September 14, 2009

iPhone StoryKit app - kids write stories on phones

Children writing books on mobile phones? That certainly seems unlikely - so how did we get to the point where actually built an app to support it?

A long time ago, my colleagues and I started building the International Children's Digital Library to make a safe and high quality place where kids could go to read books and learn about cultures from around the world.

Then, last year we decided to try and support children reading on mobile devices - we made an iPhone app to let kids read picture books from the ICDL.

Now we went further and decided to build an app that lets kids write books on their iPhones (or iPod Touches). Search for "storykit" in the appstore or get it from iTunes. You can take pictures, create drawings, record sounds, and yes of course - write actual words. Then automatically post it to a website and share with your friends.

Give it a try - especially with your kids - and let me know how it works.

September 10, 2009

Microsoft disappoints - ignores Live Sync for Snow Leopard

If this weren't so predictable, it would be funny. But I have loved and raved over Microsoft Live Sync since it was bought (as FolderShare) a few years ago. Now for the second time, Apple has released an OS upgrade, and Live Sync stopped working.

I find this completely intolerable. If Microsoft cared about supporting Live Sync, they could have gotten the developer preview of Snow Leopard, and ensured that their product worked when the final version of snow leopard was released. Instead, they decided to stick their heads in the sand, wait until a major platform upgrade that they "support" was released and *then* decide to look. Now, 2 weeks after the product stopped working, they say that they are aware of the problem and have no ETA for when a solution will be available.

I just uninstalled Live Sync from all of my computers and now pay $5/mo for There are other solutions out there as well. I'm happy to pay for syncing - but I need it to work. And I need a company to stand by their products.

Looks like Microsoft just does not get customer satisfaction.

September 3, 2009

Tivo terrible customer service

This post is hard to write. I love Tivo the product. But now I hate Tivo the company. The hard disk died in my Tivo Series 3 DVR. So, I called them and all they could offer was to replace it with a Tivo HD (a lesser box) for $200. So, I'd keep my outdated small hard disk size and get a lousier box for the price that they sell refurbished Tivos for. But they also suggested that I replace the disk on my own with a third party service. Yes, my box was out of warranty, but I just wanted to replace the hard disk - a pretty standard operation.

So, naturally I replaced the hard disk. I could have gone with a "name brand" (Weaknees), but that would have cost about $250 for a 1TB disk (loaded with the Tivo software). Instead I went with eBay and got the same 1TB disk with Tivo software for $150. But the disk had a problem. The seller graciously sent me a new one before I even sent back the old one, and this had a similar problem - so I suspected it was my Tivo. Here's where it gets interesting.

Tivo said:
  1. They never should have suggested I use a 3rd party to update the disk.
  2. They won't give me any help of any kind to get it to work.
  3. Since I opened the box, my non-warranty was invalidated, and they wouldn't even give me a trade-in box.

After speaking to 3 managers and higher level tech support, they maintained they would do nothing, nor give me any help of any kind. So in other words, my hard disk crashed (a pretty common occurrence for a hard-disk based system), and Tivo effectively said "toss your box in the garbage and buy a new one".

As it turns out, I did a "Clear and Delete" everything on the new disk, and it fixed up the flakiness, and I now have a perfectly functioning 1TB Tivo Series 3 - which I still love, but a bit less now that I know how little Tivo is willing to support their customers.


Tech details: The problem I had with both disks was an "error #51", "hardware malfunction". It turns out that this commonly happens when replacing disks because of a mismatch between device and drive ID used for encryption. "Clear and Delete" is the standard procedure to fix this. But for the first disk, it did something bad because the box would never boot again. Thus, I was very reluctant to try it a second time. But when I had no choice, I did - and magically, it worked perfectly. I don't know if there was something wrong with the original disk or if there was a software screwup of some kind.