I’m officially running for Secretary of State in Missouri

I received this email this weekend:

I’m a reporter with KOLR10 News in Springfield, MO…I manage news content for the station’s website, OzarksFirst.com.  Are you the same Justin Harter on the Missouri ballot for Secretary of State?

If so, can you send me a photo we can use in our Voters Guide, and a short biography, please?  Also a few sentences on your political philosophy.  Thanks very much!  –Karen

Sure enough, there really is a candidate running with the same name as me. I secretly want to reply and pretend I’m really running, but are there laws against that?

It’s funny to think about, though.

My review of Ting cell service and using an iPod Touch as a phone (or ditching any phone)

A few weeks ago I heard an ad for Ting.com on the 5by5.tv network. Ting’s parent company is Tucows, the same company behind the nice hover.com domain registration service. That alone led me to check it out.

Ting is a cell network service that promises to be an “honest” provider by charging you just for what you use. You go to Ting.com, setup an account, select a device, and then choose plans for your minutes, texts, and data (in megabytes), and it charges you accordingly based on your actual usage. The plan-picking stage is really more of a guide to help you estimate your bill. So if you select a 200 MB data plan, but only use 100 MB, they credit you back the difference. Or, if you select 100 MB and use 199 MB, they let you go ahead and use an extra 99 MB without penalties or fees, it’s just the same rate you were already paying.

It’s still a small service, with only about 10-20 thousand users, but they’re already profitable, which makes me feel secure in using them. The cellular service is run through Sprint, which had a surprising amount of service to me. More on that later.

First, to give you as much information as possible, I have to explain to you what I’m trying to do and how I use my iPhone 4s because obviously your mileage will vary.

I switched from Verizon to AT&T back when the original iPhone came out and I’ve used AT&T since then. I’ve been mostly satisfied with the service, except when visiting family in my hometown of Salem, where AT&T coverage is spotty, and slow at best. But I live in Indianapolis, just a few minutes outside of Downtown, and I’ve been satisfied. However, it is pricey. I have a Verizon LTE iPad and I’m satisfied with it, too.

An iPhone costs, over the life of a contract around $650. That price is subsidized by the carriers, but you end up paying for it and more over the long run because once you start upgrading at odd times like I did, the water gets muddy. I’ve got a year of my contract left on AT&T at the time of this writing, and the cost to cancel my contract (so AT&T can recover the costs of the phone) is only about $100. Which means the $72 a month I pay eventually just turns into me just giving AT&T money just because they assume I’m too stupid to figure that out.

At $72 a month (which includes taxes and fees), I’m paying $864 a year for cell service and an iPhone. Except, I hate the phone. I don’t like talking to people over the phone because I think it’s a waste of time and ties me to doing just one piddly thing at a time. Calls are just people’s way of saying, “I don’t care about what you’re doing right now, stop and do this now.” As a result of my hatred for the phone, I only spend about an hour a month actively talking.

Since the advent of iMessage, I use, on average, about 50 text messages a month. Those are almost entirely comprised of spam and delivery notifications for my PeaPod.com grocery deliveries. Almost all my friends use iMessage, as do most of my clients, because they’re all good people with good taste.

As for data, I use about 60 MB a month. I work from home, or spend time in places that have WiFi, like Starbucks. My data usage could be lower if I took the time to actually switch WiFi on in places. I usually don’t bother messing with it just to check my email, so it bumps my usage up a bit.

I have a 250 MB per month data allotment, 450 minutes with rollovers, and 1000 text messages (I was grandfathered in on that part). I use hardly any of that. It’s a lot of money to spend on something I don’t use too heavily. Except, I feel like I use my phone a whole lot. And it turns out I do, but mostly for apps and taking photos.

I also commute entirely by bike everywhere I go. So I don’t spend time in a car futzing with my phone like most people do, but shouldn’t. It’s also against the law in Indiana now, anyway. My phone goes in my backpack or bike bag and there it stays until I get to my destination. (I use a dedicated iPod Nano with the clip as my music device on the bike since it’s easy to mess with while pedaling and stays secure.)

So you can see why Ting interests me from a savings standpoint and based on my usage. With Apple’s pending release of new iPod Touches, I wanted to see if I could use an iPod Touch as my only iOS device in conjunction with Ting.

To do that, I purchased a Huawei Express Mobile Hotspot from Ting, which is actually just a Sprint Mobile Hotspot. That would become my connection to the cell network when I needed it. To get voice, I purchased a Skype number and installed the Skype app, and Messages would still allow me to use iMessage. That means voice, data, and text are all squared away. Skype costs me $3 a month, Ting costs me $12 a month ($6 for the device per month, $3 for data at 100 MB (estimated), and I’m estimating high on fees). That’s a savings of $60 a month, or $720 a year. Would you like $720 a year? That’s about the cost of a mortgage payment.

A new iPod Touch goes for $299, and the hotspot device was $110. Both will pay for themselves after a few months given what I was paying. Ting doesn’t support the iPhone currently, only Android devices and some older flip phones, and all at full retail price. But that’s okay, because long-term it makes better financial sense. Someday they hope to offer the iPhone natively. In theory, there’s no reason why it couldn’t work considering it’s Sprint-capable.

I got my hotspot device 5 days after ordering. It came branded as a Sprint device (because it is), and turning it on brought up its activation process. A short while later it downloaded a firmware update. It quickly started to emit a WiFi signal that my iPhone and iPad both hooked into easily once I supplied the password it generated. The password doesn’t seem to change, if at all, once it’s activated, so just turning the device off and on again makes my devices hook back into it when no other WiFi networks are in range.

From what I had read, I was expecting no signal, data transfers at the speed of molasses and a generally horrible experience with Sprint. I was pleasantly surprised.

Sprint does not have 4G service in Indianapolis yet, but it’s slated to start literally any day now (the hotspot is 4G ready). So it’s confined to 3G, but it’s every bit as fast as my AT&T service on my iPhone 4S. Pages loaded, emails sent, everything seemed to work just as I had hoped it would.

As a bonus, it supports up to five devices at once, so next time I can avoid paying more for this Verizon iPad and just get a WiFi only model. (I briefly thought of using the iPad as my hotspot device, but decided I didn’t want to always carry my much pricier iPad with me all over the place.

To test this further, I turned off my cell radio in my iPhone and set it to work only on WiFi (or, in this case, the hotspot’s WiFi). I biked around town testing for connection issues and data speeds and even hopped on a few busses just to go around and test Skype VoIP call quality and data transfers.

Sprint never gave me more than 3 bars (out of 5) at any spot I tried, and it only has 1 bar in my house, but I can’t tell if Sprint’s just good enough to give you data transfers so long as it has a connection of any strength, or if the device is just bad at gauging its reception. It functioned the same whether it had 1 bar or 3. The hotspot did, while Downtown at Ohio and Pennsylvania, switch to 4G, but with no bars. After a few seconds it quickly changed to 3G with 2 bars. I hope to see that 4G more often over the next 4-6 months as they rollout here in Indy.

Voice quality over Skype was every bit as good as AT&T’s, even with the obligatory few moments where it distorted just ever so slightly. I never experienced a drop, or any time where the connection was so bad I couldn’t still understand what the other party was saying. Data transfers never seemed to hang. And this was all the while having the hotspot in my bike bag in buildings, on a bus, or on my bike. If you purchased a Ting plan with voice for an actual phone, it roams for free onto Verizon, so voice would almost always be secure for you. I’m being bleeding edge here trying to go data only, though, which doesn’t roam.

I’ve been using it all weekend and haven’t turned on the cell radio once. I’ve used Maps, Safari, iMessage, Mail, Yelp, Reeder, Facebook, Twitter, sent photos, downloaded PDFs and with no noticeable problems.

On the first day I tried it, I had a friend attempt to connect to it, but it wasn’t working for either of us. That, it seems, was because it hadn’t done a firmware update yet. Once that was complete, it went along fine.

After all weekend using iOS as heavily as I reasonably could I used just 15 MB. Many times I used the cell network when I could have used WiFi, like at Starbucks or even sitting near other places with open WiFi. Downtown it was hard to walk around and not find a public WiFi network. I was purposely loading large images and PDFs just to try and break it. The only issue I found was streaming some YouTube videos, and I’ve read streaming music from iTunes or Rdio is a little sluggish, but I rarely use those things on-the-go anyway. Heck, I rarely use those things on my phone period.

The hotspot device is about as big as a deck of cards, and the weight is comparable to half the cards in the deck. So if you don’t ever carry a messenger bag/purse/briefcase or some other way to carry it outside of a pocket, it’s probably too much of a hassle. I wouldn’t want to carry it and a wallet and phone at once. But I always have my backpack or bike bag with me wherever I go, so it fits my lifestyle. The device has a flimsy plastic back cover that sorta slides on, so I wouldn’t call this rugged.

I did notice that the hotspot does get alarmingly warm after a while, but once I took it out of the tight pouch I had it in, it cooled down and was fine. I chalk that up to my having given it no room to breathe in my bag.

Battery life is rated at 4-5 hours of continuous use, and I take that to mean continuous data transfer use. It powers down after idle activity to save battery life. I charged it Friday morning and used it through Sunday evening and it still had over 50% charge.

Why Ting over AT&T or Verizon? Because AT&T and Verizon both have data-only hotspot devices, but they both charge ridiculous prices. AT&T offers a few weekly plans with about 100mb of data, or you can $50 per month, which is about as much as my current bill. Verizon was no different. The savings just weren’t enough to bother. What’s really irritating is that you realize just how much cheaper they charge tablet devices, iPad or not, compared to their hotspots. It’s like they’re aware someone might figure out ways to ditch their high-priced business model of trading dollars for minutes.

I investigated what it would cost to cut my AT&T service off right now, and it’d be $110, which would pay for itself in about 1.5 months of service with Ting. Add a couple months if you want to count the cost of the Ting hotspot.

I’m continuing to test the service and to see how long I can go without needing the cell radio. I suspect next month once the new iPod Touches are available I’ll switch to that, cancel my AT&T service, and enjoy the savings.

Ting’s service through their mobile hotspot would also be pretty good for people who wanted a backup data device on the cheap for their laptop or tablet. I used it with my MacBook Air briefly and felt it was pretty good. I’d be afraid I’d eat through a lot of data really fast on it, though.

My recommendation? Buy it if you don’t mind toting another small device with you. Avoid it if you don’t have the space to easily carry it or live in a rural area without Sprint coverage.

You can use this link for $25 off your choice of device there, and I’ll get a $25 credit, too.

UPDATE, 12/6: I’m still happily using Ting, and have written about my experience using the iPhone on Ting at my company blog.

I was emphatically wrong about my political beliefs

My first election that I could vote in was the 2008 Presidential election. I voted for Obama. And a bunch of Republicans and Democrats and Libertarians. In fact, in 2008 I voted for just as many Republicans as I did Democrats at all levels of government.

In 2010 I voted for several Democrats, several Republicans, and a few Libertarians. In all, I voted for fewer Democrats than I did Republicans and Libertarians combined. And now I’m starting to think differently about all politicians.

My life circumstances and general lifestyle haven’t changed since 2008. I still live in the same place, I still do the same kind of work, I still get up out of the same bed. The only difference is that I’m a little older and a little wiser, as they say.

When it comes to any problem I face, I always take the easiest and most sensible route. That is, at least, on problems with no clearly defined ending. There’s a difference in solving a website problem “easily and quickly” and “correctly with a little more work”. For problems of national scale with no clear “now this works” solution, I take to that “the simpler, the better”.

But I think that was misguided. The world is a messy place. When I worked at my first job, my boss once passingly said, “The older I get, the more I’ve realized very few things are black and white.” He was about 70 at the time.

When it came to government, it seemed fair and obvious to me that smaller was better, more manageable, and easier to work with. It seemed obvious that the more money I had in my pocket, the more purchasing power I had to do the things I need and want to do. Any efforts to take that money was, in my mind, immoral and wrong. In some ways, I still believe that given the amount of money we spend on defense and the monstrosity that is Homeland Security (which has an awful name, like some sort of Soviet defense mechanism). Don’t get me wrong, I still hate spending money. I probably always will. If I could figure out how to live without any money at all and maintain a comfortable standard of living, I’d totally do it.

Indiana was on the cutting edge of this mentality. Mitch Daniels, who I supported and voted for (and I think still would), was the poster child for this idea that the best government was the government that got out of the way. A lean government that did just the minimum and nothing more for the most essential of services like police and child protection services. Supporting the idea that the market could and would fill in the gaps was a good idea to me, and I’d save money all at the same time. Except, the market clearly has no interest in doing most things that need doing. No one wants a school sponsored by Coca Cola, and no private business is ever going to offer a truly robust transit infrastructure like we have now. The Internet would be a lot different today if it were initially started and maintained by, say, Microsoft.

About a year ago I realized that people don’t want more or less taxation, they want smart taxation. They want to know their money is going to all the best possible places, even if they’ll never use the services they fund or roads they’ll never drive on.

I still believe that, which is why I think debt issues really are important to governments and their people, even if it feels like the debt doesn’t really do much to us specifically. Having debt gobbles up payments of taxes to interest and not to useful things. That’s just not smart. The math doesn’t work.

I say this in part because of what I saw out of the Republican National Convention, Bill Clinton at the Democratic National Convention, and this post by The Midwesterner looking at the hard numbers behind Mitch Daniels’ tenure as Governor.

It’s not entirely fair to blame Mitch Daniels for everything that ever went wrong here in Indiana, obviously, as the national economy tanked hard during his administration and he didn’t exactly have much control over that. But the other residual side effects are clear, that Indiana’s in a race to the bottom, something I casually wondered about years ago. It struck me that if businesses really wanted someplace cheap, they’d just go to Mississippi or Alabama or Arkansas. And look what that’s done for them. We already had cheap, just like the market has cheap phones and cars, and no one likes those, either.

It’s clear to me now that my notion of ridiculously low taxes and only absolutely necessary government services and programs was categorically and emphatically wrong.

It seems more likely to me at this point that America’s problems are caused by a death spiral of employers withholding exorbitant profits from employees in favor of dubious managers and executives who don’t drive that much value in most places, which reduces consumer spending power around and around. (The notion that “everything has to be done for the shareholders” is ridiculous to me, but that’s another post.)

The decline in spending by governments on its people has clearly proven to make people worse-off in their quality of life. It’s obvious that most businesses don’t give two wooden nickels about relocating to someplace cheap or else Illinois would be nothing but six people at a rickety card table now as the entire state fled east to Indiana. Illinois did almost everything completely opposite Indiana and they’ve turned out to still be a better place given their wages and income compared to us. It’s another case where I can say, too, “Indianapolis would be a much better place if it weren’t in all this Indiana.”

Aaron Renn writing from the Urbanophile is right when he says that businesses don’t really care about saving a few thousand here or there on taxes. Or at least, “good businesses” don’t, the ones that can pay a living wage at or above a state’s average income. They care about really smart people and the culture making it work. When Daniels was claiming we needed I-69, he billed it as a job creator, which may be true if your dream job is to work at Cracker Barrel. Maybe we do need I-69, but it’s not so IBM or Apple can relocate to Evansville.

The really good employers will never look at someplace like Indiana because of all the things that no one pays attention tot: fostering a really diverse workforce, ensuring people are welcome to the state (i.e., no amendments or laws barring gays and lesbians), no disdain for great city infrastructure like transit and rail, and not pandering to petty social issues that, ahem, smart people just don’t think about because we know better. At least, “smart” as how Rick Santorum describes it.

Great cities and states come from heavy investment in the things that really improve people’s quality of lives. Enforcing views on marriage, religion, and social issues does the opposite by not improving anyone’s life and actually decreasing the quality of many other’s. Great places worth caring about and being come from making sure people are secure, taken care of, have access to healthcare and have options for how to get around and do their work and educate themselves, as can be seen from countries like Sweden and Denmark. If people really wanted to live the American dream, they’d move to Denmark, where inequality is low and that subsequently translates to more trust and better living.

This doesn’t mean I’m some hippie liberal or staunch conservative. For the Democrats, our stimulus was a grab bag of political favors that also kept some teachers and police officers employed, but was necessary because Republicans spent 8 years spending like drunk sailors with reckless abandon. Both parties suck, but my views on how to treat people have evolved and it’s clear to me now that given the obvious reference points we have of spectacular places to live with growth, economic stability, and social mobility like the Netherlands and even Canada and, here in America along the coasts, the trick to making life better is to make your people better and treat them as assets and not operating costs. You race to the top, not the bottom. The bottom is for commodity markets, and I don’t want to be a commodity.

Yeah! Screw that stupid woman with no limbs!

Seems we’re all devolving back into this line of “Everyone but me is getting rich and I’m getting screwed!” mentality. Whether it’s people claiming the oil companies are gouging us or some welfare queen sucking up all the government welfare she can get her hands on. Personally, I take to the mentality that people ought to work and help themselves as much as they can, but I recognize there are limits to people’s natural or perceived abilities and that a lot of forces are working hard in the other way, either naturally or unnaturally. In which case, if we’re going to “value life”, we have to take care of each other in life. Let me give you an example.

The other day I was running around all over town (you know, working, paying taxes, that sort of thing) and I just happened to be biking on my way home when I saw the bus that runs by my house come around the corner. “Meh, I’ll just take it. It’s there.” So I hopped on.

I got on the bus and sat down on the side and as I pulled my helmet off I noticed a woman in a mobility device (a motorized wheelchair of some kind, they all have different names and features, I have come to learn). She had a bag strung on the back with what looked like a frozen dinner inside from Marsh.

“Hi, how are you?” I asked.

“I’m fine, thanks.” She replied.

She was sitting in her chair and the driver had already strapped her chair into the wheelchair securements present on the bus, thanks to the Americans with Disability Act. All of IndyGo’s busses are equipped with motorized ramps that can extend out to the sidewalk, and the busses can also “kneel” down to the curb to allow these people to get on board, too. IndyGo probably would have that anyway, despite the ADA, but the fact that sidewalks are built with ramps and businesses, like the Marsh she just went into, have to make reasonable accommodations for the disabled is clearly a good thing. How can you argue otherwise?

But let me tell you about this woman (caucasian, if you’re wondering).

She was probably in her 60’s, maybe 70’s. She reminded me a lot of my own grandmother. She had stark white hair. She had no teeth. She was wearing sweat pants and a sweat shirt, probably because she was cold due to her very low body weight. She probably weighed somewhere in the neighborhood of 90 pounds. Probably much less, but I’m bad at guessing weights of things. “How can she weigh so little?” you ask. Well, it’s  because most of her wasn’t there.

Her right arm stopped just before what would have been her elbow. Her left arm stopped at the shoulder. Her left leg stopped at the hip. Her right leg was of full function, but was short — maybe she had part of her shin removed, or maybe she was just that short. That leg was what helped keep her from falling out of the chair.

She wasn’t wearing any shoes, just a thick sock on her right foot, because that’s what she was angling to use to pull the stop cord to signal to the driver she was ready to get off the bus. I noticed her struggling and asked, “Is this your stop?” To which she replied, “Yes”, and I reached up to pull the cord for her. The driver stopped at the next stop, got up, unhooked her chair from the bus mounts, deployed the ramp, and set her on her way…onto Southeastern Avenue. No sidewalks, no shoulder (it’s crumbled over the years into visible cliffs, holes, and chunks). She scooted along, using her right arm limb to control her chair as it bounced down the obviously well-worn and beaten path over to a side street that had no sidewalks at all. She was just in a chair riding down the side of a road.

When I hear Republicans claim that every American has to take responsibility for themselves, for their health, for their transportation, for their lives, I think, “What more do they want this woman to do? Grow new limbs with advancements from stem cells? …oh, right.”

She was old, she was limbless, obviously could not get a job even is she wanted to (what could she do?), and relied entirely on a transit system that’s woefully inadequate to get her around town. She was probably drawing Social Security to pay for her frozen microwave lunch and she probably draws Medicare, Medicaid, or both, to cover her obvious health issues. While she was of what seemed like sound mind, she was not of sound body. But she still had a personality, a character, and the ability to have emotion. She may well live alone, or with someone else. Maybe she had kids to take care of her, or grandkids, but it being the middle of the day and her being out on the bus, I assume she didn’t, or they were at work or school.

I’m not saying the country should be put her up in a 5 bedroom house and give her a chauffeur, but for Pete’s sake stop trying to take away the only stuff that’s probably keeping this woman alive. Talk about a death panel from hell.

Mitt Romney thinks she should just figure stuff out. That she can soar to new heights! And that makes him a douche hat. And if you think the same thing about people, well, that’s a nice hat you’re wearing.