Traveling With Technology: Internet Access

Times change--and the connected world just gets more expensive!

I am in Texas this week. We will be in San Antonio until Thursday afternoon when we will drive to Austin to spend the weekend with Bob LeVitus and his family. My husband is attending a technology conference and we are staying at the Grand Hyatt San Antonio.

I find it odd that while a stay in a top-level American hotel does not include free WiFi access or a free breakfast buffet, most tier two hotels such as a Marriott Residence Inn, Hilton Garden Suite, etc. include those items in the cost of the room.

Here at the Hyatt, there are two levels of Internet access costing $9.95 or $12.95 per day. A continental breakfast bar cost $11.00 and the full breakfast bar is $18.00.

Even more problematic is the rules for Internet access. Have a computer, an iPad and an iPhone? That counts as three separate devices. Staying with your spouse who has similar equipment? Now you potentially have 6 devices to pay for! Each of these devices has a different MAC address, so they count as separate items.

If you are willing to attach one of the computers to the Ethernet cable, then you can use Internet sharing to set up an ad hoc network, but this is not allowed in the terms of service.

Since I bought the Virgin Mobile MiFi2200, I activated it for the month and I am using it to provide Internet access to our other device when thy are not connected by a different data plan.

I purchased the $60.00, 30 day, 5 GB plan for the MiFi. I suspect I could have gotten by with the $40.00 plan, but I wanted to make sure I have adequate data for any activity we wanted to try.

Because I have not modified our existing contracts, both my husband and I have unlimited data plans on our iPhones. If I would modify our contracts, we could add iPhone tethering which would allow us to use the iPhone to provide WiFi Internet service to one computer at a time. I do not think there is a way to provide WiFi to our iPads from the iPhone, unless we jailbreak them. I do not plan to do that.

While my husband’s iPad is WiFi only, mine is the 3G model. I purchased the data plan before AT&T changed the plans, so for the moment, I have the unlimited data plan.

As you can see, I have several overlapping data plans in place. Therefore, I have turned off the WiFi on my 3G iPad and on my iPhone while I am in range of the MiFi. Since there is a Starbuck’s Coffee with free AT&T WiFi in a nearby mall food court, I used it yesterday morning and went back to upload a large audio file yesterday evening when the upload speeds on the MiFi were too slow to easily upload a 125 MB file.

My Virgin Mobile Broadband2Go MiFi does not require a monthly contract and I can change the plan each time I buy more data. Verizon, Sprint, AT&T and T-Mobile probably offer similar devices (or they will soon). The important part of this device is its lack of a contract. If I plan to be home for a month, I can simply tuck it away until I need to activate it for another trip.

While I had planned to remove the data plan from my iPad 3G, we have found it to be very useful in day-to-day life around town. I often tuck my iPad into my purse when we are away from home. Being able to surf the web anywhere, at any time on the larger screen is a big improvement over the iPhone screen. I also hand it to my husband if he is going to be away from home, waiting for a car repair or something else.

Eventually, I will need to trim our costs and I will need to cut some of the overlapping Internet services. However, for the moment it is very convenient to be able to be online on any device at any time. It’s too bad that money doesn’t grow on trees!

If you need help choosing the best sources of Internet connectivity for you and your family, give us a call at Bob LeVitus Consulting. We can discuss your needs and help you formulate a plan that will give you the best “bang for your buck.” You can reach us by telephone at 408 627-7577. Or send an email to Our service for this costs $60.00 per hour.

-- Pat


FaceTime Data Usage

Transmitting our daughter’s wedding by Apple iPhone 4’s FaceTime was a fun and rewarding experience. However, there is more to the story than just the event.

Since my sister, Sandy, and I used identical Virgin Mobile 2200 MiFi devices and since Virgin Mobile allows you to access your usage history, I called Sandy and asked her to make screenshots of her usage history. I also accessed my data and did the same.

There is a lot more to the story than just the raw data. First, multiple calls were made throughout the day. Although Sandy activated her card in New Mexico, while I activated mine in Virginia, you can see that times are similar, but not exact. I have not been able to determine why there are differences. It is obvious that the MiFis adapt to local time when reporting their data.

While both charts seem to end at approximately the same time, and both contain 8 entries, they don’t really corollate well except for two that I have circled. I suspect that the earlier entries on both devices were instances where the iPhones checked for new data.

I suspect that the highlighted entries are two FaceTime calls between the two iPhones. I had wondered if the amount of data used would be the same. Clearly, they are not. In talking with Monique and Sandy, some calls were initiated with Sandy pressing the FaceTime Chat button while in other cases, Monique pressed the button.

I think the best call to compare is the top one. Unfortunately, we can’t determine which iPhone initiated the FaceTime portion of the call. It is also interesting to note that the Session Start and End Times vary as does the amount of data used.

Here are two more entries to analyze:

Although both calls began at the same time, there is a difference in ending time. One possible answer is the hospital’s WiFi network. It is slow, weak and problematic most of the time, but occasionally, things seem to “click” and it can support decent speeds and signal strength. I suspect it strengthened and took over the wireless duties at some point in the call. There are several other occasions in the data records that seem to indicate that a call transferred between the two wireless networks.

In any case, the amount of data being transmitted during a FaceTime call is in the 1 to 3 MB per minute range. Doing a little research, I found an article on that seems to support this. I suspect the data usage rate has much to do with the amount of movement in the camera’s view, just as happens in video capture with a camera.

My conclusions are that interpreting MiFi usage charts is not a simple task. Also, I will not hesitate to make FaceTime chat calls to family and friends. They are economical in their data usage and a wonderful way to share events.



A FaceTime Wedding

Our daughter, Courtney and Andy were engaged last summer. The wedding was set for late July 2010. We have a large family and Courtney wanted to include her brother and sisters, nieces and nephews in the wedding party.

Our daughter, Monique, is the mother of three young sons. She was to be a bridesmaid and her sons were to be the ring bearers. During the year, Monique announced that we would have a new grandchild this fall. The pregnancy has been a difficult one and she was hospitalized in June until our new grandson is born. Not only would Monique not be able to participate in the wedding, she would also miss seeing her sister and her sons in it.

Being the techie that I am, I bought the new iPhone 4 on the day it was introduced. My sister, Sandy, also bought an iPhone 4. We could use FaceTime to stream the wedding to Monique!

Unfortunately, while the idea was a good one, there were lots of problems to overcome.

A few days after getting my iPhone 4, I attempted to use FaceTime while at the hospital to place a call to Sandy at her home in Las Vegas NM. Although we could talk by voice, we could not make a FaceTime connection. The hospital network connection was too slow--or perhaps they block streaming, but using the hospital patient network was not an option.

I also knew that neither the church nor the reception hall had an open WI-FI network. While I might have been able to find a way to set up a network at our church, I knew there was no way I would be able to set up a network at the reception site, located at the Washington Navy Yard.

Mi-Fi cards allow you to set up your own Wi-Fi network wherever you go, as long as there is a mobile phone 3G network available. There was one big catch--a contract! If we would sign a one to two year contract, we could get or buy one of these devices for $0 to $200.00. Contracts cost $30 to $60 per month for up to 5 GB of data. Canceling the contract would also be very costly. That was a lot of money to expend to stream the wedding to Monique!

Sandy called. She saw a press release for a new Mi-Fi service from Virgin Mobile. We could buy a VirginMobile Mi-Fi device at any Best Buy for $149.00. Then we could buy data from Virgin Mobile without a contract! Of course, it would require TWO Mi-Fi devices, one for the hospital, and one for the wedding sites.

Sandy had purchased a Wi-Fi iPad. She often wished she had a way to connect it to the Internet using her own Wi-Fi. She decided to by the first Mi-Fi device.

Since I have lots of techie friends, I was certain that I could find a Mi-Fi device to borrow--or perhaps a mobile phone that we could use to set up a Wi-Fi network. While several friends have Mi-Fis, they were paid for by their employers, so using one for a the wedding was not an option.

Although several friends had phones that could be used to set up a Wi-Fi network, no one had actually done it! No one knew exactly what they needed to do! FAIL, FAIL, FAIL!

After a bit more thought, I decided that this was too important an event for Monique to miss. I bought the second MiFi and we quickly tested it out.

FaceTime over the Mi-Fi devices was not perfect, but it was more than acceptable. Now, Monique could “be” at the wedding and at the reception! She would see everyone get ready, see the preparations at the church, see, the ceremony and the reception. Not only would she see it, she could also visit with family and friends throughout the day and evening.

I delivered my iPhone and the MiFi to the hospital. I did a bit of testing and configuring to make sure the iPhone would default to the MiFi instead of the hospital wireless. Now we were ready for the big day.

We made many FaceTime calls throughout the day. Monique was able to visit with friends and family, add her approval to Courtney’s hairstyle, be a part of the group in the wedding room at church, make a final check of her boys in their suits, watch her sons walk down the aisle, see Courtney and Andy exchange their vows, listen to Fr. DeCelle’s homily, suggest yet another picture to be taken after the ceremony. She visited with friends at the reception, saw the table decorations she had helped to make, watched her sons be introduced, listened to her dad’s toast, and watch her sons dance and dance.

While Monique was not able to be physically present, she was able to be a part of our wonderful day. FaceTime and the iPhone 4 allowed it to happen, along with family and friends who took a few minutes to be a part of the stream.

Courtney and Andy provided the fitting end to the day. When they left the reception, they headed to the hospital so that Monique could see them in their wedding attire.



Solving iPad, iPhone, iPod and problems

People are often surprised when their iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad develops a problem. We get quite a few calls for help in fixing these issues.

The first thing I ask is when the person last restarted the device. Just like any other computer, problems are often solved by simply restarting the it.

To restart your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch, press the Power button for several seconds. Wait for it to turn off completely and then press the Power button for several seconds to turn it back on. Notice that I said “a few seconds.” It takes more than a quick push. On my iPhone 4, it takes 3 seconds, counted one elephant, two elephants, three elephants.

That solves many problems. Try a quick restart if your device is acting up.

Some problems are a bit bigger. They require a new copy of the iPhone software (the operating system) to resolve the problem. That is called a Restore. Connect your iPhone to your computer. Select the iPhone in the rightmost column of the iTunes application window. Then select the Summary tab in the main window.

You will see the Restore button in the middle portion of the main window. Clicking the button may bring up this dialog box:

In general, I usually let iTunes complete this backup. It can take a minute or two.

Once the backup is completed, you will see this box:

This is the one to think about. In order to restore the iPhone, iTunes must erase EVERYTHING that is on the device. Putting things back in place can take a bit, possibly several hours. This is NOT the procedure to perform when you need to be at a meeting, with your phone, in 10 minutes! It is not such a bad job if you can let it take place when you won’t be needing your iPhone for a while. I tend to restore iPhones and iPads at bedtime!

Let’s focus on the small print:

At the end of the restore, you will have two options. The first is to use the backup file that iTunes made to restore everything to your iPhone. Although it can take a while, it is pretty painless. HOWEVER, if the problem is not the iPhone software itself, but a problem in one of your data or settings file, restoring the iPhone from a backup will NOT solve your problem!

I have had several instances when erasing the iPhone or iPad and restoring it from the backup did not fix the issue. It was only solved when I set up the device as if it were brand new.

If you want to try restoring from the backup, click that button and sit back.

If you decide to do the complete replacement, you will loose all your preferences, game scores, and data. While this can be disconcerting. Many games such as WeRule, WeFarm and MyTown store your data on their server. You device only stores the login and password. Other games such as Solitaire City store all of your data on your device, so setting up again will mean that your high scores disappear.

In the case of things Evernote or DropBox, your data is stored on their server, so you will need to log in to retrieve it. If you are using applications such as Bento, be sure to sync your device with your computer before you do a restore.

If you have decided to leave your old data behind, then click “Set up as a new” iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch.

Sometimes if seems as though iTunes takes off on a run! To prevent that, scroll down in the main iPhone window until you see this area:

Click the box to manually manage music and video, then go to each of the tabs across the top of the iPhone window and make your selections.

Use the Apply button at the lower left corner of the iPhone window to begin the process of moving things back to your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch.

If you are having a problem with your device and you want Apple to replace it, they will ask you if you have done a software restore and if you have set it up as a new device. If that does not solve the issue and if it is truly a problem, Apple will generally replace the unit if it is in the initial warranty period or if you have purchased AppleCare.

If these directions still seem intimidating, we can give you a hand. This kind of help qualifies as a tutorial. While our rate for troubleshooting at Dr. Mac Consulting is $120.00 per hour, tutoring costs $60.00 per hour. We specialize in hand-holding and we explain exactly what is happening as we work. Most important, we are extremely patient! Give us a call at 408 627-7577 or send us a message at



Magic Trackpad troubles

I have had a love-hate relationship with the mouse since the day I first used the PowerBook 100. It was my first Mac--and one that I won from Apple Computer. Before that, I had an Apple IIc and an Apple IIgs. Although I loved the mouse on the Apple IIgs, I was bothered by having to remove a hand from the keyboard every time I used the mouse.

The trackball on the PowerBook 100 was just so much more efficient! I moved to desktop Macs until I bought the first white iBook. I tried lots of different trackballs with my desktop Macs, but it was not the trackball, but its placement that made me a real fan of the PowerBook 100. I have used an Apple laptop computer as my primary computer since the white iBook. I have always had a desktop computer too, but I found that I do most of my work on the laptops. I think the placement of the mousing device below the keyboard is the reason why I favor laptops.

The buzz about an Apple Trackpad for desktop computers this summer really caught my interest. I have used the Mighty Mouse, the Mighty Mouse with the track ball, and purchased the Magic Mouse soon after it was released. But, I still missed my Trackpad!

When the Magic Trackpad was announced last week, I made a quick trip to the Apple Store. The greeter had no idea what I was talking about when I arrived at the store and asked where to find it. Another employee had read the press release, but said the store would not be receiving their shipments for a few days.

I went back to the Apple Store to pick up the Magic Trackpad on Thursday, came home, installed the necessary updates to my iMac and I was ready to begin a new computing adventure.

It was not a good day. That new Magic Trackpad had a mind of its own--and it certainly was NOT magical! I hated it! How could a similar device on my MacBook Pro be so great while this contraption was a real dud?

When things aren’t working the way you expect, go find the Preferences window. In this case, the preferences for the Trackpad are located in System Preferences.

A look at the Trackpad System Preferences showed me the problem. While the iMac preferences looked like this:

The preferences for my MacBook Pro looked like this:

I had disabled all the One Finger actions on my MacBook Pro. It turns out that I do not like Tap to Click! As soon as I had the Magic Trackpad configured to match the settings on my laptop, I was a happy camper!

I had calls from two of our clients at Bob LeVitus Consulting over the weekend. Both had bought Magic Trackpads and both had shoved them back into the box, ready for a return to the Apple Store.

Whenever things aren’t working as you expect them to, check the preferences.

I like the Magic Trackpad better than a mouse, and even better than the Apple Magic Mouse--but still not as much as I like the keyboard and trackpad combination on my MacBook Pro. I wonder if I could persuade Steve Jobs to make an integrated keyboard and trackpad that mimic a laptop. That would probably be perfect!

However, for now I have the Magic Trackpad aligned with the end of my wireless keyboard and I have the Magic Mouse sitting above my keyboard, at the ready, in case I have a sudden urge to grab a mouse!



Time Flies

The past few months have been a blur of travel, house guests, wedding preparations and grandchildren!

Now that summer is winding down and most of our big events have passed, I hope to get back to blogging on a more regular basis.

I have had the opportunity to talk to a number of my regular readers and I am continually asked why I do not post more photos of events. When I started MacMousecalls, there was no Twitter. We connected with others on the Internet in far less personal ways. Perhaps it is time to expand the scope of my posts on MacMousecalls and to add topics that are only tangentially tech-related.

Since I have not been blogging on a regular basis, there is a lot to catch up on, so please excuse me if topics are not necessarily in chronological order!

I’ll be back soon with a real post about a real topic!