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The Sweet Sixteen tech birthday
Old 09-15-2008, 09:37 PM   #1
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The Sweet Sixteen tech birthday

I'm seeking connectivity advice for our kid's birthday present.

Those of you parenting teens, or who have seen MTV's "My Sweet Sixteen", understand how a 16th birthday has been blown way out of proportion by marketing & "rite of passage" hype. Our teen may not feel the same sense of entitlement as the rich kids renting out nightclubs, but that won't stop her from testing the limits. A Harry Potter book or DVD ain't gonna cut it this year.

No, there will not be a birthday car. She's been saving a portion of her allowance (a "Kid 401(k)") for literally eight years to be able to buy a beater. On her own initiative, she contributed her savings toward a share in our used Prius that we bought last May. When she leaves for Mainland college we'll buy back her share of the car's resale value. So at least that "gimme" is off the table.

But now tech is rearing its ugly Medusa head. I have a computer-science degree and I'm no Luddite but I tire of being "Super Tech Support Parent". I already maintain the family PC and my own laptop, plus spouse's laptop and a (sadly neglected) Mac Mini. I'm perfectly happy with HawaiianTel's lowest level of DSL service. (RoadRunner has a bad cable connection on our street, I've fought with TimeWarner Cable for over three years about it, and we're not goin' back.) Since I'm retired, I don't even bother with a cell phone. (We old pharts without mobile comms practice an ancient Hawaiian socializing technique known as "planning ahead".) While I'm happy to support a reasonable birthday gift for the 698 days left before she heads to college, I'm not looking for more infrastructure connectivity or maintenance. It needs to be the type of equipment that allows me to shrug and say "I dunno, why don't you read the manual and see if you can fix it. I'll be surfing!"

She has her own GoPhone that she supports at ~$25/month from her part-time job. I used to think it was a luxury status symbol but the fact is that teens network by cell. If you don't have one then you're out of the loop on homework, study groups, project planning, test/quiz questions, and (oh yeah) sex, drugs, and rock&roll a social life. Sure, "back in the day" and "these slackers are going straight to hell in a handbasket", but that's the demographic reality she's dealing with. She saw the problem, she figured out the solution, and she took care of it without whining or begging.

She's been furiously researching various options (while I've been surfing), and she's narrowed her focus to three items: her own DSL connection, a home wireless network, or an iPhone. This weekend she's taking her list to the Apple store for more questions and pricing. (Of course I'm going along because she still has her learner's permit.) I know we'll hear lots of sales talk, but here are my questions for you satisfied (or unhappy!) customers:

I think our least-complicated option would be a hardwired router supporting our desktop PC and our Mac Mini (in separate rooms but within 10 feet of each other). Does HawaiianTel DSL work through a hardwired router or would I need to get a second IP address on our home DSL connection? Does that mandate a second phone line, or extra bandwidth, or some sort of business account? Any unpleasant surprises in the fees?

Next-least-complicated would perhaps be a wireless connection to "her" computer. Anyone happy with Clearwire? Is Clearwire worth the effort to connect to just the Mac Mini? She's perfectly happy to geek out on a Mac but I don't know if Clearwire is platform-dependent or has special Mac problems. I'm not particularly eager to crack the Mac to stick a card in it, either.

Unecessarily complicated (IMHO) would be a home wireless network. If we decide to go the Airport route, how should I connect that to our current HawaiianTel DSL account? Do we need to upgrade the account to have more than one computer online at the same time, or does the Airport handle it all under one IP address? Any bandwidth problems? Would I need to connect our family PC to its own wireless card or could I leave it plugged into a hard-wired DSL connection? Or should we just skip the Aircard and go with a generic wireless router that'll handle a Compaq Presario desktop, a Mac Mini, and a couple of Dell Inspiron laptops?

Skipping past the computer/network questions would be the iPhone. When she goes to a Mainland college I can see that an iPhone is the way to go, so I'm not unhappy about this alternative. There are also persistent Internet rumors that iPhones will accept a GoPhone SIM card. I don't know if she thinks that she can switch SIM cards back & forth between AT&T's full-on 3G network and her GoPhone, nor would I think that she'd want to do that. I don't think she'd be happy with an "iGoPhone" lacking Internet access. However I don't know how much of a monthly fee she's getting herself into with the basic iPhone & contract. Of course she'd be in charge of the first $25/month and any "extras", but there might be other issues.

Anything I'm missing?

Yeah, we're really nice parents. Maybe we're overindulgent. But she works her butt off at school and she has the GPA & SAT scores to prove it. She deserves the privilege & rewards of researching, designing, budgeting, & executing a project that she'll have to take care of. I'm just happy to give her any little encouraging nudge that'll get her flapping those independence wings on the edge of the parental nest...
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Old 09-15-2008, 09:48 PM   #2
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Can only speak to the Airport wireless setup.

Currently running an iMac and an iBook off the same 90$ Airport Express hockey puck sized wireless router. It plugs into an outlet and the DSL router plugs straight into it. Also plugged into the Airport Express is a phono jack to the aux input of our stereo and we can stream music from iTunes direct to the stereo; this includes podcasts, radio, and any music we've got in the library...last party we had non-stop Hawaiian music from Mountain Apple streaming. Last thing plugged into the Airport Express is our printer, and either computer can print wirelessly to the printer from anywhere in the house, the only thing it can't do wireless is scan.

Never a problem with bandwith even at times we've had three computers running off the same DSL line simultaneously. The Airport Express worked flawlessly for three years and packed it in one day, Apple had a new one at our door the next day and took the old one back.

Totally non computer literate, but the whole set up was simple and has been a pretty good way to go from here.
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Old 09-15-2008, 10:09 PM   #3
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I too am completely computer illiterate and we run three computers off of our wireless network. The routers are easy.
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Old 09-15-2008, 10:12 PM   #4
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I can only help you with the iphone. If you get the basic phone plan (450 rollover minutes nationwide, 5000 night and weekend minutes), unlimited data transfer (internet, email) and 200 text messages (the cheapest plan), you are looking at about $82 a month including fees and taxes. The basic iphone 3G costs (8 GB) $199.

Apple has made it difficult to "jail break" the new iphone 3G. Basically you have to sign a 2 year contract with AT&T before the phone can be activated. So, no matter what, you are stuck with the AT&T contract and it makes little sense for most people to jail break the phone in order to use it on another network. Plus I have heard that Apple goes to great lengths to try and disable jail broken iphones through iphone software updates.
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Old 09-15-2008, 10:21 PM   #5
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The technology is easy. The dependency is on what your ISP provides for provisioning in your terms of service. If it says its for one computer only, then there you are. If it says you may use a home router and have more than one computer behind it, then all you need to do is stick a wired or wireless router in between your current dsl modem and your computer(s). A well recommended improvement would be to enable encryption such as WPA or better, which would involve putting in a password/key on the router and the same key on the client machines.

Most DSL and cable setups allow more than one machine. The rock bottom DSL and many wireless options get persnickety about how many computers are on the end of the wire.

I'm thinking the iPhone is the winner and the other options are smoke screens. On the other hand, since she's going off to college pretty soon maybe she could use a new iBook? Hell, you're going to the apple store anyhow and you can afford it.
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Old 09-15-2008, 10:37 PM   #6
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If your computers have 802.11 capability, just set up a local wireless network between them and you can use the modem you already have for everything. It takes about 15 minutes to set up. I'm doing all my internet activity on my laptop, which is talking to my wife's laptop, which has the Verizon aircard in it that's talking to the internet. We're completely wireless except for charging the batteries.
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Old 09-15-2008, 11:11 PM   #7
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If you have a south view of the sky you could go Hughes net Satellite. The modem will connect to a wireless router ( we have a 10 yr old netlink 802 g.) works fine for three on the computer at once. Went to the Pro plus package $79/mo do to getting FAPd by DS downloading too much crap.
YMMV
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Old 10-03-2008, 03:19 PM   #8
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Update.

We got the .11n router, which is so plug'n'play that even a submarine nuclear engineer teenager can set it up.

Check that item off the birthday list. After I played with it for a while test-drove it, I had a hard time putting it back in the box with a "Do Not Open Until Birthday" label. I had no idea that Family Nords was living in such deprived second-millenium depravity-- it feels like the day we upgraded from 28.8 KBPS dialup to broadband. I'll She'll be using my our laptop so much more that we'll have to replace its battery.

On the Christmas list, we're watching iPhone prices. Along with the new competition from Google's G1 phone, Apple has admitted there's a possibility that they might not sell as much stuff this year. That whacked 17% off their share price earlier this week, and by early 2009 I bet they (and their iPhone wireless contractor) are ready to deal. It's hard to see how consumers could lose from this race to the bottom.

FIREdreamer, we're seeing AT&T iPhone contract prices of $60/month (for 24 months) and Oahu just upgraded to a 3G network a few months ago (to please the Japanese visitors). I'd love to hear how users feel about their iPhone's reliability, your current contract, and what App Store applications you'd find particularly useful for a college student.

Meanwhile the Sweet Sixteen birthday countdown continues to degenerate into a gimme grab. When pressed for her party plans, she said "Well, instead of spending all that time & money to plan a party, you could give me $200 cash and drop me & my friends off at Ala Moana Shopping Center for the day. Why, that's a big savings over a $20,000 car!"

As Suze would say, "Dream on, girlfriend." But at least we're not spending it on Barney The Purple Dinosaur decorations at the Ice Palace skating rink. There's probably negotiating room for both sides here.

Like my adolescence, I expected our kid's teen years to be a continuing debate over the precise degree of sex, drugs, and rock&roll. "How much", "where", & "when"-- not "if". I thought I was trained, armed, & ready to tackle the challenges. But just like every other military strategy, I came completely unprepared for a totally different war...
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Old 10-03-2008, 03:49 PM   #9
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Hey Nords, do the Lemon Lot at Hickam and get her a $1k island car.

She'll like it better, can leave it unlocked at Makapuu and not get ripped off, and since it won't go over 35 you don't have to worry the speeding tix.

Every time I read your posts it makes me homesick.
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Old 10-03-2008, 04:06 PM   #10
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Corvette with I Phone connection?
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Old 10-03-2008, 04:19 PM   #11
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Offer her a one way plane ticket anywhere- at any cost and then say she is cut off when she lands.

Seriously, offer her a vacation with a friend maybe. Electronics are obsolete in about 6-12 months, a vacation would provide a memory which lasts a lifetime. Hot air ballon ride or similar novel type event might also work.
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Old 10-03-2008, 05:12 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nords View Post
FIREdreamer, we're seeing AT&T iPhone contract prices of $60/month (for 24 months) and Oahu just upgraded to a 3G network a few months ago (to please the Japanese visitors). I'd love to hear how users feel about their iPhone's reliability, your current contract, and what App Store applications you'd find particularly useful for a college student.
I've been very happy with the reliability of the iPhone. In the months that I've had it, it may have frozen up once or a twice while I was web-surfing. Turned it off and on and everything worked as expected. The battery charges quickly, which is nice. I've noticed that turning on bluetooth seems to seriously shorten the battery life. Since I only use the bluetooth earpiece in the car, I just plug the iPhone into the car charger, and that seems to handle the problem.

The 3G coverage in my area is pretty good, but not perfect. There are some areas close to my home where the phone drops to the Edge network. Edge is almost useless for web surfing, IMO. I imagine that the topography is probably different where you live, with fewer valleys and canyons, so you may not have any problems in this area. Note that it's not a problem inside the house because the iPhone can use your speedy new WiFi network.

My contract is only slightly more expensive than the price you quoted, but be aware that with taxes and other fees, it can be ~$5 per month higher (this is probably true for all carriers). The big gotcha with the 3G iPhone contact, especially for teens, is that they've seperated texting fees into a seperate sub-plan. Unlimited texting will run you another $20 a month! You can get up to 1500 texts (both sent and received texts count toward the total) for $15 per month, or 200 for $5. If you go without a text plan, it's .20 per text. I couldn't justify paying for a text plan when the phone has a perfectly usable e-mail interface, but I know teens love to text all day, every day. Even if your daughter can avoid sending texts, she'll pay if her friends are texting her.

I can't really help on the apps, as I've only loaded a Sudoku game and a movie listings application. I know that there's a Facebook app, and a Recorder app (for taping lectures, etc.) though I don't have any personal experience with either of them.

Good luck! Your child's happiness is dependent on you doing the right thing here.
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Old 10-03-2008, 08:24 PM   #13
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FIREdreamer, we're seeing AT&T iPhone contract prices of $60/month (for 24 months) and Oahu just upgraded to a 3G network a few months ago (to please the Japanese visitors). I'd love to hear how users feel about their iPhone's reliability, your current contract, and what App Store applications you'd find particularly useful for a college student.
My 2-year contract includes 450 rollover minutes + 5000 night and week-end minutes ($40/month), unlimited data transfer (internet, email $30/month), and 200 text messages ($5/month). Add taxes and fees, and it adds up to about $82 per month.

I have very good 3G coverage within my city limits (medium size city with lots of hills) but it can get spotty in smaller cities. In that case the phone reverts automatically to the slower Edge network (the network used by the old iphone). My 3G connection is very fast and download speeds are just slightly slower than my home cable internet connection. But I know that some people are not so thrilled with their 3G connectivity. I am not sure wether this is a problem due to their phone or local 3G network.

iPhone reliability: The original iPhone software (2.0) was very unstable (dropped calls, problems with GPS, applications crashing constantly, etc...) but things have improved dramatically since Apple released the 2.1 version of the software last month. I still experience occasional crashes (safari and third party apps) but it is much, much more stable. Many applications have also been improved and now my iPhone behaves the way I expected it to when I purchased it.

I downloaded many of the App Store applications. There are hundreds, if not thousands of applications available (games, utilities, finances, education, entertainment, social networking etc...) and most are pretty cheap or free. There are some good applications for students. There is the periodic table app (for chemistry majors) detailing the properties of each elements, a protein structure visualization tool (you can download a particular structure from the PDB), many tools useful for medical students, etc... And a few good reference apps, dictionary, wiki, etc...

In conclusion, I am not an Apple maniac. In fact, this is the only Apple product that I own. But I am trilled with it. I think this is a quality product, well worth the money, but of course it could be improved further. This really is an all-in-one product: phone, PDA (contacts and calendar), GPS and maps, camera (not so good unfortunately), photo album, ipod, email, web browser, calculator (including scientific calculator), clock (stopwatch, alarm, timer), stock tracker, weather bug, etc... And you can add plenty of other apps.
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Old 10-03-2008, 09:08 PM   #14
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I thought I was trained, armed, & ready to tackle the challenges. But just like every other military strategy, I came completely unprepared for a totally different war...
You know, Nords, you could write a really interesting parenting book

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Old 10-04-2008, 05:04 AM   #15
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From all you write you have a great young woman at home. Happy birthday to her!
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Old 10-04-2008, 12:26 PM   #16
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Thanks for the iPhone advice, everyone. We've read that it's a great college tool, too, so I don't mind giving her an early start through a parental subsidy from her college fund. I didn't think about the extra fees (or the 4.5% excise tax), but hopefully the Hawaii coverage goes to the Mainland without a new SIM card. Of course I don't know how much 3G coverage she'd get in the South Bend cornfields or the Houston metroplex, but I suspect that college campuses are pretty wired. Not my problem anyway! And I completely overlooked the iPhone's access to a home wireless network.

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Hey Nords, do the Lemon Lot at Hickam and get her a $1k island car.
Heck, if I did that we'd accidentally end up owning one of our five old cars...

Having her own a share of the Prius has piqued her engineering interest and encouraged her to avoid jackrabbit starts, hard braking, and other teen driving problems. Zero "island bomb" maintenance or repair issues, either. That car has exceeded every expectation we've ever had, although admittedly we have low expectations.

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Every time I read your posts it makes me homesick.
HawaiiThreads.com - The Hawaii Forum ... get yourself a good fix of aloha anytime. The visitor business is just starting to crash, too, so in a few months an island vacation will be going for a good discount all the way into 2010.

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Originally Posted by jIMOh View Post
Offer her a one way plane ticket anywhere- at any cost and then say she is cut off when she lands.
Heck, that's going to happen a few months after high-school graduation anyway.

Quote:
Originally Posted by jIMOh View Post
Seriously, offer her a vacation with a friend maybe. Electronics are obsolete in about 6-12 months, a vacation would provide a memory which lasts a lifetime. Hot air ballon ride or similar novel type event might also work.
We've talked about that (shipmates in Italy) but she's more interested in hanging out at home or with friends. So next spring when spouse travels to a conference, I might go along and give our 16-year-old a chance to hang out at home alone. That should provide quite a few memorable opportunities...

And next summer she'll be applying to a couple college "summer seminar" programs of a week or two each. Hundreds of hormonally-challenged high school kids hanging out in a dorm with trend-setting college-age mentors. What could possibly go wrong?

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You know, Nords, you could write a really interesting parenting book
Thanks but geez, one book at a time.

Most of our parenting/money ideas come from David Owen's "First National Bank of Dad". And I think Marshall Brain's "A Teenager's Guide To The Real World" is the final word on the subject...
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Old 11-03-2008, 08:11 PM   #17
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Another update and a couple questions.

At the risk of sounding like a Luddite rather than a lazy geek who avoids tech-admin duty, a wireless router has changed our lives. No more jockeying for computer/Internet time. I can get my napping work done from the back lanai or the chair swing. Our kid now watches TV shows with her own laptop Google browser instead of asking me to explain why Boomers behave that way. She thinks that configuring routers, loading printer drivers, and networking iTunes libraries is "fun" and has volunteered to relieve me of all tech admin geek duties. I feel like Tom Sawyer whitewashing the fence.

The biggest home-life improvement of all has been networking spouse's TiVo. And if you want your kid to keep the birthday partying under control, then have her sign up to take the SAT the next morning. But I digress.

We're watching iPhone offers to see if the recession and/or the Google G1 phone will affect contracts/pricing. I expect that we'll be visiting the Apple store next January.

But in the meantime I can't help but notice all of the iPhone postings on our local Craigslist (classifieds - craigslist). This goes beyond the usual desperate consumers drowning in credit-card debt. They seem to be selling older or less-capable iPhones with terms such as "unlocked" and "jailbroken", appearing to need only a third-party SIM. OTOH I'm skeptical about the wording and the volume of the ads, and I'm pretty sure that Apple/AT&T would have periodic phone/network "upgrades" to knock them off the air.

Is there a legitimate way to reliably operate an iPhone under another provider, including Internet access, for the long term without an AT&T contract? I'm not very happy about cell-phone contracts but I'd rather wait for a post-holiday sale and not have to keep hacking to stay online. And do any of you industry insiders see any cracks in the iPhone/AT&T pricing monopoly?
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Old 11-04-2008, 08:16 AM   #18
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I'd also check ebay . I recently bought a Wii as an early Christmas present for my daughter on ebay . It's brand new in a sealed box .I'm not sure where they get their inventory but they sell a lot of tech items that are brand new with free shipping and no sales tax . I would only buy from a power seller with a huge history for something like that . I was a little leery but it's pay pal protected and the price was right .
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Old 11-06-2008, 12:34 AM   #19
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Do you know if the AT&T reception will be good in her future college town?
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Old 11-06-2008, 11:13 AM   #20
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The gal and i have had our Nokias for about 3 1/2 years - just upgraded her to an i-phone and it is amazing. We had been paying for a data plan for her laptop so she could connect if she needed to - never used it as it was a PITA and slow besides - 3 1/2 years of wasted $$, but she wanted it and sometimes it's cheaper to waste $$. Like the cancer insurance (but i digress). Anyway, by declining the texting option, which we don't do, and dropping the data plan, the i-phone is costing us an extra $10/month on our shared plan. It's internet connection is quite fast and usable and the applications that can be added, many for free, are great (google iphone apps). The phone incorporates GPS and an accelerometer so all manner of things are possible, including automobile performance data and mapping. Also has the ipod music system, which looks like it will be even better for my music happy honey. Two big thumbs up - if this is comparable to Apple vs PC we may have to try Apple. The darn thing just works -
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