2014 New York International Auto Show

  • Audi A3 TDI sedan
    Audi A3 TDI sedan
  • Chevy Silverado 1500 High Country 4x4
    Chevy Silverado 1500 High Country 4x4
  • All-new Chevy Colorado
    All-new Chevy Colorado
  • Acura TLX
    Acura TLX
  • Ford Mustang 50th Anniversary Edition
    Ford Mustang 50th Anniversary Edition
  • Maserati GranTurismo
    Maserati GranTurismo
  • Lexus LS 460 F Sport
    Lexus LS 460 F Sport
  • New Fiat-inspired Jeep Renegade
    New Fiat-inspired Jeep Renegade
  • Porsche Macan
    Porsche Macan
  • Jaguar C-X17
    Jaguar C-X17
  • Cadillac ATS Coupe
    Cadillac ATS Coupe
  • Lexus RC 350
    Lexus RC 350
  • Bentley Motors display
    Bentley Motors display
  • Stars of Transformers 4: Age of Extinction
    Stars of Transformers 4: Age of Extinction
  • Jeep Cherokee descending 18-ft, 35 degree decline.
    Jeep Cherokee descending 18-ft, 35 degree decline.

Life seems to be getting ever busier lately, to the point that Saturday and Sunday have largely become makeup days for whatever work didn’t happen during the week.  But ever so often, it’s good to take a break from the routine and do something fun.  So this weekend I made my annual pilgrimage to the New York International Auto Show at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center on Manhattan’s far west side.  This is my experience.

Getting There
My trip to the New York International Auto Show always begins in perhaps the most ironic way possible.  I leave my apartment in southern Connecticut on foot, walking to the train station.  Once on the train platform, I swipe my credit card at a kiosk in exchange for a $29.50 off-peak, round-trip ticket to Grand Central Terminal.  The train usually arrives almost precisely on schedule, not hampered by weather in April.  Once at Grand Central, I walk out the doors toward Vanderbilt Avenue and grab a cab over to the Javits Center, typically arriving just as the doors open to the public.

On Site
While you can purchase tickets via the web in advance, I’ve never seen a long line for purchasing them upon arrival.  There was literally no line at a credit card kiosk, where I purchased one adult ticket for $15.00.  From there, I walked through security, consisting of a fairly painless process, after which I presented my ticket for admittance.  Once inside, I try to get a quick feel for the place, knowing that I’ll be back around to take a second look at everything eventually.

Favorite Car(s)
So let’s cut to the chase.  Every year I pick one or more vehicles that I wouldn’t mind having; typically something new to the scene.  This year I’m picking two, based on environment or purpose of use.  I’m not suggesting that I could necessarily afford either of these vehicles, but they aren’t priced out in the stratosphere like some of the more exotic cars there.  So here goes.

Favorite Red State Vehicle
If I were currently living in what some would describe as the Land of the Free – interior US states with a lower population density, excluding Illinois – I’d love to drive the 2014 Chevy Silverado 1500 High Country 4×4, exhibited on the Javits floor in White Diamond Tricoat paint.  The perforated brown saddle leather interior of this crew cab is remarkably comfortable, and doesn’t try too hard like some pickups adorned in a Western motif.  Thankfully the Silverado High Country on display didn’t include the optional sunroof, which I took issue with on other vehicles sharing the same chassis.  (We’ll talk about that later.)  The only thing standing between this 2014 Chevy Silverado High Country and perfection is the fact that Chevy doesn’t offer it in the purer Summit White paint available on their other trucks.  That, and the window sticker of $53,860.00, which puts in the same neighborhood as the aggressively capable Ford Raptor.

Favorite Blue State Vehicle
These days I live so close to the East Coast that the water next to my building goes in and out with the tide.  I park in one parking garage at home, and another at work.  And in this setting, I’ve become a fan of just-big-enough small sedans.  As long as there are seating positions where my 6’ 5” self and an occasional front-seat passenger are comfortable, I don’t otherwise care how small the overall car is or whether there’s enough room in back for anything larger than a laptop bag.  So, when Audi announced that an A3 sedan was coming to America, they got my attention.  And it turns out they brought the perfect one to the show.

The Audi A3 TDI sedan in Glacier White Metallic with Titanium Gray interior and 18” 10-spoke wheels really is an extraordinarily attractive small sedan, inside and out.  The car’s new enough that I’m not finding the turbodiesel version on audiusa.com just yet.  It’s safe to assume that the A3 TDI will use a variant of the same engine that powers diesel versions of the Volkswagen Golf, Jetta, and Passat.  After playing with the driver’s seat adjustment, I found a seating position in the A3 sedan where I could see myself remaining comfortable for extended periods of time.  The interior of Audi’s A3 sedan is tasteful and relatively clutter-free.

Audi’s A3 sedan seems well-positioned to compete with the similarly-sized Mercedes CLA250, Lexus IS 250 and Acura ILX, with gas mileage from the diesel variant likely to edge out all but the hybrid version of the Acura ILX, and then perhaps only in city driving.  There was no price tag on the A3 TDI sedan at the auto show, but of all the cars there, this is really the one that I’d most like to integrate with my current lifestyle down the road.

Other New Stuff
Of course the New York International Auto Show is an opportunity to see the first public examples of several new cars every year.  This year, for instance, Acura introduced their new TLX sedan, which replaces both their outgoing TSX and TL sedans, thereby filling the gap between Acura’s baby ILX and large RLX.  Combining the old TSX and TL into one car is a bit of a challenge, as the two covered a fair amount of ground in both sizing and pricing.  It’s my understanding that the new TLX maintains roughly the wheelbase and interior dimensions of the larger of the two cars it replaces, while giving up four inches of overhang to compromise on exterior dimensions.  Acura includes the engine options of both former cars: a 2.4 liter inline-four and a 3.5 liter V6, mated to new 8 and 9-speed transmissions respectively.  While show attendees couldn’t sit in the TLX this year, it seems well-positioned to serve as Acura’s mid-sized sedan for several years to come.

The Soliloquy slideshow at the top of this article also includes the Ford Mustang 50th Anniversary Edition, the new Porsche Macan and Jaguar C-X17 SUVs, the Lexus RC 350 and Cadillac ATS coupes and the Fiat-inspired Jeep Renegade.  Unfortunately, in the case of the Renegade, the only thing they appear to be rebelling against is Jeep’s legacy of off-road prowess.

GM’s Large SUVs
This year we get to see GM’s refreshed SUV lineup that shares the same platform as last year’s all-new Silverado and Sierra pickups.  Every sample of the Chevy Tahoe and Suburban, GMC Yukon and Yukon XL and Cadillac Escalade there were well equipped, and it showed.  A black Chevy Suburban LTZ on display stickered north of $70,000.  With a pricetag like that, these vehicles may well be the exclusive domain of doctors, lawyers and well-paid executives, and not the Midwestern families that historically drove them.  I also have a major bone to pick with GM on the basic design.  Every large SUV there was equipped with a sunroof that opens below the roofline, subtracting space from the interior headroom of the vehicle.  In each case, I found myself having to make significant adjustment to the drivers seat to avoid hitting my head on the artificially low roof.  One might feel like they should be able to hop into a Tahoe or Escalade without having to lower the seat significantly from the default position.  Needless to say, I’d advise full-grown men to steer clear of the $995 power sunroof option.  Given the significant expense of these vehicles, and the fact that a brand new Yukon burst into flames while on a test drive in Anaheim recently, it may be wise to avoid these vehicles altogether.  At least for this year.

Let’s Talk Tech
Not long ago, it felt like many vendors at the New York Auto Show were trying to use technology for technology’s sake in their displays.  In 2012, every car had to have an iPad-powered display sign in front in order to pass muster.  These days, the sales professionals still tote iPads, of course.  And some of the vendors still have electronic, interactive displays out in front of their cars.  But just as many are comfortable with traditional static signage that conveys the appropriate information.  And while social media was certainly still mentioned, it didn’t feel central to any major displays, such as Audi’s 2013 use of a giant Tagboard.  If only automakers understood this lesson inside the cars.

The Mercedes S-Class isn’t the only new vehicle with a mostly or fully-digital dash, containing digital representations of traditional analog gauges.  While digitally depicted gauges can sometimes look OK when driving, as soon as you shut off the car, they look like nothing at all.  Just as I’d rather have a mechanical automatic watch than some digital smartwatch with fake hands, I’d rather have a traditional speedometer and tachometer on my auto dashboard.  And I’m going to be particularly unhappy if digital gauges move down-market and get implemented with noticeably less attention to detail, a la, the Cadillac ELR.  If this makes me an old fogey in my late 30s, I’m OK with it.

While my day started out at a relatively crisp 39 degrees Fahrenheit, by mid afternoon New York was at 66 degrees under a mostly sunny sky.  As I left the Javits Center, I again hailed a cab on 11th Avenue for the ride back to Grand Central.  My taxi was a yellow Toyota Camry with all the windows fully down, offering a steady dose of what passes for fresh air in Midtown.  Ironically, considering I’d spent the day at the auto show, my afternoon taxi driver reminded me why I’d never actually want to own a car in New York.  He used every scrap of pavement not currently occupied, disregarding lane markers and stop lights in order to get one or two cars ahead of where he might have otherwise been.  He was driving binary: full gas, followed by full brakes.  At one point, a non-descript black Ford Taurus tried to pull out in traffic.  My taxi driver denied it as he raced past, at which point the Taurus flashed on red and blue lights.  But it came to nothing, and I arrived at Grand Central in literally the fastest time possible.  The subsequent train ride east had none of the same excitement.

Final Thoughts
The New York International Auto Show is always a fun way to spend a day.  One doesn’t have to love everything about the current state of the auto industry in order to find plenty to see and learn.  With so much there, everyone’s experience is sure to be different.  I was fortunate to take a break from the routine and make the visit.  This year’s show runs through Sunday, April 27th.  Tickets are $15 for adults, and $5 for children under 12.  For more information, visit autoshowny.com.

2013 NYIAS in Review

Easter Sunday may have been a day of quiet reverence or respectful celebration for many millions of people.  With perhaps a tinge of guilt, I spent the day at an altar of an altogether different sort.  The 2013 New York International Auto Show opened to the public last weekend at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center.  It runs through today.  Like many here in the Northeast, I made the trip to Midtown Manhattan on Sunday to see all that the auto industry has to offer.

Personal Favorites
Every year I pick a favorite car.  Last year it was the all-new 2013 Ford Fusion that looks like a family sedan designed by Jaguar or Aston Martin.  The year before it was the 2012 Range Rover Evoque Coupe.  This year it’s a little more complicated.  No one car sold me instantly or wholeheartedly.  There was no love at first sight.  So I’ll share my thoughts on a few, and then include a slideshow near the end.

Favorite Interior
My favorite vehicle interior is that of the all-new, full-sized Range Rover in Autobiography trim level with the Rear Executive Class seating option.  Now I typically try to avoid paying too much attention to vehicles costing in the neighborhood of $130,995.  I’m fairly sure that I’d never buy one even if I could.  But I’m also a sucker for a fixed, rear-seat center console, the likes of which only occasionally appear in the most expensive sedans on earth.  I don’t know why a fixed rear console appeals to me, but it does.  Big time.  And this Range Rover has one.  I love it despite the fact that it limits rear seating rear capacity to two, and further reduces curb-side egress to only one of the rear-seat passengers.  Obviously I’m not going to find myself chauffeured around in one of these Range Rovers any time soon, and I’m almost certainly better off for it.

Favorite Relatively Affordable Vehicle
I went to New York expecting to dislike the 2014 Jeep Cherokee.  When I first saw spy photos of it months ago, I wrongly assumed that it was replacing the current, very attractive Jeep Grand Cherokee.  And I wasn’t thrilled with what I was seeing.  I wasn’t very happy with Jeep’s official photos either when they became available, though I was assured that it looked better in person.  And thankfully, it does.

It turns out that the new Cherokee is a just-big-enough, just-capable-enough, all-terrain SUV, provided that you opt for the Trailhawk configuration, 271 horsepower 3.2L V6 engine and Trailer Tow Group.  Otherwise it’s just a Grocery Getter.  The abundance of black plastic on the 2014 Cherokee in all trim levels leaves me thinking that black paint is the only appropriate color choice at this time.  I’d expect body-color trim to arrive at some point in the future, making the Cherokee more attractive in other colors.  Somehow I could see myself driving one of these in the snowy but densely-packed Northeast.

Favorite Technology Item
Audi builds great looking cars, though I worry that their long-term upkeep may bankrupt anyone not comfortably ensconced in the Top One Percent™.  They also brought my favorite thing to New York that was not a car.  Audi teamed up with Tagboard to feed their electronic signage with social media updates throughout the week.  Those who Tweeted or similarly mentioned hashtags #Audi and #NYIAS might see their post on the 30-foot screen in Audi’s booth.  I’d love to see some metrics behind Audi’s social media outreach during the show as a result of their partnership with Tagboard.

The 2014 Silverado / Sierra
I happen to drive one of the best-selling vehicles sold in the United States, the current-generation, full-sized Chevy Silverado pickup.  Think of my choice as a throwback to my rural Indiana childhood.  My Silverado, in 4×4 Z71 trim, is capable, confidence-inspiring, and good looking too.  The new 2014 Silverado and its GMC Sierra stablemate are at least two of those three adjectives, with the looks being somewhat subjective.

To my eye, the all-new 2014 Silverado looks ever so slightly more squared off, masculine and purpose-built.  And that’s great.  For a truck.  But sooner or later, GM will have to release a new Tahoe, Avalanche, Suburban, Yukon and Escalade on this chassis too.  The current Tahoe and siblings look absolutely gorgeous in my opinion.  They look at home anywhere from the construction site to the country club, and at a kids’ soccer field in between.  I fear that a Tahoe or Suburban based on the new Silverado design will only look appropriate in black with S.W.A.T. team members riding the foot rails on both sides.  Now there’s a market for that, just as there’s a market for movies featuring Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson.  It just happens to be a slightly narrower niche than the pool of potential buyers for the current Tahoe, et al.  I hope that GM proves me wrong with a full-size SUV holding broad appeal.

And now for some random pictures taken using an iPad…

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The New York International Auto Show, and similar auto shows in other major cities, are always a little bit overwhelming.  Sensory overload, and all that.  At the same time, it’s a whole lot of fun.  And there’s almost always a technology tie-in too.  For instance, I heard a salesman describing the aforementioned 2014 Silverado as, “like having a Nexus or an iPad on the dash.”  He was speaking figuratively, of course, about GM’s feature-rich touchscreen console with 4G LTE connectivity.

Now my day at the show ends sooner or later, and it’s time to go home.  Which in my case, ironically, doesn’t involve getting behind the wheel at all.  The train took me from Midtown back to my little city in Connecticut, and practically right to my front door.  At least I’d have a reason to drive the next day.

The 2013 New York International Auto Show runs through 7:00 PM this evening at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center.

Meanwhile, I’ll be working on a real tech post for next week.

New York Auto Show

I’m a fan of cars.  A car fanatic, if you will.  Not in the mechanic sense, forever tinkering under the hood.  Instead I’m more the Top Gear-watching, Motor Trend-subscribing kind of car fanatic.  Every year I go to the closest major auto show.  For my twenties and early thirties, that meant a yearly drive to Detroit for the North American International Auto Show.  But now I’m in southwest Connecticut.  And the closest major auto show is the New York International Auto Show at the Jacob Javits Center in Manhattan.  So that’s where I went on Saturday.

Getting There
Unlike some other auto shows, the New York International Auto Show is most easily accessible to those outside the city by train rather than by automobile.  My morning began as I climbed aboard the Metro North New Haven Line at 7:35 AM, bound for Grand Central Terminal.  This early on a Saturday, the train car will fill to no more than one quarter full during the length of the run.  I’ve got the seat to myself as I listen to Adele on the white earbuds from my iPhone 4.  And I look out the window.

Soon I’m rolling through Bridgeport, CT, where I see what appear to be several abandoned factories or warehouses, likely having sat idle for decades now as the US continues to deindustrialize.  And while I’m on my way to a rich city to see a convention center full of the latest shiny automobiles, I worry for a moment that those abandoned buildings in Bridgeport may serve as a metaphor for America.  It’s not all doom and gloom, of course.  The official jobless numbers have continued to come down throughout President Obama’s first term, leaving some of his critics to suggest that he hasn’t turned the economy around fast enough.

And soon I’m moving on, taking the time to dash off an e-mail from my iPhone as I’m reminded in Stamford of an old CIO that I used to work for.  She left Chicago to do a stint in Stamford before heading out west.  Having grown up in the generation before ever-present e-mail, I pause for a moment to reflect on the convenience.  This, despite the fact that I now receive several hundred messages a day that are generally the bane of my existence.  Soon that too is behind me.

I arrive at the Javits Center just in time for the auto show to open.  I pass quickly through security and purchase my $15 ticket from an automated kiosk without waiting in line.  And then I walk on in.  About the first thing I see is a white Lamborghini, followed closely by a $1.7 million Bugatti Veyron Grand Sport in white with a black hood.  This is not to be confused, of course, with the $2.7 million Bugatti Veyron Super Sport.

Lamborghini and Bugatti

White Cars
My friends are well aware that I’m a fan of white cars and that my personal vehicle is white.  This aesthetic preference was born out of science, as I observed that darker paints fade faster in the sun and keep cars hotter inside during the summer.  Also – and I have no data to back this up – it’s been my experience that a well-maintained but non-ostentatious white vehicle seems to be largely invisible to the Highway Patrol.  This auto show proved to be a bonanza for people who share my preference.  Infiniti, in particular, had more than half of their cars on display in white, and frankly I could have gone around snapping photos of white cars all day.

Favorite Car
Every year I pick a personal favorite.  More often than not I pick something that I could conceivably afford as my next car, or imagine myself affording without first imagining a Powerball jackpot win.  This year I identified my favorite car fifteen minutes into the show.  No, it wasn’t the Veyron.  In fact, it was the 2013 Ford Fusion!  My iPhone photos definitely don’t do it justice, so I recommend visiting Ford.

2013 Ford Fusion

The previous Fusion (2006-12) was a largely forgettable car from a styling perspective, that frankly never measured up to the Honda Accord or Toyota Camry as far as I’m concerned.  There was nothing wrong with it, as, say, a weekend rental car, but I couldn’t imagine plunking down years of car payments for the privilege of owning one.  All that has changed with the 2013 Fusion.

The new Fusion is longer, wider and taller than the outgoing model, with styling that is a complete departure from its predecessor.  It feels like a large car standing next to it.  Larger than the original Taurus that I remember from the 80s.  And the styling is – to my eye – fantastic.  (Again, don’t judge it from my iPhone photos.)  I saw one Tweet that described it as a smooshed Maserati (in a good way).  Personally, I feel like it’s not hard to imagine it as a smaller sibling to the current Jaguar XJ.  At any rate, I could easily see myself buying the 2013 Fusion were I not so satisfied with my current 2010-model-year vehicle.

Last Year’s Favorite
This year I finally got to sit in my last year’s favorite, the Range Rover Evoque Coupe (in white).  With my 6′ 4”+ size, I wondered whether I’d fit under the Evoque’s sloping roof line.  The good news is that I fit just fine, especially with the extra headroom provided by the panoramic roof.  The bad news is that I’m unlikely to ever buy a vehicle that starts at $43,995 in today’s dollars and can go way up from there.  Range Rover also brought a concept Evoque Convertible out this year that looks pretty great with the roof down.

Range Rover Evoque

Quick Mentions
Always curious about fit, I find that I can sit in the driver’s seat of the diminutive Fiat 500 with no issues.  In fact, I don’t even need to move the seat quite all the way back.  The manual shifter feels smooth when cycling through the gears while parked.  Of course I’d want to go for the Abarth edition.

Believe it or not, the Kia Optima SXL in snow white pearl with white leather interior was my second-favorite car of the show.  The vehicle looked and felt good inside and out.  At $34,900 as configured, however, I’d have a hard time with the Kia nameplate and the pre-conceived notions that come with it.

The cute little Hyundai Veloster that everyone reports as stylish but woefully underpowered has a turbo variant coming out for 2013.  Good for them.  I hope that the paint job on the display model doesn’t make it to production.  It was a silver that seemed to have no clear coat on top, as if it were painted using spray-cans.  Curiously, I saw one other car on display that seemed to suffer from the same malady: a bluish BMW M3.  I hope that this isn’t some dastardly new trend in paint that I’m just seeing for the first time.

Perhaps the coolest part of my day was the Camp Jeep ride-along out in front of the Javits Center.  I was a front-seat passenger in a Jeep Wrangler Unlimited as we traversed thirty-degree sideways inclines, drove over significant obstacles, and climbed and descended a hill that felt as steep as a standard staircase.  If the open-topped Wrangler Unlimited doesn’t sell itself on a sunny day like this, certainly it does after powering up a steep summit and then automatically managing the descent on the way down.  If I ever move to a warm climate, I’m seriously considering one of these.

If you’ve never been to a car show, you’ll no doubt be shocked to learn that sometimes attractive young women are used to promote cars to male buyers. Who’d have thought!? Anyway, I felt that it was only polite that I give these ladies introducing various cars my full attention. In light of the fact that most recent Dodge vehicles look like they’ve been bathed in testosterone, perhaps it’s no surprise that Dodge – and the Chrysler booth next door – had the most consistently attractive female spokesmodels at the show on Saturday. It was almost distracting. Seriously. Good job, Dodge.

Robert with the Dodge Model

Souvenir photo provided by Dodge.

As this is a tech blog, we’ve got to focus on technology at least briefly.  Not surprisingly, many of the static information signs next to individual cars have been replaced by computers or iPads this year.  The electronic displays were pervasive enough that Subaru – who just displayed their cars’ window stickers – felt by comparison as if they were a relic of a bygone era.  iPads and similar tablets were in the hands of many of the car representatives working the show as well.  And, for the first time ever, I actually saw a guy using an iPad to snap photos in place of a regular camera or camera-phone.  Yes, he looked awkward.  At the same time, he probably should have sold ad space on the back of that iPad.

Jaguar on iPad

Not Tired
Now in the past I’ve worn myself out when suddenly spending a day on my feet at one of these conventions, as my usual routine involves spending my days in front of the computer.  But having walked farther than Connecticut is long since mid-March, I found myself not tired at all this time around.  It never occurred to me that routine exercise would make a car show more enjoyable, but apparently it does.

Homeward Bound
I arrived back at Grand Central on foot just in time to catch a jam-packed 4:07 train back toward New Haven.  This time around, every seat was full and a few stragglers were left standing.  I cranked up some Lupe Fiasco on my white earbuds for the ride home, thinking about words I never said.  All in all, it was a pretty enjoyable day of seeing the latest that the auto industry has to offer.

The 2012 New York International Auto Show is open to the public through Sunday, April 15th.

The AT&T 3G MicroCell

Are you struggling with poor cellular phone reception inside your home or small office?  At the same time, do you have reliable broadband Internet service?  Then the answer to your cell phone problems may be as simple as installing a femtocell such as the AT&T 3G MicroCell, the Verizon Wireless Network Extender or the Sprint AIRAVE.  Think of a femtocell as your own personal cellular site based in your living room, that leverages your broadband Internet connection to route your phone calls back to the carrier’s network.  Instead of relying on a cell tower that may be blocks or miles away, you have one literally within arm’s reach.  Having had some extra time over Memorial Day weekend, I purchased and installed an AT&T 3G MicroCell for use in the living room in southwest Connecticut.

[Before we get started, we should note that that the term ‘microcell’ in telecommunications generally refers to a cell with a coverage area of between 200 meters and 2 kilometers.  AT&T’s “3G MicroCell,” on the other hand, has a range of around 40 feet from the device, or about 5000 square feet, typical of a femtocell.  AT&T’s use of the microcell nomenclature has been a source of contention in some on-line discussions.]

Acquiring the Device
AT&T 3G MicroCellAT&T doesn’t sell their 3G MicroCell via the web, so my adventure began by stopping in at a local AT&T Store to pick up the device.  I shelled out a one-time fee of $199.99 for the hardware, and was in and out of the store in about five minutes.  At least that’s how it should have gone.

In my particular case, this first 3G MicroCell turned out to have a defective Ethernet port, so I went through a round of troubleshooting at home that would be familiar to any technical professional but potentially frustrating for everyone else.  I then began this project anew back at the AT&T Store two hours later.  The second trip to the store took a little longer, as a sales professional exhibited what I interpreted as mild skepticism that the first device was truly defective.  It didn’t help that the pentaband 3G phone attached to my AT&T account at that time wasn’t one that AT&T has ever sold, so their computer warned them that it may not be a compatible 3G device.  Even so, this second visit didn’t last more than fifteen minutes.

At Home (The Second Time)
Once at home with a functional MicroCell in hand, setup was uncomplicated to anyone who has ever configured even the basic settings on a home router or wireless access point.

  1. We start by configuring the 3G MicroCell via the web before we ever physically connect or power on the device.  Begin by navigating to http://att.com/3GMicroCell and choose the Activate button.
  2. You’ll have to identify whether you’re adding the 3G MicroCell to a personal or business account, at which point you’ll be prompted for your credentials to authenticate to that account.
  3. Next, you’ll have to provide the physical address where the device will reside, so that emergency personnel can locate you in the event that you ever call 911.  There’s no conceivable reason lie about your address, as the 3G MicroCell uses GPS to confirm its location.  (More on that in the next section.)  It is perfectly acceptable to register and install a 3G MicroCell at an address other than your current AT&T billing address.  For example, the billing address on my AT&T account is a PO box in Manhattan while I live in southwest Connecticut.
  4. Finally, you’ll want to specify any additional phone numbers beyond your own that you want to allow to use this device, up to ten in total.  After adding all the members of your household, you may wish to add your most frequent iPhone-toting guests to the list.  As the name implies with ‘AT&T’ and ‘3G’ in the description, only 3G phones on the AT&T network can work with the MicroCell.

Connecting the 3G MicroCell to Your Home Network

  1. As mentioned in the prior section, the 3G MicroCell uses GPS to validate it’s location for E911 compliance.  AT&T recommends that you place the MicroCell within 3 feet of a window in order to receive a GPS signal.  I set mine next to the cable modem and WiFi router, which happened to be around 8 feet from a southern wall that is predominantly windows.  It works just fine.  For those who wish to place the 3G MicroCell further away from a window or out of site, you may be able to use a 3rd-party GPS antenna to move the device further into your home while maintaining a GPS signal.
  2. In a perfect world, connecting your 3G MicroCell to your home network may be no more complicated than plugging it in to an available Ethernet port on your home router or wireless access point.  While I haven’t identified where AT&T explicitly states it, their instructions lead one to believe that the MicroCell uses UPnP to automatically open the necessary TCP/IP ports through many consumer-class routers.  For those who prefer to configure their firewall manually, you must open the following TCP/IP ports to this device as listed in the manual: 23/UDP, 443/TCP, 500/UDP and 4500/UDP.  Or there’s a third option…
  3. …If you wish to prioritize your call traffic over any of your other Internet traffic, as I do, AT&T supports connecting the 3G MicroCell between your cable/DSL modem and your home router/firewall/wireless access point.  The MicroCell has an in and an out Ethernet jack specifically for this scenario.  When connected in this manner, your phone call traffic can’t be stepped on by any large downloads or Netflix streaming that you do from time to time.
  4. Once you’ve got your device physically placed and connected to your network, it’s time to plug in the power.  The 3G MicroCell is ready for use only after all 5 lights have lit up green.  AT&T asks you to allow up to 90 minutes the first time around.  It took about 60 for me.  When all five lights are green, you’re ready to make or receive calls.

Using the 3G MicroCell
iPhone 4 connected to AT&T 3G MicroCellAs stated earlier, you can add up to a total of ten AT&T cell phone numbers to your 3G MicroCell during activation, or later on as needed.  Any phone on this list should automatically switch over to your 3G MicroCell shortly after coming within range.  You’ll know that your phone is connected when its screen indicates “AT&T MicroCell” or “AT&T M-Cell.”

Calls that you initiate while connected to the 3G MicroCell are supposed to be handed off to AT&T’s regular network if you leave home mid-call, however the reverse is not the case.  If you come within range of the MicroCell while talking through AT&T’s network, your phone won’t connect to the MicroCell until you terminate the current call.  And I’m not so sure that the call hand-off as you leave the MicroCell’s range actually works either, as I’ll touch on a couple of sections from now.  You may find it necessary to conduct each call in its entirety via the MicroCell if that’s where it was initiated.

Initial Impression
Where calling from the living room was hardly worth it before, calls there have been completely reliable since installing the 3G MicroCell.  That alone may validate the one-time cost of purchase for those who find themselves in a similar scenario.  When in the living room, I no longer have any concern as to my phone working clearly and reliably.

[Update 07/13: In using the MicroCell for over a month, I’ve noticed that it takes longer than usual to connect my first outbound call each time I come within range of the device.  Other than that and the ‘AT&T M-Cell’ denoted on my phone, I wouldn’t know the difference between this and good reception from AT&T’s traditional network.]

Signal Too Strong!?
Now I’m not actually the ideal candidate for the 3G MicroCell, and this is an important matter to consider before buying one.  AT&T recommends not using the MicroCell if you already have “3 bars” or more cellular coverage from their network.  The living room on the south end of my apartment had completely unreliable AT&T coverage, making it perfect for the MicroCell.  My bedroom on the north side of the building has a large window facing the street and a commuter rail line.  Not surprisingly, AT&T’s signal strength was nearly adequate on this edge of the apartment before the MicroCell.  Now I find that my phone is jumping back and forth between AT&T’s regular network and the MicroCell when in my bedroom, resulting in some dropped calls that aren’t really supposed to happen but do.  I’d be better off if AT&T’s terrestrial network coverage was abysmal throughout the apartment, letting the MicroCell’s performance really shine.

Is This for You?

  • You’re a current AT&T postpaid customer?
  • Your home or small office has lousy AT&T coverage inside such that your phone is not really usable?
  • You have reliable broadband Internet connectivity?
  • You can place your MicroCell within a few feet of a window or are willing to buy a 3rd-party GPS antenna?
  • Your family or team has less than 10 AT&T 3G cell phones that you need to cover, and plan to carry on no more than 4 simultaneous conversations?
  • You’re willing to make a 1-time investment of $199.99 to help enhance the AT&T cellular service that many consumers feel they’re already paying for?
  • (For those families who plan to use the MicroCell for heavy call volume, you may consider adding an optional $19.99 / monthly service fee for ‘AT&T Unlimited MicroCell Calling’ to your individual or family plan.)

Signing Off
A one-time investment of $199.99 for the AT&T 3G MicroCell has delivered reliable AT&T cellular coverage throughout the areas of my apartment where AT&T phones previously worked very poorly.  As experiments go, this one is a success.  If you’re struggling with poor indoor performance with your cell phone, perhaps this device or similar offerings from Verizon Wireless and Sprint are worth a look.

Get a 212 Number in 2011

If you’ve ever spent so much as an afternoon walking around Manhattan, then you’re no doubt familiar with the 212 area code.  This area code was originally assigned to all of New York City in 1947 and later confined to the borough of Manhattan prior to the eventual use of overlay area codes.  Every long-established business in the city with a phone number posted out front has one that begins with 212.  While the most logical among us might argue that a number is just a number, many more will allow that 212 carries a level of credibility or cache the way few other area codes can.  Perhaps the 310 on the west side of Los Angeles and the 312 in downtown Chicago come in a close second and third respectively.

Pop Culture
If you’re from somewhere else and grew up during the Seinfeld era as I did, you too may have first become aware of the 212 area code while watching a Season 9 episode titled The Maid.  Kramer signs up to have restaurant menus faxed daily to Elaine’s apartment despite her not having a fax machine, creating an annoyance that forces Elaine to get a new phone number.  Elaine’s new number is part of the overlay area code 646.  Elaine is further frustrated when a guy to whom she hands out her number assumes that she’s from somewhere else, like New Jersey.  She finally resolves the issue by taking the 212 number of a deceased neighbor, Mrs. Krantz, leading to further comedy when the deceased woman’s grandson keeps calling.

Back to Reality
Nearly 13 years after that classic series wrapped, one might assume that it’s next to impossible for all but the largest corporations or the most well-connected individuals to land a new 212 number for business or personal use.  Relax.  If you want a 212 number, they’re still available at the time of this writing, at a reasonable cost, and the process could hardly be simpler.  I purchased mine in January, in part to try out a well-known Internet reseller of 212 numbers.

The Service
David Day’s 212areacode.com offers three tiers of 212 phone numbers for sale – categorized as personal, business and exclusive.  The personal numbers start at $50 at the time of this writing, while numbers that are subjectively more attractive for business start at $75, and finally those numbers deemed exclusive start at $250.  Having arrived at the service with a healthy level of skepticism, I went with a number in the least-expensive, i.e., personal class.

Getting Started
The process was surprisingly easy.  Immediately after navigating to 212areacode.com and purchasing the number, I received an e-mail receipt thanking me for my purchase.  Two days later, I received an assistance sheet describing the phone number porting process and providing additional information.  It was now up to me to port the number to the carrier of my choice.

Porting the Number
As this was still an experiment of sorts, I didn’t want to invest in a new phone until I could confirm that I was able to port the number to my own account successfully.  I pulled an older but still-functional AT&T Wireless Motorola RAZR V3 out of a drawer.  AT&T’s web site indicates that you can’t port a 212 number to a cell phone in the area where I live, well outside the geographic boundary of Manhattan.  Not taking any chances, I established a PO box at a Midtown Manhattan Post Office just prior to walking into a nearby AT&T Store.  At AT&T, they ran a credit check against my geographic address before setting up the account using the PO box, though they had no issues setting up the new service and porting the number.  I was in and out in 15 minutes with a 212 phone number established and working on my own account with AT&T.  Done.  Easy as that.

Other Porting Options
For those technical readers that are so inclined, 212areacode.com indicates that you can also port 212 numbers to Google Voice provided that your account indicates that it supports porting here.  Any other VoIP phone service that offers phone number porting should be able to handle this as well.

Last Word
All in all, it’s nice when a product or service is reasonably priced and works as advertised.  Feel free to call me at 212-7… well, on second thought, why don’t you post a comment using the link below.

Why and How?

I value knowledge more than just about any other commodity.  That’s not to suggest that I posses any great knowledge or insight, only that I’m inclined to pursue knowledge when I’m at my best, and that I’m at my best when pursuing it.  I’m the guy at work who, when he discovers a new bit of technical information that should become common knowledge among the team, feels compelled to write it up and share it.  Perhaps, then, it’s inevitable that I would start this blog.  But enough about me.  For those readers who might feel compelled to follow a similar path, let’s walk through one way among many to get it done.

Unlimited Options
When starting a blog, the range of options, considerations and costs are nearly as boundless as human creativity itself.  You can do it entirely by yourself at no financial cost other than the value of your own time.  At the other extreme, you can outsource the entire effort to a professional who will, if successful, transform the vision in your head into reality.  Some professionals may well exceed your initial vision and introduce you to ideas that you had no idea that you wanted until you saw them.  When putting together snnyc.com, I ran it as a lot of technology projects are run these days.  I brought together the right mix of professionals, products and service providers from diverse locales via the Internet.  With so many options available, where do we begin?

Your Topic
If you’re going to go to the effort of starting a blog, you’re undoubtedly motivated by something.  Are you motivated by your work?  By a hobby?  Is it your family or friends?  Music?  Fashion?  Pop culture?  Writing on a regular basis can be difficult, even to those who naturally enjoy it.  Choose a topic that you can’t help but think about a high percentage of the time anyway.  Writing about it will feel the most like fun and the least like work.  In my case, there was little question that my primary topic would be Information Technology.

Selecting a Name
While selecting a topic for your blog may be as simple as listening to your heart, selecting a name becomes dramatically more complicated as we have to consider the technical realities of publishing on the Internet.  At this point, the non technically savvy reader may need to seek the assistance of an Internet consultant while the technical professional may be bored by much of this section.

Your blog’s Internet domain name must be unique from every site currently in use on the Internet.  While there are some free hosting services that add your blog’s name as a prefix on an established domain name, taking a format such as  http://myblog.wordpress.com, we’re going to focus on finding a unique Internet domain name belonging only to you as I have with http://snnyc.com.

At the time that I began writing this post, there were over 93.7 million active domains registered with the most common extension of .com.  In the prior 24 hours, over 74,000 new .com domains were created and over 61,000 were deleted.  With 93.7 million .com domains registered, you’re not likely to find that your first idea is still available with that extension.  The situation improves if you’re willing to go with a .net domain, but even so, there are 13.8 million .net domains active at this time.  So how does one find a unique name?

If you’re looking for a unique Internet domain name, you could just go straight to a domain registrar such as Scottsdale, AZ, based GoDaddy.com and start punching in your ideas.  They will tell you if the domain name is still available with any particular extension, and may also show you close alternatives to your original idea.  This should be easy enough.  If you find an available domain name that you wish to purchase, I’d urge you do so the moment you discover that it’s available.  Unless you’re on a very tight budget, don’t take a few minutes to think about it.  Definitely don’t sleep on it overnight.  You don’t want to let your idea become one of the 74,000 new .com domain registrations that someone else does today.  A 2-year .com domain registration with GoDaddy.com including private registration recently cost me $38.32.  Once registered, no one but you can use that domain name for the duration of your registration period.  Each time that your domain name comes up for renewal, you’ll have an opportunity to renew the registration and retain control of your name indefinitely.

I took a slightly different route to come up with snnyc.com.  As a matter of personal preference, I wanted a .com domain that was as short as was still available.  Given my current proximity to and personal affinity for New York City, I wanted to try to work the letters ‘nyc’ into the domain name if possible.  Finally, with my primary focus on Information Technology, I needed it to sound “techie.”  So, I  did a Google search for ‘domain name generator,’ where I found NameStation.com, a free service created by New York-based Acceli.  Once there, I entered my parameters and quickly found that snnyc.com was available.  I felt instinctively that I had a winner and I registered it on the spot with GoDaddy.

Technology people seem to see all the letters from the word ‘sync’ in snnyc.com and interpret it as an adaptation on that concept, despite the letters falling out of order.  Though few seem to notice, it subtly pays homage to NYC.  Finally, if you pronounce it phonically as my 4-year-old nephew does, it sounds like ‘cynic,’ which I choose to interpret as ‘cutting through the hype.’  The subsequently designed logo serves to cover both the ideas of ‘sync’ and ‘cutting through the hype,’ while conveniently forming a stylized S at the same time.

[While I was the first to register snnyc.com as a domain name for use in this technical blog, others have used the same combination of letters ‘snnyc’ for other purposes.  Neither the snnyc YouTube channel nor the OkCupid profile are mine.]

Pick a blogging technology
Choosing a blogging technology is akin to choosing a word processor prior to the Internet era.  Just as you might write a traditional letter using Microsoft Word, you need specialized software to create, post to and manage your blog.  I went with WordPress software almost by default, as I wanted to become more familiar with this most well-known platform as part of the exercise.  At the time of this writing, there are over 25 million blogs based on WordPress.  Examples include several New York Times blogs, TechCrunch and Think Progress.  There are over 1,300 themes and 13,000 plugins available to help customize the look of your WordPress blog.  Best of all, WordPress software is free and open source, so there’s no charge to acquire or use it.  Other blogging platforms include Google’s Blogger, TypePad, Movable Type and even Apple’s iWeb.

Pick a hosting provider
After determining which blogging technology you plan to use, you’ll have to determine where your blog will be hosted.  In other words, you’re selecting the Internet servers that your blog content will reside on.  If you don’t know enough about this to care one way or another, it may make sense to get started with one of the free hosting options such as WordPress.com, the hosting arm of the WordPress.org software.

I went with LA-based hosting and virtualization provider Media Temple at a cost of $200 for 1 year of their Grid Service.  While feedback on Media Temple has been somewhat love-it-or-hate-it, a potential concern, they bill themselves as an organization designed to host sites such that they can sustain a sudden rush of traffic.  While I’d prefer to never buy something based on a sales pitch, Media Temple is also one of four hosting providers mentioned on the WordPress.org site, which I took as a tacit endorsement.  The process of signing up for Media Temple and performed a ‘1-click install’ of WordPress 3.1 into my account was a relatively painless, as it should be.  My site has loaded quickly every time that I’ve looked at it since.  So far, so good.

[Update: Media Temple suffered their first service outage affecting the snnyc blog four weeks after this original post.  Details are here.  I noticed no other issues affecting the site through the remainder of 2011.  If anything, the performance has improved.  Nearing the one-year point, I couldn’t be happier with Media Temple.]

Do you need an SSL certificate?
If you’ve ever done online banking or made a purchase from a web store like eBay or Amazon.com, then you’ve used Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) encryption.  This technology protects your web traffic by encrypting it such that anyone who observes your traffic in transit across the Internet can’t read it.  The technology behind SSL includes the use of a certificate at the server that is typically issued by a well-known, trusted certificate authority.

If you plan to post to or administer your blog from public settings such as coffee shops and airports, you may want to protect your login credentials by encrypting them in transit using SSL.  Frankly it’s a smart precaution regardless of where you’ll post from in the future.  For snnyc.com, I purchased a one-year SSL certificate from GoDaddy.com for $49.99.  I then installed that certificate in my hosting account at Media Temple, which was once again an easy process.

Do you need professional artistic services?
Those who have known me for years have seen me illustrate some fairly convincing logos and take some decent photos using professional equipment.  That was awhile ago.  As I got started on this project, I was under a fair amount of unrelated mental stress and wasn’t feeling particularly creative.  I felt from the start that creative services might be a good investment.  You’ll need to make an assessment of your own skills and time available in transforming your creative vision into reality.

The snnyc.com logo is the result of Melbourne & San Francisco-based 99designs and freelance designer ‘seerdon‘ (Charlie Symour M. Caballero) of the Philippines.  I launched a $295 contest at 99designs.com to create the new logo.  Seerdon’s winning entry was one of 86 design variations submitted over 7 days.  At the conclusion of the contest, I paid the fee and received the image in the formats requested along with a document transferring ownership of the work.  Needless to say, I was very satisfied with the outcome.

Next, I wanted a photo of myself for the header image.  Finding a photographer in New York City is as easy as posting an add to the Creative Gigs section of Craigslist.  Be prepared to take your add back down within twenty-four hours, as you may well get a hundred responses in that period of time.  Joe Giraud was the first to respond to me.  It was obvious from Joe’s web site that he has the necessary photography tools, experience and vision to do great work.  I didn’t have to wonder whether he could capture the image that I had asked for.  His quote of $200 for a photo  session and unrestricted use of one edited photo, while not the lowest, was a solid value.

Working with Joe was easy.  He and his Assistant Cat met with me the first time down at the southern tip of Manhattan.  After taking the photos, Joe sent me two edited views later the same day.  Ultimately Joe and I got together for a second session in Midtown to pursue a new slant to the original concept, an idea suggested by a friend who I’ll introduce in the next section.  Our second session yielded the header image that you see today.  Joe was as pleasant, professional and accommodating the second time around.  I paid another $200 for the second session, the outcome of which was clearly worth it.

Do you need web design or WordPress customization services?
Snnyc.com is based on the Twenty Ten theme, the default theme shown when you install WordPress 3.0 or 3.1.  You’d easily find tens of thousands of sites based on this theme alone if you were to look very hard.  Having said that, I may not have arrived at what we see here today without the valued assistance of WordPress Guy, all-around creative genius and respected friend, Brian Watts of Olmstead Township, OH.  In addition to injecting an idea into the photographic process from 500 miles away, Brian patiently translated my various requests into technical reality.  Over a period of two weeks, Brian fielded a series of requests ranging from modifying the style sheets several times to researching and deploying certain gadgets to repeatedly moving around, resizing and adjusting the shading of the logo relative to the header photo.  Brian made good use of his 10.75 hours and charged me a modest $537.50 for his work to this point.  Again, this was money well spent in turning the vision in my head into technical reality or better.

Begin Writing
If you’d been running a calculator while reading this, you’d note that I spent $1520.81 launching this blog to the point that I was ready to write this first post.  Like so many IT projects these days, this effort pulled in contributors and service providers from as diverse a geography as the Philippines, Melbourne, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Scottsdale, Olmsted Township, OH, New York City and Connecticut.  Launching in this manner way was a logical extension of who I am and my place in time.  And Thomas Friedman is right.

In future posts, I hope to bring the minimum narrative necessary and more technical how-to information.  If you have questions or ideas for upcoming posts, leave a reply below.  Thank you for reading today.