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New Old Phone

Started: 2011-04-20 08:10:18

Submitted: 2011-04-20 09:20:15

Visibility: World-readable

On Saturday, I drove up to Fort Collins to visit my friendly neighborhood academic library, where I returned the two books I checked out on my first visit three weeks earlier and checked out one childhood development book for Kiesa and a book on Tibet for me. While scanning the stacks around DS400 (India and Pakistan), I spotted one book I had on my to-be-read list that I didn't realize CSU's Morgan library had, Amritsar to Lahore: A Journey Across the India-Pakistan Border. I weighed the depth of my reading list (especially after a late-week trip to the Longmont Public Library) and decided I'd check it out and worry about the consequences later.

Armed with my community borrowing card, I logged into one of the general-purpose computers in the library and accessed JSTOR to look up a journal article discussing the US relationship with India and Pakistan (tempered by Nixon's initiatives in China) leading up to the Bangladeshi War of Liberation (Christopher van Hollen: "The Tilt Policy Revisited: Nixon-Kissinger Geopolitics and South Asia", Asian Survey 20.4, April 1980, pp 339-61). I e-mailed myself the PDF for an in-depth reading at home.

From Fort Collins, I drove south to Loveland, then turned west to drive up the Big Thompson River to Estes Park. My friendly neighborhood national park was offering free admission. My objective was to cross-country ski to Fern Lake from the west side of Moraine Park. When I reached the winter trailhead, it was cloudy, threatening to rain, and there was little snow on the ground at 8000 feet. I contemplated my options (principally finding an alternate trail to ski on at a higher elevation around Bear Lake) but decided to strap my skis to my pack and head up the trail to see what happened. (With my boots inside my pack, and my skis strapped to my pack, my sizable Kelty daypack didn't feel quite as over-specced as it had on previous ski trips.) I hiked up the gated road to the summer trailhead, then continued west along the Big Thompson River along the trail toward Fern Lake. It started snowing as I hiked over snow and rock. I didn't have enough snow to ski on until the trail crossed the Big Thompson River and began to climb in earnest toward Fern Lake, around 8500 feet. I swapped my hiking boots for ski boots and began climbing. The trail was fairly steep but my skis gripped the thin layer of newly-fallen wet spring snow.

I covered half of the remaining distance to Fern Lake before I decided to declare victory and turn around. Now that I was working with gravity, my skis took me back down the trail a bit faster than I would have preferred. The trail had been broken by a group on snowshoes, which had carved out a foot-wide track in the crisp spring snow. This was fine for my ascent, but on my descent I needed to snowplow and turn to check my speed, frequently sending me into the snowbank on the uphill side of the trail. Despite the spring snow conditions, I enjoyed my time out in the snow and wilderness.

When I returned to civilization in Estes Park, I tried to tweet a message signaling my return but I couldn't get my phone's keyboard to work. I settled for voicemailing Kiesa instead and continued home. In the evening I noticed my phone's backlight wouldn't turn off and was draining the battery at a prodigious rate. I power-cycled my phone and the phone seemed to boot (based on the audio clues it gave me) but the display was blank and none of the buttons seemed to work. I took out the battery and let the phone sit overnight.

I put my phone back together Sunday morning and saw the same thing. I grabbed my tiny Torx driver and tried to disassemble my phone on the off chance that I could see obvious damage to a ribbon connector or something else I could easily repair. I couldn't get the phone apart and didn't find obvious disassembly instructions in my casual Internet search, so I put my phone back together and began contemplating my options.

We gave up our landline years ago in favor of our cell phones, and I've grown attached to the idea of having a high-powered telecommunication terminal in my pocket at all times (even if the idea of actually talking on my phone ofter terrifies me), so it seemed reasonable that I ought to try to replace my phone with something roughly equivalent. My two-year Sprint contract expired in February, and I've been thinking about upgrading my phone, but I haven't been deeply inspired by any of the phones available on the market. (I probably want an Android phone with a physical keyboard, of which there are roughly four or five currently available on all US carriers. Many of these phones even have my code running inside them.) I wasn't yet ready to sign on the dotted line for any new phone (and the accompanying contract), so I decided to investigate the possibility of repairing or retrofitting my existing phone. I also found my old Nokia candybar featurephone and carried that along just in case my current phone was irreparable in the hopes that I could reactivate the old phone and at least have a functioning phone while I contemplated my options.

Late last week, Kiesa finally canceled her Sprint plan and switched to a prepaid T-Mobile plan on the Nokia E63 I bought last year hoping I could use it in India. She wanted a text-friendly plan and a text-friendly phone (now that I've taken to texting her when I leave work and she's started texting our babysitters) and found a prepaid plan that actually fit her usage much better than her existing plan. The whole process went even more smoothly than I hoped: she walked into the nearest T-Mobile store and asked for a prepaid SIM for her unlocked (world-band) GSM phone and got exactly what she wanted. The most amusing part of the whole adventure was canceling her Sprint plan; when she called she told the retention specialist that she wanted to reduce her monthly bill and the support rep suggested she switch to a more expensive unlimited plan (that did happen to include unlimited texting). She declined and seems happy with her new phone and plan.

We set out for a family outing to Boulder on Sunday afternoon with vague plans for shopping. Calvin fell asleep on the drive, so we went first to Boulder's Sprint store, where I poked at the current crop of phones (many of which run my code, especially the lone Windows Phone 7 phone on the shelf, the HTC Arrive, with its sliding keyboard that tilts toward the screen when deployed) and asked about repairing my current phone. The sales rep I talked to sent me to the Sprint store in Westminster, where they actually have the techs to poke at phones and try to figure out what's wrong with them. Calvin was still asleep (I left him with Kiesa in the car) so we headed down to Westminster. They took my phone, gave me a receipt, and told me to come back in an hour. Calvin had woken up, so we tried to figure out where to shop from Westminster and decided to go to Flatiron Crossing in search of swimsuits for Kiesa. We failed to locate a suitable suit at the various department stores we visited, but successfully killed an hour, so we headed back down US 36 to Westminster. The sales rep I talked to told me I was eligible for a US$35 replacement, which would take two days to actually arrive. I quickly contemplated the merits of spending more money to resurrect my old phone and decided it was a worthy investment to buy me enough time to carefully contemplate what I really want in mobile telecommunications. I took my phone, which wasn't especially functional, but would at least function as a nice paperweight. (I continued to carry my old Nokia candybar so I could make emergency calls.)

We drove back to Boulder and finally found a suitable swimsuit for Kiesa at the women's sportswear store Title Nine, located on Pearl Street east of the mall. (I've known of the store for years and thought its name was especially clever (being a reference to the gender equality provisions in Title IX of the Civil Rights Act) but had never actually visited it, not being in the market for women's sportswear myself.) We ate supper at California Pizza Kitchen at the missing-hyphen mall, where Calvin managed to eat his kid's meal without an undue mess.

I returned to Westminster after work on Tuesday evening to exchange my phone. The support rep I talked to had a bit of trouble getting the new phone to boot after installing my existing battery; he suggested my battery was a bit misshapen and could probably stand to be replaced. He eventually beat it into shape and booted the phone. We watched it boot and configure and activate itself and -- eventually -- it was ready to go. I called Kiesa on my way out of the store (to verify that it really was working, and to let her know that I was victorious and on my way home). At home I began the long process of configuring the phone to my taste and installing my old applications.

I'm still undecided on the long-term plan for my mobile telecommunications. I like having an Internet terminal in my pocket (even as the browser and screen is a bit under-specced for most websites). While shopping with Kiesa on Sunday, my first thought in a moment of boredom was to grab my phone and see what was new in the world. That wasn't an option, so my second thought was to tweet about it... which also wasn't available. Sprint was kind enough to aggregate my last year of usage into a neat table, which I copied into my own spreadsheet so I can properly evaluate plans to figure out how much each of them would really cost. Given how little I actually use my phone for voice I might want to decouple voice from data; I might event want something like a small tablet for data, separate from a cheap voice-only phone. (Tablets are not especially popular among my coworkers; in a meeting yesterday my tech lead asked a dozen engineers if anyone had a tablet and not one raised their hands.) I have plenty of options, but I'm not sure how good any of them are. Now that I have a functioning phone again, I have time to choose carefully.

UNIX doesn't have a monopoly on Good Ideas, it just owns most of them.
- Alan Cox