Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Zune Gets New Years' Hangover Early (UPDATE / FIX)

UPDATE 15:00 -- Microsoft says they've identified the problem and "fix"... wait until tomorrow and the issue will go away. More below.

An apparent "Z2K" (2K9? Y2K+9?) bug seems to have rendered all 30GB Microsoft Zune players useless. Microsoft officials acknowledged this afternoon what has been reported all morning from thousands of users:
Customers using the Zune 30 might experience problems starting their players. We’re aware of the problem and are working to correct it.

That's of little comfort for users of the iPod-rival hoping to use the player to entertain friends at New Years' Eve parties tonight. The incident comes at poor timing for Microsoft who, in a few days, is expected to map out future Zune strategy at a CES keynote with Steve Balmer.

If you are affected, I urge you to act responsibly:
  • First, remain calm. As frustrating as this situation is, you will only make matters worse if you try to fix things yourself. The best bet is to wait for a fix from Microsoft. Yes, it's annoying being without your portable entertainment device, but all gadgets have hiccups, and this one will be resolved.
  • Do not panic. The "Zunepocalypse" only seems to affect 30GB Zune players at this time. There's no reason to believe your toaster, iPod, or garage door opener will suddenly stop working tonight. We survived "Y2K", we'll make it through this.
  • Stay tuned. I'll post updated information here, and Microsoft's support site is also a great place to check for a fix.

In the meantime, might I suggest tuning in your radio? I'll be talking about this on KOMO 1000 Newsradio in Seattle and Newsradio 750 KXL in Portland. Your Zune will be back tomorrow, in the meantime -- read a book, rediscover your car's radio, watch TV, check out some fun Youtube videos, or if you're really desperate: Visit your local Apple store for a new iPod? :)

UPDATE 15:00: Microsoft tells me the bug is specific to the 30GB Zune and should self-resolve within the next 24 hours. There is, "A bug in the internal clock driver causing the 30GB device to improperly handle the last day of a leap year."

Users experiencing problems are advised to sit tight, and try again tomorrow, on January 1, 2009. For details please visit

Official response for Zune 30 Freezing Issue (Zune 30gb stuck at reboot screen)

Early this morning we were alerted by our customers that there was a widespread issue affecting our 2006 model Zune 30GB devices (a large number of which are still actively being used). The technical team jumped on the problem immediately and isolated the issue: a bug in the internal clock driver related to the way the device handles a leap year. The issue should be resolved over the next 24 hours as the time change moves to January 1, 2009. We expect the internal clock on the Zune 30GB devices will automatically reset tomorrow (noon, GMT). By tomorrow you should allow the battery to fully run out of power before the unit can restart successfully then simply ensure that your device is recharged, then turn it back on. If you’re a Zune Pass subscriber, you may need to sync your device with your PC to refresh the rights to the subscription content you have downloaded to your device.

Customers can continue to stay informed via the support page on (

We know this has been a big inconvenience to our customers and we are sorry for that, and want to thank them for their patience.

Q: Why is this issue isolated to the Zune 30 device?

It is a bug in a driver for a part that is only used in the Zune 30 device.

Q: What fixes or patches are you putting in place to resolve this situation?

This situation should remedy itself over the next 24 hours as the time flips to January 1st.

Q: What’s the timeline on a fix?

The issue Zune 30GB customers are experiencing today will self resolve as time changes to January 1.

Q: Why did this occur at precisely 12:01 a.m. on December 31, 2008?

There is a bug in the internal clock driver causing the 30GB device to improperly handle the last day of a leap year.

Q: What is Zune doing to fix this issue?

The issue should resolve itself.

Q: Are you sure that this won’t happen to all 80, 120 or other flash devices?

This issue is related to a part that is only used in Zune 30 devices.

Q: How many 30GB Zune devices are affected?

All 30GB devices are potentially affected.

Q: Will you update the firmware before the next leap year (2012)?

Matt Akers
Zune Product Team

And finally... Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

DISH vs. Fisher: Will Portland & Seattle's DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES drag out the LOST rabbit ears to VIEW the upcoming premiere of THE BACHELOR?? graphic
KATU parent Fisher Communications in contract dispute with satellite provider, signal interrupted for DISH customers

The contract for DISH Network to carry Portland's KATU-TV (and other Fisher Communications stations in respective markets) ended at 11:00pm yesterday (17 December 2008). As of a few hours ago, customers of DISH Network tuning in to the local ABC affiliate are seeing a message from DISH Network's SVP of Programming explaining the situation and suggesting alternative stations to view local programming. Read a DISH Networks statement. has a message from station management explaining Channel 2's position on the dispute. The statement reads, in part:
"We believe DISH should be willing to pay a small portion of the fees you pay to DISH for the program content we provide to you."
KATU-TV statement.

Other stations have had similar contract disputes with the Echostar-owned satellite provider. One dispute, involving Young Broadcasting (i.e. KRON-TV, San Francisco) was recently resolved. No word on the terms of this settlement.

This got me thinking...
A) Do you receive programming via. DISH Networks?
B) Do you care that you are currently without your Fisher-owned stations?
C) Who, in your take, is at fault here?

Will Portland's DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES drag out the LOST rabbit ears to VIEW the upcoming premiere of THE BACHELOR?? [...rimshot!]

Of course, being your always-helpful tech expert... I've got some handy tips to keep watching your favorite ABC network and local affiliate programs:

  1. For those without ABC-affiliates KOMO-TV (SEA) or KATU-TV (PDX), many local newscasts (incl. the Portland talk show "AM Northwest" on which I am a frequent guest talking technology) are available at the stations' respective website.

  2. Rabbit ear antennas will provide a temporary workaround for those who can receive an over-the-air signal in their area. This solution may not work without a converter box after Feb. 17 (I'd guess/hope this issue will be resolved prior to the DTV conversion date), but could get you by for now.

  3. Comcast customers and DirecTV subscribers are not affected. (I'm NOT advocating a switch, but some upset DISH Network customers are considering the move -- and it is, in fact, an option.)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Sprint Launches First 3G / 4G WiMAX Device: Coming To Portland Soon?

You’ve heard it before: Wireless broadband will blanket Portland like the City's recent snow.

While nobody expects a new network set to roll into Portland “early 2009” to bring arctic temperatures, if early indications in Baltimore are any indication, what is to come is wireless Internet access that rivals most home broadband connections.

A welcome relief to those disappointed by failed attempts by MetroFi to cover the city with wireless hotspots.

Today Sprint announced specifics of an anticipated new dual-mode broadband access card – available next week – bridging the gap between existing 3G wireless data networks and a new Sprint 4G network . The faster network has been available since September in Baltimore and, if deductive reasoning prevails, comes to Portland in the coming months.

The new card, in the form of a small USB modem, is the Sprint 3G/4G USB Modem U300, and is similar in form factor to devices now available for 3G networks (only). The device will be $149 after rebate and – to add 4G speeds – an additional $20 on top of current wireless broadband (3G) service plans.

Mac users should note: unlike existing modems on the Sprint 3G network, the U300 does not yet work with OS X. I’m told support for Mac portables is coming sometime next year.

Program Note: I’ll be receiving a 3G/4G modem soon and will test it out either in Baltimore or (certainly) Portland when the service is launched. Check back for a review of the device and my take on the new Sprint 4G network. I’ve been quite pleased with my Sprint 3G service, so hopefully the 4G is even more mobile broadband goodness!

Sprint Press Release:
Sprint Extends 4G leadership with nation’s first

3G/4G dual-mode mobile broadband service

The ultimate wireless broadband device delivers both 3G and 4G,

revolutionizing mobile broadband and giving customers the best of both worlds

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. – Dec. 17, 2008 – Sprint (NYSE: S) is about to make wireless history again by bringing the mobile broadband future to its customers now. The 4G leader announced it will make the first 3G/4G dual-mode device, which operates on both Sprint 3G and 4G networks, available in retail stores Dec. 21.

The Sprint 3G/4G USB Modem U300 delivers the power of the Now Network™, the nation’s largest and most dependable mobile broadband 3G network*, while also harnessing the turbocharged speeds of WiMAX on the new Sprint 4G network. Sprint launched 4G in Baltimore in September and plans to launch in other markets across the country throughout 2009. This versatile device will enable customers to experience blazing fast Internet access, greater productivity and enhanced multimedia quality throughout 4G markets, and offer access to the dependable Sprint 3G network virtually everywhere else. The 3G/4G USB modem represents another major development in truly un-tethered broadband access.

“Sprint intends to be the leader in 4G and bring the wireless Internet to life,” said Dan Hesse, Sprint CEO. “This first-of-its-kind device allows our customers to take the Internet with them essentially wherever they go by gaining enhanced speed and capability in 4G markets and the nationwide coverage of our 3G network across the rest of the country.”

Sprint 4G represents a shift in the way people will use mobile broadband. Businesses, consumers and governments will be able to extend their Internet experience beyond home or office use. For the business customer, a typical user experience might be the ability to participate in a video conference from anywhere within the coverage area in a Sprint 4G city while sharing and retrieving large data files in just seconds. For consumers, it might be the ability to download a song in several seconds or a movie in significantly less than an hour while in the park or moving through the city, three to five times faster than 3G networks. The Sprint 3G/4G USB modem will access mobile multimedia applications at average downlink speeds of 2-4 Mbps within Baltimore Sprint 4G service areas. Where Sprint 4G service has yet to launch, the dual-mode device will operate on the Nationwide Sprint Mobile Broadband 3G Network at average downlink speeds of 600 Kbps – 1.4 Mbps.

The Sprint 3G/4G USB Modem U300, manufactured by Franklin Wireless, is a sleek, easy-to-use data card which connects to a standard USB port. The device is priced at $149.99 with a two-year subscriber agreement, after a $50 mail-in-rebate. Beginning Dec. 21, customers can purchase the USB data card via the Sprint direct business sales force, at most Baltimore-area Sprint stores and at select Baltimore-area retailers. Starting in January, the device will also be available in Baltimore-area Best Buy stores. With the Sprint 3G/4G USB Modem, customers living in and traveling to Baltimore will be able to work even faster while on-the-go. For $79.99 - just a $20 premium on a standard mobile broadband connection plan - customers will have simple-to-use access to the best possible mobile broadband connection: 3G or 4G. The Sprint Connection Manager recognizes and connects to the fastest connection available. For more information, visit

“The availability of this first dual-mode mobile broadband device further demonstrates Sprint’s leadership in 3G and 4G services,” said Todd Rowley, vice president of Sprint 4G. “Our future device portfolio of single-mode 4G devices, embedded 4G laptops and dual- mode 3G/4G devices will continue to demonstrate our commitment to WiMAX.”

Sprint is the first and only national wireless carrier to offer customers its 4G network and 3G network on one device. As 4G service continues to roll out in other cities, Sprint customers with dual-mode devices will be ready to take advantage of its super-fast speeds and will ultimately experience new forms of interactive communications, high- speed mobile Internet browsing, social-networking tools, local and location-centric products and services and city-wide broadband access to multimedia services including music, video, mobile TV and on-demand products.

About Sprint Nextel

Sprint Nextel offers a comprehensive range of wireless and wireline communications services bringing the freedom of mobility to consumers, businesses and government users. Sprint Nextel is widely recognized for developing, engineering and deploying innovative technologies, including two wireless networks serving nearly 51 million customers at the end of the third quarter 2008; industry-leading mobile data services; instant national and international push-to-talk capabilities; and a global Tier 1 Internet backbone. For more information, visit

About Franklin Wireless

Franklin Wireless Corp. (OTC BB:FKWL.OB - News) designs and markets wireless broadband high speed data communication products such as 3rd generation ("3G") and 4th generation ("4G") wireless broadband modules and modems to end users and wireless companies in North and South American countries. It markets its products through original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and distributors, as well as directly to operators and end users in North and South America. The company was founded in 1982 and is headquartered in San Diego, California. For more information about Franklin Wireless, please visit

For more information about the Sprint 3G/4G USB Modem U300, visit

* Largest based on square miles (including roaming). Dependable based on independent, third-party drive tests on 3G data connection success, session reliability, and signal strength for the 50 most populous markets from March through September 2008.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Wacky Winter Weather Gadgets

Feeling a bit unprepared for this year's round of winter weather? I thought I'd bring you a special round-up of wacky winter weather gadgets, perfect for preparing for inclimate weather.

We'll kick things off with an umbrella that clearly was *not* created in a region where diehard residents would rather get soaked than be seen walking down the waterfront with a handheld canopy. The Ambient Umbrella glows blue when rain or snow is in the local forecast. No setup or cables required: the golf-sized umbrella picks up weather information from an wireless broadcast. Pick one up for just over a hundred bucks at or learn more at

How do you keep your beer cold when the power goes out? Try a USB-powered Bevearage Chiller from CoolIT. Of course, you'll need to plug this into a laptop with a charged battery, but hey... it's the price to pay for a cold brew, right?

Not so much wacky as practical, but a great weather gadget nonetheless, the Olympus 1050SW is a waterproof-camera with tap-controls. As I demonstrated on KATU-TV's AM Northwest, the camera is perfect for capturing photos of ice-covered landscapes and snow-covered trees. Want to review a photo? Tap the screen. Changing flash settings? Tap on the side. And don't worry about dropping it in a puddle... the camera is waterproof up to 10 foot. [Side note: dropping the camera in a glass of water is a fun party trick!]

Their website reads: "Etre Touchy gloves are a stylish, fun and practical way to keep your hands warm while using your touchscreen phone, portable games system, media player and other electronic gadgets." Ya, so they look silly - but there's a useful aspect to the Touchy gloves. Have you tried to operate your iPhone with knit hand-warmers installed? Of course, I'm still not sure why strategic application of a pair of scissors wouldn't accomplish the same objective.

What winter weather gadgets would you put in the "wacky" category? Add them to the comments and we'll have an update for you soon! In the meantime, stay warm, safe and Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Surviving Layoffs: How-To Guide

The economy has claimed countless jobs and the tech sector is certainly not immune. With a recession on our hands, companies are slashing workforce and tightening their belts. Local employers are also trimming their payrolls.

First, the (grim) news:

The news locally isn't much better:

For those recently unemployed -- my condolences... I've been there. After your week of decompression and relaxation, I'd like to offer some tips for finding that next job (even if you're not subject to a layoff):

A) Network. A tough economy and record-setting jobless rate is no time for being an introvert. Meet as many people as you can and get your name out there. (Why wait for the pink slip? Start networking NOW!) Join a group, attend a meeting, get to know your neighbours (physical or virtual). These are great times for tools such as Twitter (follow me!), social networking sites such as LinkedIn (add me!), Facebook (ditto), and countless professional social networking communities.
B) Attend local events. Important enough to warrant it's own bullet, but extremely related to the above tip -- get out there and meet your local community at area events, many free. Portland is fortunate to have many great meet-ups (I'm a huge fan of Beer & Blog linked to the right) and even more fortunate to have them aggregated in one spot thanks to Calagator: Portland's Tech Calendar.
C) Refresh your skills. Portland is a great place to learn., a Northwest startup in Seattle, Portland, SF Bay Area (and soon more), is one of my favorites: You can literally learn *anything* on this uber-directory-of-all-classes. While the site has lots of yoga and karate instructors, there are also valuable career-oriented classes available.

If you've got more advice, or resources, for jobless listeners... pass them along, I'll post them here.

And if you're hiring, like local techie OpenSourcery (as posted on Silicon Florist), let's spread that news as well...

To hear this story, as broadcast on Newsradio 750 KXL on 11 Dec 2008, click here (MP3)

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Portable Phone Price-checkers: Pricing Power to the People

You know the drill... you're browsing the aisles of your favorite big-box store looking for bargains, holiday gifts, or that impulse item you can't imagine life without. But are you getting the best deal? What if there's a better price at the store next door or online outpost?

New tools for your mobile phone make price-checking as simple as taking a photo -- and they're available for smartphones now.

Launched earlier this week, the Mobile iPhone app (free from the iTunes App Store) helps shoppers identify anything they can take a photo of, and it's backed by a team of human reviewers. Here's out it works: Load the app, select the "Amazon Remembers" function and take a photo -- of anything. Whether it's a product you're researching at the store or that gizmo at a friend's house, your photo will be identified by a team of Amazon helpers and added to your Amazon shopping list. Compare prices and look up Amazon pricing in the easy-to-use iPhone (and iPod Touch) application.

If you're familiar with the popular music-finder application, Shazam -- think of this new iPhone gem as a sort of "Shazamazon".

Taking it to the next-level, users of the T-Mobile G1 sporting the snazzy new Google operating system "Android" can use their phones as a barcode reader. Snap a photo of a product's UPC barcode and the mobile software looks up area pricing, and where you might find the item at a local retailer. The software only works, for now, on the Android platform, and, as I understand, technical limitations (the 'fixed focus' camera to blame) prevent porting this application to the iPhone -- for now.

Now for those that don't have an iPhone or G1, there are still plenty of ways to look up pricing online. Many online retailers (including have mobile-friendly versions of their website for any phone with a browser.

For lower-tech phones, give Google SMS service (text "help" to 466453) a try... text "product" followed by a description or UPC number to the Google short code and you'll get pricing information from online retailers. (The results aren't nearly as pretty or accurate as the smartphone apps above, but with some practice you can get basic information.)

Finally, you could always do what my own mother does: Call someone in front of a computer to confirm the must-have bargain you're considering.

Want to listen to this story? Hear report originally aired on KOMO 1000 News Radio 4 December 2008. Click here (MP3) to listen now.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Cyber Monday: 'Site Maintenence' Day?!

An unfortunate reality that in a 24x7 world of web, occasionally sites simply must go offline for maintenance tasks such as upgrades, security patches, and migrating data centers. While often this can be avoided (redundant systems, etc.), frequently the lost revenue shadows the cost of mitigating such downtime.

Any system administrator (err, anyone with a couple minutes of logic) will tell you the best windows for shunting a site is when traffic is at a site's lowest (for example, after midnight on a weekend). While grumbling about life-disrupting hours, rollouts, launches, upgrades and critical maintenance almost always has engineers working the swing shift.

Which then begs the question: Why on EARTH would be "temporarily closed for scheduled site improvements" on today, of all days. This, according to a message greeting potential customers at the online retailer, is in an effort to, "bring you a better shopping experience".

My guess? The downtime wasn't scheduled at all. At least, I'd hope not... surely not on "Cyber Monday".

09:45 Update: According to a quick search of, the Banana Republic website (along with sister sites and has been offline for about an hour. Patrick Byers over at The Responsible Marketing Blog asks the question on all of our minds regarding the clearly erroneous splash page: "It’ll only take a few minutes, so why not just tell the truth?"

10:00 Update: Just hit refresh and it appears the Gap, Inc. sites are back online. Any guesses on the cost of this outage? Will the Cyber Monday offers be extended an extra hour to compensate?