August 2007

Addendum to RYO VoIP, issue 2

One thing I forgot to mention in my last RYO VoIP entry: you can use GrandCentral and your Gizmo SIP phone to make free outbound calls, too! While in beta, when logged in, GrandCentral allows you to initiate a call from their website. Go to your Contacts page, click on the the number of the contact you want to call and on the resulting pop-up, select the number you want GrandCentral to call you on. GrandCentral will call you and, when you’ve picked up, ring your party.

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And now for something completely different …

Firefox always re-selects the entire URL in the address bar when I go away and then return to the Firefox window and that’s always annoyed me. Now, courtesy of lifehacker I’ve reset that behavior. How? From the Address bar, enter “about:config” (sans quotes). Locate browser.urlbar.clickSelectsAll and change its value to false.

And, while I’m at it, here are a couple of other things I’ve found:

Firefox extension Stop Autoplay.
Two Adobe Reader replacements: Sumatra and Foxit. Sumatra has a very small footprint but Foxit is more complete.

And now for something completely different … Read More »

RYO VoIP, part II

In my last entry I made reference to but didn’t explicitly state that you can, and usually do, buy INbound and OUTbound VoIP service separately if you’re rolling your own VoIP service. This is an important distinction! If you get lousy outbound service from one provider when you’re calling certain states or countries, you can set things up to use an outbound line from another provider just for those calls. Of course, you don’t have to — you can certainly use one provider for all your calls, both inbound and outbound, but the point is you have the CHOICE. And, since most providers don’t require a contract, you can move from one to another quite easily: just quit using one provider and start using another.

It’s not quite so easy with inbound, though … unless you take some steps to make it easy. Think about it: your inbound number is what people use to get in touch with youso you need to move that number from one provider to another (called “porting”). Fear not — there is a way around this, too! How? Don’t give out your new VoIP number. Instead, use a service like GrandCentral as your sole inbound number and use it to route calls to all your phones. Don’t have a GrandCentral account? Drop me an email and, while I have ’em, I’ll send you an invitation. And, if you’ve got a VoIP account with the Gizmo Project, you can have your calls routed directly over VoIP to your Gizmo number. Voila — free inbound calls! And, yes, you can buy a router, plug your Gizmo account information into it and now you’re talking over a regular phone as opposed to having to plug a headset into your computer.

I think I’ll stop here and let that sink in. And if you’ve got any questions, feel free to email.

More later.

RYO VoIP, part II Read More »

Roll-your-own VoIP service

I’ve been sitting on this too long now and I’m just bustin’ at the seams with information … too much, I think, to be able to spew it out here in one entry and have it make sense. So, with this entry, I’ll just tell you what I’ve been doing.

Almost two weeks ago I decided to look into an alternative to Vonage. I started doing some searches for VoIP systems and uncovered a vast wonderland of technogeek-dom. It took almost a week for me to make sense of what is required to build your own VoIP solution from scratch and another week to get an idea of providers, prices and features.

Here’s the short story: if you’re willing to buy your own router (for about $60), you can build your own VoIP solution for your home, including connections to your normal, run-of-the-mill RJ-11 phones (yes, the kind you already have installed in your house and possibly even plugged into your Vonage/CallVantage router) for $10/month or less. That includes your own phone number, unlimited inbound minutes and outbound calling rates of about a penny per minute (ranges are from just under a penney to a little over 1.5 cents). At that rate, 1,000 outbound minutes will cost you up to $15.00. Lay that on top of your $10/month and your sitting at $25. Of course, that assumes you make 1,000 minutes of calls per month from your home phone. Me, I don’t use anywhere near that number of minutes per month — I average around 300, spiking up to about 600. So, at worst, I’ll pay about 600*$0.015 or $9.

Now, I realize this cost savings is really pretty trivial stuff. Going from about $28/month (Vonage + cost recovery fees + taxes) to about $15/month won’t even cover my Starbuck’s habit. But we’re talking about geek heaven here, take my word for it! That softphone that Vonage wants you to pay extra for? That feature is included with every single SIP provider that I looked at. I should note there are some very low cost providers (Magic Jack is a very popular one) that use a proprietary protocol and can only be used with their hardware. But, those aside, you can bring up a softphone client on your PC (at work, say) and both it and your home phone will ring when you get a call.

OK, I’ll stop here and let that all sink in. The takeaway from this entry? You can create your own VoIP solution for your home for the cost of a router ($60-$75). The service will cost you $10 or less per month for unlimited free inbound calls. Outbound calls to regular USA and Canada phones (landline and mobile) will cost about 1.5 cents per minute and, if you’re like me, making about 600 minutes of outbound calls per month, that translates to another $9 per month. In the process, you can have your phone number on both your PC and your home phone simultaneously.

What do my future entries on this have in store for you? How about the ability to build your own PBX with Open Source software? Not interested? No big deal, you say, you don’t have that many phones in your house? Well, what if I told you that you can assign extensions to your cell phone, your wife (or girlfriend … or both), your son/daughter, your grandmother, your brother. Yup, you can set it up so that you (or anyone) can reach anyone in your family at their own phone, by calling YOUR PBX and keying in their extension. Regardless of whether the called party is in the same house, the same city or the same state. And that’s just one thing you can do.

Stay tuned!

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Throw-away email addresses

Lifehacker has become one of my favorite sites (thanks, Vern!). This time they talk about 10 Minute Mail, a site that will create an email address for you that’s only good for 10 minutes. Need to get onto a site that requires an email address but you just don’t wanna give them one of yours? — use 10 Minute Mail! The domains that the email address originates from changes every month or so which means there’s very little danger of a sysadmin banning the domain. And if you need the address to survive for 20 minutes, you can click a link on the site that extends the life of the email address.

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Alternative mobile voicemail services: Callwave and YouMail

More about this later but Callwave and YouMail offer free alternative voicemail services for mobile phone users. Both include a we-based interface to retrieve your voicemail as well as text and email notification of new messages. Callwave can also provide a text-based summary of your voicemail with their Vtxt service. It’s supposed to be different than just speech-to-text in that it squeezes out unnecessary and redundant information. How well does it work? I dunno yet.

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