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.

Sites
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.

Arrival
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.

Jeep
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.

Models
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.

Technology
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.

Get Paid With Square

By now, many are at least casually familiar with Square, the startup company whose credit card reader and user-friendly software enable any small business or individual in the United States to accept credit card payments anytime and anywhere on their iPhone, iPad and Android phones.  While Square is currently making great strides, processing a reported $4 Million in credit card payments per day in June, founder Jack Dorsey is no stranger to innovation.  He also created Twitter.  And he gets around, having recently sat down with President Obama for the first Twitter Town Hall.  Square Inc. recently secured $100 million in Series C financing led by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, based on a valuation of more than $1 billion.  It’s high time that we take a closer look at Square from a technical standpoint here.

What is Square?
Square’s most visible product is their square-shaped credit card reader attachment that plugs into the headphone jack of an iPhone, iPad or Android phone.  The Square readers are free via the web, and can be purchased for $9.95 at an Apple Store.  Naturally, Square provides accompanying software for those mobile platforms as well.  Finally, in collaboration with Chase, Square provides the credit card transaction processing and payment.  Square’s simplicity extends through their card reader and software all the way to their service fees.  Square charges merchants 2.75% of every swiped Visa, MasterCard, American Express or Discover transaction.  (Manual entry is allowed for situations where a card can’t be swiped, however service fees for those entries will cost 3.5% + 15¢ per transaction.)  At 2.75% of every swiped transaction, many established merchants discover that they’re money ahead with Square versus a competitor who may have a monthly fee and a flat fee per transaction on top of their own percentage fee.

[Image courtesy of Square.]

What Square is Not
Having shown the Square device to several people in the past week, the most frequent initial misconception is that the reader is for individuals to swipe their own credit card when making online purchases from a retailer such as Amazon.com.  While it would be nice to not have to key in your credit card number on a web site, saving a few seconds by swiping wouldn’t necessarily be groundbreaking.  Again, the reader, software and service are for individuals and small businesses to accept credit card payments from their customers.

Initial Setup
As I’m the type who prefers to set up an account first via a real computer rather than on my iPhone, I began with a visit to https://squareup.com.  You can also download the Square app to your mobile device and sign up from there.  At the time of this writing, visitors to squareup.com are prompted with the opportunity to set up a new account for free from the home page.

  1. I began by providing my e-mail address and a desired password, before moving on to provide my name, current address, social security number and other personal details to verify my identity.  Square provides the same level of scrutiny as a typical online credit application, asking multiple-choice trivia questions from your credit history to validate your identity.  It’s unlikely that you could establish an account using a fabricated identity or steal that of a real person.
  2. Next, Square alerted me that they would be sending a free credit card reader.
  3. I was then presented with an option to send a text link to my iPhone to download the Square app.
  4. Though optional, I linked my personal checking account to my Square account to receive payments.
  5. I provided a PO box address as my ‘receipt address’ that any customers would see.  If you are a freelancer selling items or services while on the go, you may wish to specify a PO box as your receipt address so as to avoid providing strangers the location of your personal residence.
  6. Before signing out of the web site, I added the snnyc blog icon as my logo.
  7. Finally, I used the text link on my iPhone to install the software.  I promptly signed in to my account to confirm that it was working.  Afterward, I was left to wait patiently until my free reader device arrived.

Using The Reader (AKA, The Fun Part)
My Square reader arrived in my mailbox four business days later, having been shipped from California to the East Coast.  There was no mistaking from the outside what I’d find folded neatly within the 5 by 8 inch envelope.  Opening Square’s package delivers a decent presentation experience – especially considering the free pricetag – with the device encapsulated in the center of a foam block wrapped by paper wings providing additional information.  Square even throws in a window sticker with the Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Discover logos, similar to what you’ve seen in every merchant’s window that accepts credit cards.

After pulling my Square reader out of the package, I plugged it into the headphone jack of my color-coordinated white iPhone 4 and and fired up the software.  The following is my first sample transaction.

  1. I specified the amount of my sample transaction at $25.  I typed in a description for the product as ‘Square Evaluation.’  And then I swiped an American Express Gift Card to continue.
  2. The prior screen faded to gray and ‘Authorizing’ appeared for less than 30 seconds.
  3. Next, I was prompted to sign for my transaction using my finger.  While I anticipated that this might be impractical, my signature came came out about as well as it does on many in-store credit card terminals.
  4. After signing, I was prompted with the opportunity to receive a receipt via SMS or e-mail.  (The e-mailed receipts look better.)
  5. Finally, I was presented with a ‘thank you’ screen.

After a transaction has been completed, the Square merchant receives an e-mail indicating the transaction amount and the total balance in the merchant’s Square account.  On the earlier sample transaction, I received $24.31 based on a transaction of $25.00.  Merchants can later review their recent transactions from the Square app or the web site at any time.


Transfer to Bank
Because I’d earlier linked my Square account to my Citibank checking account, my first two trial transactions were transferred to my account around two business days following my scans.  Going forward, Square transactions are deposited to my checking account on the following day.  It takes my bank another day or two to credit the deposits to my account.

Not The Only Game in Town
VeriFone, a well-known provider of electronic payment solutions, announced PAYware Mobile for iPhone in February, 2010, around the same time as Square.  For a cost breakdown between Square and VeriFone, see the FeeFighters interactive calculator.  As you’ll see from that tool, VeriFone offers a more complex series of fees that may be cheaper or more expensive than Square depending on the size and volume of your transactions.  Generally speaking, small transactions cost less with Square while very large transactions cost less with VeriFone.  Intuit has since jumped into the game as well with GoPayment, undercutting Square’s pricing model by 0.05% percent at the time of this writing.

Fraud Concerns?
As there’s more than one method of fraud, different audiences will likely have different concerns about it.  One part-time merchant to whom I demonstrated Square immediately asked about the potential for chargebacks.  She feared the idea of selling her merchandise to a stranger and accepting credit card payment, only to later have the payment reversed after the person was long gone with the merchandise.  This is a legitimate concern, as merchants may be charged back for any fraudulent Square transactions, just as they would from other credit card payment systems.  Some businesses factor in this risk as part of the cost of doing business, while others try to reduce the risk by other means such as asking for a photo ID.

Fraud concerns go both ways, with potential customers worrying that a merchant could rip them off as well.  Somehow we put this fear aside every time we hand our credit card to a waiter at a restaurant, but we’re far more conscious of it in other circumstances.  VeriFone has been on something of a kick trying to call attention to a perceived security problem with Square, namely that data is not encrypted between the Square reader itself and the phone that it is plugged into.  (Data is encrypted between the Square application and the Internet-based processing servers.)  From VeriFone’s perspective, the unencrypted link between Square’s reader and a phone could allow a malicious merchant to write a counterfeit Square application that surreptitiously steals the data of customers whose cards are swiped.  VeriFone fails to mention that many credit card swipes built into PC keyboards and point-of-sale terminals similarly don’t encrypt data between the card swipe and the computer itself, and are subject to the same hypothetical scenario and others.  As a security-minded consumer and professional, it would be easier for me to give VeriFone’s view more credence if their focus on and rebuttal of Square didn’t strike me as particularly self-serving.

Spur New Business?
One recurring theme that I heard when showing off the Square to my salaried peers was, “Now we need to think of a sideline business where we can make use of this.”  There’s something about Square’s dramatic simplification of credit card payment processing that really strikes a chord when witnessed firsthand.  When it’s this easy, we all want to be merchants.

The Bottom Line
The ease and low cost of deploying Square are second to none.  You can get started today with no financial investment and only a few minutes of your time.  You’ll pay a consistent 2.75% of every swiped transaction going forward.  The terms are fair.  The ease of use, combined with the ultimate mobility, may spur you on to business ideas that you haven’t considered yet.  Taken as a whole, Square offers a compelling proposition.  Whether you ultimately go with Square or a similar competitor, this type of service may well be the future of payment processing for as long as we still use plastic cards.

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Which iPhone?

A friend sent me the following question a couple weeks ago: “We’re on the verge of jumping from dumb phones … to the iPhone.  I know there’s plenty of marketing hype and consumer comparison sites out there talking about the pros/cons of various phone platforms. … Should I wait for the iPhone 4 to come down in price? Should I go with the easy $50 opportunity to get a iPhone 3GS?”

As is the case in most areas where we have choices, the answer of course is, “It depends.”  This is especially true in the world of cell phones, where we have a lot of choices and they’re continually evolving.

Smart vs. Phone
While it’s easy to focus on the ‘smart’ portion of a smartphone – the applications – I tend to focus first on the original purpose: making phone calls.  Making reliable phone calls requires two things: decent cellular coverage and a well-functioning handset.  Of course cellular coverage varies widely based on your proximity to the nearest antenna, topography, and physical barriers such as dense walls.  It’s also been my experience that two different handsets in the same location on the same network can deliver noticeably different results.  So, we have to choose the network that’s best for our location and needs, as well as a reliable handset that uses the network effectively.

The Network(s)
Here in the United States, there is a long list of cellular carriers, however there are really only four that could be considered nation-wide networks: AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint and T-Mobile.  Most of the rest are mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) running on top of one of the aforementioned networks.  Depending on where you are or where you plan to travel, even some of the big four may be unavailable.

Where I grew up in Indiana, T-Mobile is non-existent.  I saw my brother-in-law make a call on Sprint’s network while outside once, though he’d never get a connection indoors.  AT&T can work OK indoors, but is somewhat handset-specific, with older 2G (EDGE) phones working better than newer 3G ones.  And Verizon Wireless can be crystal clear indoors and out, depending on the device.  Your locale may or may not similarly limit your choice of cellular networks to just one or two.

Can you hear me now?
You may have heard that as a blanket rule, Verizon Wireless has the superior network in the United States.  It’s used by General Motors for their OnStar services, for example.  However, Verizon isn’t always better, nor are they better with every handset.  I have an interior office at work in southwest Connecticut, where my company-issued Verizon BlackBerry is unreliable to the point that I’d rather never use it.  Conversely, I’ve used a Nokia N8 on AT&T for up to 20 minutes on a single call from my office without issue.  At the risk of thoroughly confusing the situation, I’ve also seen a person struggle to maintain calls from my office on an iPhone 3 on AT&T while my boss recently switched to an iPhone 4 on Verizon that worked fine in one test call that I made a couple of weeks ago.  It can start to feel like you have to discover a magic combination of network and cell phone that work together in your setting.  It always helps to solicit feedback from nearby peers as to what they’re currently using and whether or not they’re satisfied with it.

Abroad
There’s one other important distinction between cellular providers.  AT&T and T-Mobile use GSM technology similar to, though at slightly different frequencies, as most other countries throughout the world.  AT&T likes to say that you can “Stay connected while traveling to more than 220 countries and on more than 140 cruise ships, and access email and the Internet in more than 195 countries.”  Verizon Wireless and Sprint use CDMA technology, effectively limiting your use to the North America and a much smaller set of other countries.  While both Verizon and Sprint offer some dual-mode phones that will roam on GSM when outside of a CDMA country, the current iPhone 4 offered by Verizon is not one of them.  If European travel is in your future, an iPhone on AT&T will work on your trip while the phone from Verizon becomes a paperweight.  This may not be the case with future editions.

[Less than 24 hours after posting this, I’m reading a rumor that the iPhone 4S may support both CDMA and GSM networks in a single device.]

Enhancing Your Local Signal
If you’re interested in using a cellular network that generally has good coverage but happens to have poor coverage inside your home, three of the big four carriers now offer reasonably-priced femtocells.  Think of a femtocell as your own personal cellular repeater in your living room, that leverages your broadband Internet connection to backhaul phone calls to your carrier’s network.  These devices are marketed under various names such as the AT&T 3G MicroCell, the Verizon Wireless Network Extender and the Sprint AIRAVE.  I just deployed an AT&T 3G MicroCell at home over the Memorial Day weekend, and one of my IT peers is looking into the Verizon Wireless Network Extender for several of our offices.

Another Reception Technique
We all likely heard of ‘antennagate’ in the wake of Apple’s iPhone 4 release.  This referred to a phenomenon where the iPhone’s signal strength would fall off – sometimes dramatically – when the phone was held in the hand in a particular way.  Apple’s response was to reprogram the algorithm behind the signal strength display and to hand out free ‘bumpers’ to encase the phone’s metal antenna band in an insulating layer.  Steve Jobs also noted, correctly, that the iPhone isn’t the only phone that loses signal strength when held in the hand.

Plantronics Discovery 925 Bluetooth EarpieceI typically fire up a Plantronics Discovery 925 bluetooth earpiece when I’m making calls from a fringe reception area.  This allows me to leave my phone lying down, sometimes near a window, while walking around carrying on a conversation.  My phone’s limited reception in that particular area isn’t further degraded by my holding it.

iPhone 3GS vs 4
Transitioning into an iPhone discussion, the original question asked whether a $49 iPhone 3GS with 8 GB of flash memory was worth considering as an alternative to the $199 iPhone 4 with 16 GB.  We should note that the iPhone 3GS is offered only by AT&T, so that will have to be your network of choice if you are to make this selection.  Rather than limit our thinking to the initial cost of acquiring the phone, let’s consider the total 2-year cost between the two.  A hypothetical 2-year contract from AT&T featuring 450 rollover minutes, 2 GB of data per month and unlimited text messaging is going to cost $89.99 /month plus taxes and fees.  Adding together the cost of the initial phone, a one-time activation fee of $36.00, and two years of service, that iPhone 3GS will cost you $2,244.76  (plus tax) while the iPhone 4 will cost $2394.76.  That’s a distinction of 6.2 % over the life of the contract.  For my money, I’d pay the extra 6.2% for the latest phone with twice as much flash memory.

iPhone 4, AT&T, Verizon, White, Black
As noted previously, the iPhone 4 is of course available via AT&T or Verizon Wireless.  If you’ve already made a decision about which network is right for you, then you’ve still got a few remaining choices.  Do you want 16 GB of flash memory, or 32 GB for an extra $100.  (That’s only another 4% over the life of our earlier hypothetical 2-year contract.)  Do you want a black phone or the recently-release white version, which will put you in a relatively exclusive club for at least the next few weeks?

Android Alternative?
So far we’ve conveniently ignored the largest-selling smartphone platform of all – Google’s Android OS – which accounted for 36% of all smartphone sales in Q1 2011 according to Gartner.  By contrast, Apple’s iOS platform accounted for 16.8% of smartphone sales in Q1, behind 2nd-place Nokia.  As someone who regularly uses Linux at home, one might expect that I’d lean toward Android, which uses a Linux kernel.  On the contrary, I feel like Android is fairly fragmented at this time, with no consistent operating system updates or security patches from one handset and carrier to the next.  On the other hand, users who prefer the maximum flexibility may be well advised to look at Android.

One Opinion
White iPhone 4When I began answering my friends question, I stated, “It depends.”  It’s probably fitting to end with what I’d choose, were I making the choice today.  In relative civilization here in the East, I’d probably start by picking AT&T for the simple fact that all of their higher-end phones will roam globally.  While I’m far from affluent when compared to some in Connecticut, I’m also single.  A plane ticket for one from, say, New York to London, could conceivably be well within my means at some point during the life of the phone contract.  It doesn’t hurt to dream, nor to keep my passport current.

Next, I’d go with the iPhone 4 for it’s broad ecosystem of apps on a consistent, well supported platform.  I’d go with a white one, not because my vehicle and furniture are all white, but due to a particular idiosyncrasy within my personality.  When a large enough crowd runs in one direction, I sometimes want to run the other.  While strictly a cosmetic difference, going white is about the only way to be different with an iPhone at the moment.  [Photo courtesy of Apple.]

Finally, I’d go with the 16 GB model versus the 32, as I still want to use my phone as a phone and not run the battery down while watching feature-length movies.

[Update: On June 14th I put my money where my mouth is and purchased this exact phone.  So far, so good.]

Now It’s Your Turn
Given the many options and personal motivations behind selecting a phone, I’d expect each of us to reach a slightly different conclusion.  Thankfully we’ve got some compelling options to choose from.

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.