleshooting to see if the channels are bad or there were other connection issues outside of the board.

Due to the size and weight of this console (approx. 400 pounds) we are unable to provide shipping or delivery.

ML4000 Key Features
The Allen & Heath ML4000 is a large format VCA equipped dual function live sound console providing many of the features of its larger brother the ML5000. It can be quickly configured for front-of-house (FOH) or stage monitor mixing. As one console suitable for both applications it is equally well suited to installation, rental and touring. It offers an IO capability and feature set that satisfies the latest trends in live sound engineering, in particular the growing number of inputs and outputs for multi-speaker house and monitor systems, demands of stereo in-ear monitoring, 3 speaker LCR imaging, advanced grouping and automation. The design ensures on-the-road durability, a clear layout for easy walk up and go operation, and no-compromise audio performance.

Inputs and Outputs
• 48+2 (mono + dual stereo channels)
• 48 mono mic/line inputs with inserts and direct outputs
• 2 dual stereo line inputs standard
• Main Left, Right and Centre outputs with inserts, Centre configurable as the engineers monitor
• 8 Groups, 12 Auxes: Group/Aux 1-8 and Aux 9-12 with faders and inserts, Aux 1-8 with rotaries
• 11x4 Matrix
• 2-Track monitor input and recording send
• Stereo headphones and local monitors
• Talkback mic input
• ClearCom compatible intercom interface

Groups and Automation
• 8 VCA groups with mutes and PAFL monitoring
• 8 audio groups with LCRplus™ sub grouping
• 8 mute groups
• MIDI accessible snapshot memories
• MIDI mute on/off, snapshot recall and dump in/out control
• Channels can be made safe from the automation

Processing and Control
• 4-Band full sweep mono EQ with switched Q mids, 4-band fixed frequency stereo EQ
• Sweepable high pass filter
• LCRplus™ 3 speaker imaging system
• Protected mode switching to configure the console for FOH or monitor application
• Intelligent PAFL system with all-clear, PFL/in-place AFL, priority, auto-cancel/add mode…
• Assignable talkback and intercom
• 1kHz tone and pink noise generator for system line-up and testing
• Full console monitoring and extensive metering of inputs, mix busses and outputs

Download Manual and Specs Here

PreSonus ACP88 8-channel Compressor/Limiter/Gate

Asking Price: $675 per unit

We have 3 of these units.  1 was purchased and installed at Faith Baptist Church in 2008 and the other 2 in 2009.  They have only been used in this fixed venue. 

These units can be shipped and shipping costs are the responsibility of the buyer.

Classic Dynamics Control

One of our all-time most popular products, the ACP88 delivers the classic analog compression that helped establish PreSonus as a leading signal-processor manufacturer. With eight independent, full-featured compressor/limiters and gates, the ACP88 can solve a host of thorny studio and live-sound problems.

Each channel provides a fully variable compressor with a sidechain send and return to enable spectral processing and ducking. In addition to the usual attack, release, ratio, threshold, and makeup gain controls, each compressor offers selectable soft- or hard-knee compression and an Auto Attack feature that overrides the manual controls and applies preset attack and release curves. A six-segment LED meter displays the amount of gain reduction.

The compressor/limiter is followed by a full-featured gate with attack, release, and threshold controls; a gate-range switch, which determines the amount of level reduction that occurs when the gate closes; and a sidechain/key insert loop that enables the gate to be opened, or keyed, in response to a modified version of the program signal or some other external source.

Professional Features

With eight dynamics processors in one unit, you can employ tricks that aren’t possible with lesser processors. The Channel Link feature lets you lock together as many channels as you wish, so that all processors follow the setting of the master processor. Since you can create multiple simultaneous link groups, you could link a stereo pair of channels plus a group of four processors and still have two unlinked channels for other applications.

Each channel can be independently bypassed so you can audition signals with and without processing. And since the ACP88 is designed to work smoothly with a variety of professional and semipro gear, you can select +4 dBu or -10 dBV operating levels independently for each channel.

Old Skool Rules

Some people say they don’t make signal processors the way they used to. Nonsense. The ACP88 is a superb old-skool processor, with physical knobs and switches for every parameter, shoehorned into two rackspaces, and it delivers a pure analog sound that will always be in style.

Download Manual and Specs Here

Monday, July 18, 2011

Google+ Needs to Grow Up Quickly

On Twitter today I posted a few things griping about this Google+ thing. Since Google+ thinks it is the center of the universe I am not able to send those tweets to Google+ however if I posed to Google+ originally then I could send the post to Twitter and Facebook only if I download an app and install it into Chrome and only if I use Chrome as my browser of choice when doing said posting.

The problem here is Google+ is trying to become the core of everything while still being the new kid on the block that lacks a ton of integration features.

Right now I use TweetDeck to send posts to both Twitter and Facebook. TweetDeck said recently they had no plans to add support for Google+ meaning I'm now posting the same thing multiple places. Google has even created dissention within its own ranks as Buzz doesn't link to it and neither does Blogger. As a result I'm also manually posting this to my blog as a blog post.

Seems to me that Google has released a product that in many ways is cool and has some features superior to Twitter and Facebook but that is also lacking the ability to play nice with them. It is the immature child on the block that needs to grow up quickly and learn to get along with others or risk not being included with the rest of the gang and spending a lot of time playing by itself.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Why Are We Going Broke?

I typically don’t post a lot about politics because the issue is obviously contentious, as most folks can’t separate their political views from their personal biases about individual politicians, groups, or political parties.  As a result their views change based on the “who” as opposed to any strong beliefs or convictions.

I’m amazed at the current state of our great nation’s finances.  Four years ago, our Legislative branch, and Executive Branch started authorizing massive spending programs to help our economy recover from a recession.  Two years ago, these branches, after an election cycle, continued this practice and added even more spending to it in terms of health care reform with the tag line that these reforms were going to save us money.

Now we are broke having apparently over spent to the point that we need either to cut spending or increase our debt ceiling.  Changing gears this fast in a car will strip your transmission and I’m curious what it is going to do to our government and our nation.  Over spending is never an answer, even if that overspending helps me out.

Our political process has also turned the taxpayers into a pawn for re-election.  Am I happy that taxes are at an all-time historical low?  You bet!  Am I happy that our nation is broke?  Not at all.

Unfortunately, our policies swing based on the needs of our politics and what our government does now seems to be done without respect for the future.  Before we couldn’t spend enough to save ourselves, now we can’t save enough to save ourselves.  There has to be a better way to govern then one that lives at the edge of the extremes.

Perhaps our nation could learn from the great state of Indiana.  Our state has not been governed on the extremes.  Is it perfect?  No, but our budgets is balanced, our taxes have not increased and we have over a billion dollars in reserve.  It isn’t easy but we know it can be done.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Everyone’s an Expert

A few weeks ago, the Casey Anthony trial ended with a not guilty verdict and immediately the internet and social media services went crazy with armchair pundits commenting as though they knew more than the jury did.  What makes this more interesting is a few days after the verdict I headed to Florida for the final Space Shuttle launch and down there the locals all had an opinion.

While we may all have an opinion, we are not all experts.  We may have watched the trial on TV but that doesn’t make us an expert.  We don’t know exactly everything the jury knew or what evidence they were allowed or not allowed to consider.  I don’t agree with how the defending counsel handled the situation with the media but I certain understand why they responded how they did.

It also fascinated me how worked up some people were about this and how many believed justice had been thwarted that day.  Maybe I’m crazy but I just don’t care that much about it.  Besides, someday everything, the right and the wrong, will all be judged by a much higher power than a Florida court or millions of couch potatoes.  There are more important things in this life.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Why Men Should Not Carry Change Purses

Last week I attended the final launch of the Space Shuttle program, the launch of Atlantis on STS-135.  While packing for the trip I grabbed a change purse full of nickels and dimes to burn up on the numerous tolls around Orlando.  I had no idea how problematic this change purse was going to be.

My “change purse” was actually a leather bag with a zippered top intended to keep the change organized.  I really didn’t think much about throwing it in my TSA approved backpack.  I have my routine down for going through security at the airport.  I place my watch, wallet, and cell phone in my backpack.  Then my liquids and shoes go in one of the bins.  Since my bag is TSA approved, I don’t have to take my laptop out.  I also keep my chargers, USB cables, and other wires in an old mic bag so they are all together.  Cables strewn out inside a bag will almost always get your bag rummaged through.

This system has kept me from being searched for over 2 years, no checks, searches, explosive swabs, nothing.  That is until last week.  My backpack came through the x-ray and the lady told me there was a change purse in there and the x-ray couldn’t see what was behind it.  I told her right where the change purse was but she couldn’t find it and in the process unpacked the entire bag. 

I don’t envy the TSA folks their jobs but I told her specifically where it was as that is all they needed to x-ray but she never found it.  After unpacking most of the bag, she sent everything through again and then said it was ok.  She handed me my bag and I put my hand in and pulled out the change purse.

She said it would be best to put the change purse in the bin with my shoes and liquids as the x-ray can’t see through all the change.  I travel frequently and this was the first time I had heard that.  I asked her why it wasn’t posted anywhere and she didn’t have an answer.

I got to relive this story each time I pulled change out and paid for various tolls around Orlando but I learned something new – if you have a mess of change pull it out and send it through with your shoes.  This is one of those unspoken rules you will only learn through personal experience or learning from the experience of others.

Here’s to the next 2 years and hopefully no more bag searches.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Final Shuttle Launch STS-135

The final details have come together for our STS-135 launch trip.  All the spots are filled at the private location where I will be viewing the launch from.  I am interested in Causeway tickets but am not willing to pay the greedy prices currently being listed on eBay.  This will be a fun trip as I connect with friends from the launches of STS-132, 133 and 134.  I'm also looking forward to a tour of the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station - a place I have been once....secretly.

This launch is history in the making as our great nation, which just celebrated its 235th birthday, gives up the ability to fly humans into space and instead chooses to rely on our former Space Race competitors in order to reach low earth orbit. 

As we watch the last space shuttle escape Earth’s gravity I wonder how history is going to repeat itself.  The last manned flight from the Apollo missions was in 1975 and the first space shuttle mission didn’t take place until 1981.  Will our gap only be 6 years or will political and economic factors make the gap longer?  What role will the private sector play?  Will NASA be relegated to a government regulations industry overseeing private space flight or will NASA again lead the world in launching humans into space?  What role does national pride play in modern space exploration?  And what about the Chinese, could that be the next great Space Race?

Only time will tell but as I watch the final space shuttle mission these and other thoughts will be going through my mind.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Camping at Kennedy Space Center

With the upcoming final launch Tweetup upon us, I thought I would post a few thoughts about visiting Kennedy Space Center for a Tweetup. Even though this is the last launch Tweetup, there will be more Tweetups for non-low earth orbit launches and other exciting events at KSC.

I attended the Tweetup for STS-132, which was one of the earlier launch events. For this event we were told to bring our own water however on the second day of our Tweetup NASA did provide a water cooler so we could fill our water bottles. Granted the tent is air-conditioned but with all the walking around in the heat you do, carrying water is a good idea. I’m certain future Tweetups have provided a water cooler as well.

NASA doesn’t provide any food. On the day before the launch, we were told to bring our own lunches and snacks as no food was available. Since I flew to Florida for the event, I bought a cheap Styrofoam cooler I left in my hotel room and used it for keeping my food cold. The day was so busy and exciting that I didn’t eat what I brought anyway but I was glad to have it just in case.

On launch day, I bought a hamburger and chips as NASA allows vendors to sell food to those at the press site. Obviously if your launch is delayed like STS-133 and STS-134 you will need to provide additional provisions.

Bathrooms are readily available in a concrete camp style facility as well as in the press building. On launch day, getting to either bathroom from the twent without walking through a camera shot is next to impossible but when you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go.

In many ways, you are at one of the most high tech places on the planet while in other ways, you are camping out in the middle of nowhere and it’s an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

My Power over Foursquare

I’m often amazed at the power I have, whether actual or inferred by others. Lately I’ve been able to use my power over Foursquare. I use Foursquare and like to have fun with it and save money through it. Lately however it seems I have the power to kill it.  

I travel a bit and the last 2 times I have flown home to the Indianapolis International Airport I’ve been unable to check into Foursquare because it has been down. Upon landing, I typically grab my phone, check my email, and check into Foursquare – if it works. I think someone at Foursquare is trying to keep me from becoming the Mayor there.  

So consider yourself warned – I’m flying home again sometime after the July 8 launch of space shuttle Atlantis on STS-135. I expect Foursquare to be down shortly before I land. Good luck.

Monday, June 20, 2011

No Ordinary End to Spring

Today was no ordinary last day of spring. The old adage “when it rains it pours” was true today both literally and figuratively.  

I have been on the road for the past week speaking at a conference in San Antonio, Texas and then to a Tweetup Event at the Air and Space Museum in Washington DC. We also took a day in there to visit some friends in DC and see many of the historic sites. I hope to blog more about these events soon, provided the power stays on. That will make more sense later.

I arrived home for Monday with a full list of things to do back in the office but I knew things were off to an odd start when the western sky at 6am was bright orange as the sun reflected off the dark storm clouds.

Between 6am and noon, 4 waves of storms came through our area dropping just over 3 inches of rain. During one of these storms at least 1, probably 2 of the parking lot light trees in the parking lot at Faith were struck by lightning. The lighting took out those 2 lighting trees, the photocell that controls all our exterior lighting, the power to the panel for all exterior lighting and the power to the RTU (roof top unit) that cools our primary datacenter – to name a few things.

As a result, we eventually lost most of our network services for about an hour and had to reset several things. We also had to replace several breakers and tomorrow we have to replace several relays that were fused. While all of this was going on our team was also trying to prepare for VBS (Vacation Bible School) which started tonight. By 4pm, most things were back to normal and we were able to get the scripts, lighting cues, sound cues, and graphics all programmed for VBS just in time for the power to go out again 5 minutes before we started.

Our team is great and we had everything sound and video wise restored with a minute to spare before we started – thanks to numerous backup systems.  

Here’s hoping that summer starts Tuesday with less excitement than spring ended.

Friday, June 10, 2011

STS-135 Ticket Lotteries

As we get closer to the ticket lotteries for STS-135 please take note of the following:

If you are selected for NASA Causeway tickets please buy the maximum number you can purchase. Rest assured you won’t be stuck with any extras but if we band together we have a better chance of seeing the launch from the Causeway with the orange tickets from KSCVC. Even if more than one of our little group gets those tickets I assure you we will be able to sell off the extras.

Remember though, we do have a safety net. If no one gets Causeway tickets we still have the private viewing location in Titusville to watch the launch from. This is a better location than the Astronaut Hall of Fame and the KSCVC itself so if you are selected for those tickets in the lottery I suggest you pass.

Another option once the lotteries are closed is to purchase Causeway tickets from a tour bus company. You will pay more for the ticket itself but you at least get on the Causeway. I only suggest buying those tickets if your pickup and drop off point is in Port Canaveral. Otherwise you spend 5-9 hours on a bus fighting the traffic back to Orlando. If you don’t want to spend the extra money on tour bus company tickets to the Causeway that’s fine, we still have our safety net in Titusville.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Register for Tickets Now

Registration is now open for STS-135 launch viewing tickets through KSC.  If you would like to join our merry group please click the link below to register for tickets.  If you are selected for the lottery please let me know and we can coordinate the ticket purchase.

Remember there are 3 types of tickets you can get from the lottery:
  1. Causeway Tickets - these are the best tickets.
  2. Kennedy Space Center Visitor's Center Tickets - these are the next best as you are 7 miles away but won't see the launch until the shuttle clears the tree line.
  3. Astronaut Hall of Fame - these are the worst as you are 12 miles away and won't see the launch until the shuttle clears the tree line.
If you are selected for Causeway tickets then please purchase the maximum number allowed.  Those who then can't view the launch from the Causeway can use my private spot in Titusville which is better then numbers 2 and 3 above.

Click this link to register.  You only have until June 5.

Good luck everyone in the lottery!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Comcast Decision

As you know, if you read this blog, I’ve had a decision to make in regards to the upcoming digital transition with Comcast. In our area it starts June 25 where all channels from Comcast will be digital. You can read the full story here.

After much research, we decided to give up our wonder TiVo’s and try Comcast’s DVRs. The one feature we are giving up that we think we will miss the most is the ability to transfer a program from one DVR to another. This has come in very handy but we think we will be able to work around that limitation most of the time thanks to the On-Demand service. If there is a show we want to watch that is on the other DVR we may be able to find it and watch it from On-Demand.

I went to the local Comcast office to pick up our new DVRs however; they only had the older model in stock. They ordered me the new model, which has a touchscreen front and 100 hours more storage. It should arrive sometime next week.

Once I get it setup and working, I’ll post some reviews. I’ve read that getting these newer units up and running can be a bit slow. Should be interesting.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

How to See the Last Shuttle Launch STS-135

So you want to see a shuttle launch? Oh, wait. You want to see the last shuttle launch ever!? You must be crazy. Fortunately, I was blessed with a healthy dose of crazy and have attended the last 3 shuttle launches, STS 132, 133, and 134 so I might be able to provide some wisdom.

NASA is expecting a record crowd for the final launch. Upwards of 1 million people could cram the Space Coast and break the record set when Apollo 11 launched for the moon.

First, how much money you got? Launch viewing trips aren't cheap. Attending in groups can save money but you still have expenses like travel (flights, rental cars, gas), ground (hotel, food), and any costs associated with where you view the launch from.

Second, how flexible are you? NASA is very upfront that launching humans into space is risky business and there are many things that can go wrong. Only 1 of the last 3 launches has launched on schedule. Your flexibility also affects your cost. How long can you hang around for delays? I've always taken the approach that if I'm going to start something I'm going to finish it. I'm also fortunate to have a job I can do from anywhere I can get online. So I'm good with bouncing between hotels, McDonald's and Starbucks getting work done. For STS-133, I bounced around for a week in November before the launch was finally scrubbed until late February.

Third, where do you want to the launch from? There are many options:
  1. The Press Site for Launch Complex 39 is the best spot but getting there requires press credentials or access via a NASA Tweetup event.  I was fortunate to be select to the NASA Tweetup for STS-132, which at the time was the final launch of Atlantis and this is by far the best place at 3 miles away.
  2. Almost equal to the press site is the Apollo / Saturn V Center.  It is also 3 miles away facing a different side of the pad but the viewing there would be spectacular.  I have not seen a launch from this site as it is reserved for specific NASA VIP's and astronaut family members.
  3. The best public viewing location is the NASA East Causeway.  Here you are 6 miles from the pad and have a mostly clear view over the water of the Banana River.  Some of the trees on the islands in the river may block a bit of your view of the pad but the shuttle isn't on the pad for long.  To get access here you have to be enter a ticket lottery with the Kennedy Space Center Visitor's Center and then if selected spend $76 per ticket.  Another way to get to the Causeway is to purchase tickets through Gray Line Tours or Florida Dolphin Tours.  They take you to the same place but cost a lot more.  My suggestion if you use a tour company is to select a pickup point in Melbourne, FL.  Otherwise, you will spend 5-9 hours on the bus after the launch in traffic going back to your drop off point in Orlando.  Here is another post I wrote how to get Causeway tickets and the differences between Green, Orange, and Purple.
  4. You can also view a launch from the Kennedy Space Center Visitor's Complex itself.  You can't see the shuttle on the pad but you do see it a few seconds after liftoff.  They have big screen TV's around so you can see main engine start but you can't see anything until it clears the trees.  To get these tickets you also have to enter a lottery and they cost about $50 each.  You are 7 miles away at this location.
  5. The Astronaut Hall of Fame provides another viewing option however, you are 12 miles away, and you still can't see the launch until it clears the tree line.  Tickets for this location are also only available through the ticket lottery and cost around $50 each.
  6. Sometimes you can find private homes, condos or other property along the Indian River in Titusville that you can watch from.  These locations are between 12 and 14 miles away but many times you can see the shuttle stack sitting on the pad.  Don't trespass though if you don't have permissions from the property owners.  There are costs associated with these locations depending on condo rates and/or fees charged by the property owners.
  7. There are many public viewing sites along the Indian River like Space View Park and Rotary Park.  There are also some bridges in Titusville that would make for great viewing locations but are very crowded.  If you are going to a public location to save money, make sure you get there early.  Otherwise, parking could be a big problem.  Everyone gets a good view once the shuttle gets off the ground, but if you want great pics then the earlier you get to your viewing location the better chance you will have better shots.
Of course, before you can see a launch you have to get to the launch site.  I have never viewed driving as an option as it would take 20 hours or so each way.  I value my time more than that so I have always flown.  Here are a few tips for dealing with the airlines and shuttle launches:
  1. Determine your flexibility first.  If you have to come home on a certain day regardless of whether the launch happens or not then go ahead and purchase a round trip ticket so you can lock in the lowest possible fare.  If you do change your mind after purchasing your ticket, remember that all airlines except Southwest charge a change fee plus any difference in fare.  Southwest only charges you the difference in fare.
  2. If you don't have miles but you have some flexibility then consider booking one-way tickets.  Then once you are ready to leave after the launch or after it has been rescheduled, find the cheapest flight from Orlando and book it.  You sometimes pay a bit more here but if it isn't more than the change fee plus any fare differences then you have come out ahead.  This has never happened to me but I would hate to be there for the launch only to have it rescheduled for the day I had to fly home. So close and yet so far.
For rental cars and hotels, I use Hotwire and Priceline.  If I'm traveling by myself, I get the cheapest car I can find.  If I'm with a group I get a car large enough for our needs but understanding we are splitting the costs. 

I also am not picky on hotels.  I don't book more than one night at a time and I use Hotwire and Priceline to find the best deals.  Since I don't care whether I'm in a Motel 6 or a Marriott I pretty much take whatever comes up.  This does mean you are in a different hotel every night but it also means you save a lot of money.  Titusville, FL has very few hotel rooms so getting a cheap one is difficult around the launch date but if the date changes you can often find great last minute deals much closer to KSC.

Despite the best planning, there are no guarantees.  The key thing is how committed are you?  How many days are you willing to invest and how much money are you willing to spend.  Be sure to figure that out first.  Even with the best planning things change and you may not see anything.

I am working on plans to take a group to a private viewing location in Titusville.  This spot really works out well and provides a great view.  The only downside is the sound is not nearly as impressive since you are 12 miles away but it is the best place after the press site and Causeway locations.  If you are serious about attending a launch and are willing to invest some money, feel free to contact me.

You might also want to go ahead and enter the ticket lotteries with KSCVC.  If you are committed to going then it doesn't matter if you go to a private viewing site or you get Causeway tickets.  The number of tickets each person is limited to is 6.  If multiple people can get 6 Causeway tickets in the lottery then there is a better chance more folks going can see the launch closer.  The only downside is you would need to front the initial ticket purchase as you only have so many hours after being selected for tickets to make a purchase before your buying opportunity expires.  If you get stuck with too many tickets there is always eBay.

These trips unravel quickly if many people express interest only to back out after being pressed to commit both time and money.  Make those commitments now to make every one's planning a bit easier.

Here's to a successful final launch of Space Shuttle Atlantis on STS 135!  Wait, I've heard that before at STS 132.