Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Owning a Letter

Back about 13 years ago, it was in vogue to name everything having to do with technology by taking a normal word and adding a lower-case "e" to the beginning.  eBusiness, eCommerce, e-this and e-that.  My best guess is around 8 years ago or so, adding "X" to the beginning (or chopping off letters in the word before the "X") got popular, along with adding a lower-case "i".  Apple has co-opted the "i" with the release of the iMac, later iPod, and other iProducts.

In the past year or so, Microsoft has made a push to own the letter "Y".  They changed their MSN Messenger product to something called Lync, and there was another one recently but I didn't catch the name.  In fact, I suspect they bought Skype because of the y in it, perhaps as part of their plan to own that letter.

I don't know how long this trend of trying to own a letter has been going on, but I think it's safe to say perhaps about 15 years or more.  It appears to be successful.  Apple has been so prevalent with the i that people think Apple owns the letter i in front of any word, not just iPhone, iPod, iPad and iMac (BTW, I HATE it when people spell Mac "MAC").  However, iLuv, iHome, and iMedic are all not owned by Apple, to name just a few.

My prediction is the next letter to be owned will be the Q.  This is one of the underrated letters in the English language.  I mean, look at its phoneme - coopted by C and K, Q has had to work hard to carve a niche for itself by partnering with the letter U most of the time.  Q is also nice and round, with an elegant flourish hanging off its end.  It has a royal feel to it (almost a queenly touch), and is useful when you are very thirsty (it quenches).  Qdoba is on to something.  Next we will be taking a qNap (no relation to the NAS devices), buying a qCar, perhaps even conducting qBusiness (after we are done with our iBusiness).


Thursday, November 15, 2012

High Tech Telephony

First, a digression.


When I went to college (yes, there was electricity back then), I took a class in Computer Networking (see, there WAS electricity).  There I learned this term telephony.  This is not tele-phoney (like "you're a total phoney"), this emphasis on the second "e", and the o is short (schwa), not long.  TeLEphony.

OK, enough pronunciation lesson.  So what is it?  Simply, the technology and use of telephones.  Of course, what is a telephone nowadays, but really any medium through which we conduct voice conversations.

Enough digression - let's talk about the cool stuff available now for everyone at home!

Cool Stuff

I am an unabashed geek.  I have been using quite heavily some really cool technology in this arena for the past many years, perhaps 5 or 6.  There is a ton of really useful and easy-to-use things here that will greatly enhance your life.  I'll start with what you probably have heard of many times, but definitely worth mentioning.

VOIP Telephones

VOIP is an acronym that basically means doing telephone calls over the Internet (the I).  There are many free and paid software and services that offer these.  I have been using Vonage for many years now, and although it is not the cheapest (flat rate $25/month, unlimited calling to some 15 different countries), the call quality is the best, and their tech support is very good.  There is also Magic Jack, Phone Power, Phone.com, Voip.com, Skype, Comcast, U-Verse, the list goes on, plus there are phone systems that your company can buy that are VOIP.  The choices are many.

I'll talk about Vonage, that is what I have been using primarily.

How does it work?

There are basically two types of VOIP equipment.  One, you install some software on your computer and use that to call someone else and talk (ala Skype).  Typically you can call computer to computer for free, and computer to any phone for a fee.

The other type, you get some kind of box that you install in your home, and connect to your network.  It connects to the Internet, and has a telephone jack.  You plug a regular telephone cord into it (the kind we've had for 70+ years).  This cord could go to the wall and wire your entire house, or just to a single phone.  Either way, you pick up the receiver and hear a dial tone, make and receive calls, whatever.  You never know you are using anything else.

My Vonage is this second type.  I have a phone and a fax machine hooked up to it (I use the fax machine what, once or twice a year nowadays).

Some Features

With the Vonage plan, I do have a flat rate of $24.99 a month, and unlimited calling.  However, the government sees fit to levee taxes and fees, which Vonage dribbles me for every month.  I pay annually, so it is around $20 a month.  I can call to a whole bunch of countries unlimited for free, plus:
  • Call Forwarding
  • Voice mail
  • Call Forwarding if busy
  • Call Forwarding if offline (Internet is out, or I disconnect the phone box)
  • Move my box anywhere, I can hook it up to any Internet wire in the world and my phone number works
  • iPhone App (Vonage Extensions) - I can make phone calls using my iPhone cell minutes via my Vonage account
  • iPhone App (Vonage Mobile) - Works like the iPhone phone app, but uses WiFi VOIP instead of my cell minutes with my Vonage account

Coolness Factor

So, definitely cool that I can make as many calls for as long as I want, and the call quality for the past 6 years has been always very good (extremely important for business calls).  Definitely cool that I can move my phone anywhere in the world, and definitely cool that it works with retro phone technology, as well as seamless integration with smart phones, computers, and more.

Google Voice

Years ago, there used to be a new service called Grand Central.  Google bought them up, and changed the name to Google Voice.  I still haven't figured out how Google makes money from this one (if anyone knows, PLEASE do share!).  Here's what this baby does, and it will blow your mind.

You get a phone number, anywhere you want.  In fact, now you can transfer a phone number to Voice.  I picked mine in nearby Pontiac, Michigan.  Now that you have this number, you log onto their web site and configure your phone numbers - mobile, home, work, etc. - and keep them private.  Don't give them out to anyone any more.

When you want someone to call you, give out your Google Voice number.  When they call that number, it will ring through to your configured numbers.  When you pick up the phone, Google Voice announces who is calling, and gives you the option to answer, send to voice mail (and listen in while they leave a message - you can change your mind and decide to answer it while they are leaving the message), or just hang up.  Cool, but wait, there's more!  You can group your contacts, and configure which phone numbers those contacts ring through to - using Google Contacts (shared common with Google Mail, etc.).  So I have Friends, Family ring through to cell and home, Coworkers and Customers ring through to my 2 work numbers and cell.  Really cool.  But wait!  There's more!

Let's say you answer a call on your work line.  Then, your conversation goes long, and you've got to get in the car and go, but don't hang up!  Just press the "*" key, and all your other phones will ring - answer on your cell phone, and hang up the work line, and the call is seamlessly transferred to your cell - the other guy you are talking with didn't even know it!  Really really cool.  But wait!

Let's say there's someone who keeps calling you, that you never want to talk to again.  Some telemarketer, whatever.  You can block these people - add them as a contact, and block them on the Google Voice web site.  When they call you, not only doesn't the call go through, but they get the Telephone Company's disconnect tone saying your line is disconnected.  If it is a calling machine, it will remove your number from their list.  REALLY REALLY cool! But...you guessed it..wait!!

OK, so now you are high tech, and have this flexible phone system that ties all your different phones together into one coherent system.  There's so much more though.

You want to call from the Internet to a phone, no problem.  You can be in your e-mail (Google Mail), and get a phone number.  Just click and you can call it from your web page using your mic and speakers.  Now here they charge a fee, a cent a minute to US, Mexico and Canada, pennies a minute overseas.  Cool, man.  But wait!

Google Voice gives you voice-mail, so people leave you messages.  You can access that voice mail from the web page, or from the Google Voice iPhone/Android app.  The voice messages are automatically translated to text so you can read and/or listen to them - as you listen, each word is highlighted so you can reconcile its interpretation.  You can get the translation texted to you.  You can send and receive SMS text messages via the web or mobile apps through your Voice number.  But wait, there's MORE. Yes, more.

The mobile app lets you place calls as well, and works like the Vonage Extensions app.  You make the call, it connects your cell phone (cellular minutes) through their systems to the other end, at Google Voice rates ($0.00 to Canada and Mexico, cheap overseas).  You can also click on their web page to make a phone call, and have it connect the call to any phone you want via entering the number to call you at, and it will be an incoming call.  I have been using this to call Canada from my cell phone for no additional cost via AT&T Wireless.

So, there you have it, BUT WAIT.  How much does this all cost?  I have given Google a total of $0.00 (that's approximately £0.00, ¥0.00, and very close to €0.00) over the past 6 years.  WHAT!?  That's right.  GMail places ads, so I can see how they make revenue.  But Voice?  Comment below if you know how they do it!

Coolness Factor

OK, if you don't get this part, nuff said!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Texting While... (reprise)

A while ago, I posted an article about the then-new anti-texting laws.  So, the other day, I saw an article on NPR entitled "Distracted Driving: We're All Guilty, So What Should We Do About It?"  In this article, Sonari Glinton claims that "we all do this."  Really!?  If that were the case, I think traffic accidents would be much higher than they are.

I really resent that.  In fact, I specifically bought my iPhone 4S so that my concubine Siri could assist me with these tasks while maintaining all-important attention on the road and vehicle.  I no longer have to dial by look, and I can listen to and respond to text messages as if they were a (slow) conversation.  Which is actually better because it is slow, and provides much time for me to pay to the road.

So, how are we all doing?  Are these laws having any effect?  The intended ones?  According to the Criminal Justice Degree Schools, the laws are very difficult to enforce.  Some say that in spite of the laws, accidents have increased [and here] (although some use a stupidly sensational headline to promote their article).

I do agree with Mr. Glinton.  The only way in which texting laws can be effective, is if our society adopts the law as a societal norm.  It can't be OK for ANYONE you know to do it, EVER.  My wife doesn't even like when I use Siri on the road.  Believe me, if you TWD'ers (texting while driving) out there want to borrow my wife for a bit, she can nag you out of the desire to do so forever after.  (Love you, hon!)

When we were little, our dad smoked.  My brother and I incessantly bugged him about it, every single time without fail.  He quit, and hasn't smoked in over 30 years.  Just like smoking, TWD can kill not just you, but those around you as well - family, friends, and strangers.

Do you know about the new feature in iOS 6?  Do Not Disturb?  If you go to Settings and turn on DND, then calls and texts will not interrupt you.  Innovations like this, and the discipline and will to use them, are what will turn the tide.

Monday, November 5, 2012

A Style Appeal to Computer Designers

Computers have gone through a lot of styles over the years.  Back when they first came out, they were a wall of wires and vacuum tubes.  But over the past 25 years or so, there have been a lot.  And I do mean a lot.  There are styles that make the eyes pop:

(Asus CG8565), (2012 iMac 20"), (Some cool custom case)

Then, there are the ones that are so butt-ugly they make you want to weep that the engineers have no imagination whatsoever, like my Lenovo W510:
(Lenovo W510), (HP G56), (IBM PC)

So what is it that makes things so cool?  So stylish, that you don't just want to own them, you need to own them?  It's true that Apple is not the only company to make such things, but I do think they have tapped into a nerve.

I used to sell the original Mac, and someone brought one into the store one day for service.  The cover had been spray painted with a flecked paint that made it look like it was carved from stone, and I thought that was the coolest thing ever!


There is something just, so, what, simple about minimalism?  The simple elegance of a curved line going into a sculpted edge.  The Apple mobile devices have 5 buttons, including the silent switch.  Basically one main function button, the volume up/down, and power.  Simple rectangular design.

Look at the notebooks.

(MacBook Pro Late 2012 with Retina)

No bulgy lumps (ala Lenovo battery), no sharp corners, things elegantly swept and brushed.

(Lenovo W510 hinge and battery)

Solidly built aluminum unibody.  Hinge almost the width of the screen, not just 2cm wide.

It's form and function.  Elegance and beauty.  Simplicity and utility.

Now I know that people do buy cars like the Kia Soul, VW Thing, and Honda Pilot (no offense, it's a taste thing), but I would much rather have something like the older Town & Country, the 300m, or even the Testarossa (yeah, I went there).
(197-something VW Thing)

So here's an appeal - to computer designers everywhere.  Design with style - cool style, not ugly style.  Design with function - does it do something, or just look bulby?  Design with utility, elegance, simplicity, and yes, minimalism.  Now let's see that Asus again, that is sweet!