google-voiceI’ve never been a fan of the land line or most importantly, the costs that are attributed with it. Let’s be honest with each other – land lines will be all but dead in the foreseeable future. A growing number of personal and commercial users have adopted some sort of cellular or VoIP alternative. Yes, this is common knowledge to most people but there are still some of us out there that refuse to part with our landline number (including yours truly). It wasn’t until about a year ago that I found an alternative solution that met our needs and was easy on the wallet.

While I’m sure we could part with the home phone number in lieu of cell phones, it was something familiar to my wife and I about having some common centralized number that people could reach us where we didn’t need to be bothered on our cell phones. We’ve had our landline number since 2004 and as you can imagine that number is propagated throughout a number of personal address books and contact lists. Even though we had moved our landline to a VoIP service, I still cringed at the costs that came with it. I just wanted to keep the number without any of the charges that accompanied it.

Then everything changed when I discovered the devices a company called Obihai was producing. Brilliant, tiny devices that could connect your Google Voice account to your landline phone system. Great! I just need to port my landline number over to Google Voice and I’m all set. Only one minor problem encountered… Google doesn’t not allow porting of landline numbers, only cellular. However, thanks to some trickery from David Gewirtz at ZDNet, this was possible by porting over to pay-as-you-go mobile phone first and then to GV. You can read his full instructional article here. I can attest that this does in fact work for AT&T wireless subscribers.

There was only two voids left with this change and that was 911 access and Caller ID naming. If there was any comfort to a landline phone, it was the direct 911 call center communication where address is known immediately to the operator. Fret not, as you can use an outside service like Call Central to support your 911 calls for a nominal fee of $1.50 per month. The other issue was that Google Voice doesn’t supply a Caller ID name with incoming calls. Utilizing Call Central with GV will also fix this issue. Although the Caller ID isn’t always perfect, it’s better than no ID name at all. The Obihai device is equipped to handle the special routing that needs to take place in both situations. There’s a ton of articles that pertain to Call Central setup with GV and Obihai.

So you too can keep your landline phone number and continue to have a home phone service with 911, basic calling features, and the features of GV for only $1.50 a month. Do I sound like the MagicJack guy yet?

I defiantly laugh at techies that insist on still wiring up their homes with CAT cabling. I’m sorry, I just don’t get it. Maybe I don’t feel I have use for the full gigabit speed of a CAT 6 setup. Don’t get me wrong, wireless isn’t perfect. My wireless router occasionally likes to reboot itself once in a blue moon. And streaming HD via a wireless bridge to my TV? Fugeddaboutit!

Fishing wire throughout a house isn’t exactly a stress reducer and wireless may not provide the throughput you’re looking for. What now? Well, there’s another option beyond wireless and network cabling to link up your whole house that has really only started catching on in popularity. It’s called Powerline networking and it’s genius yet simple. The technology utilizes your existing powerlines in the house to transmit data. This is done by simply plugging in a Powerline device into each power outlet that you need connectivity. I’m not going to go into specifics on how it works but it’s far less painless than wiring up a house with CAT.

As for security, the devices encrypt the traffic during transmission. The only downside I see is trying to use the devices in a shared housing environment where you wouldn’t want to share network connectivity. Those restricted users could essentially buy the same model powerline device and connect to your network. Perhaps there’s a solution to this but I never had the need to research.

So next time you move into that nice big home and have the urge to deck it out with tons of network cabling, consider the easier alternative. Speeds aren’t quite as fast as a gigabit network but they’re close enough for good quality. I’m running 500Mbps and watching an HD movie on my TV through one right now.

I’ve been teaching myself more of the enhancements made possible by HTML5. One little project I finished was working with the new HTML canvas and animation effects. Not only is a great beginner’s project, but my kids were easily entertained by this.

I was inspired to create an HTML5 bouncing box app based on the Office episode sketch where everyone is watching the DVD player screensaver. The basic function consists of a bouncing square that changes color after bouncing off the wall. The text box above the animation displays a message anytime a corner is hit and indicates which corner it was. The text boxes below the animation show the real-time x and y coordinates along with the option to increase/decrease the speed.

You can see the finished product here if your browser is HTML5 compliant. I’ve tested via Chrome and Safari iOS on my iPhone. My IE8 wasn’t up to standard and I didn’t feel like waiting for IE9 to download and install. Does anyone still use IE?! Since this is all client-side code generated, you can view the source right from your browser. I’ve added some additional notes on the code below.

Random Color Assignment
I have the box automatically assign a new color anytime it changes direction (hits a wall). It’s actually rather simple to do this and only uses one line of code. It works by generating a random hex color value during each execute. I added some additional logic to avoid black so the box wouldn’t become hidden with the page’s black background.

    function changeBox()
    {
        var colorGood = false;
        do
        {
            boxColor = "#" + (0x1000000 + (Math.random()) * 0xffffff).toString(16).substr(1, 6);
            if (boxColor != "#000000")
            {
                colorGood = true;
            }
        } 
        while (colorGood == false);
    }

 

Corner Detection
The code I used to detect when it hits a corner was precise to the pixel. So it specifically looked at the min and max dimensions of the canvas. You can easily change the logic to add some give so it throws the message if it comes close to the corner. xSize and ySize are included to take the box dimensions into account also.

        if (x == 0 && y == 0)
        {
            msg.value = "You just hit the top left corner!!";
        }
        if (x == 0 && (y + ySize) == 480) 
        {
            msg.value = "You just hit the bottom left corner!!";
        }
        if ((x + xSize) == 600 && y == 0)
        {
            msg.value = "You just hit the top right corner!!";
        }
        if ((x + xSize) == 600 && (y + ySize) == 480)
        {
            msg.value = "You just hit the bottom right corner!!";
        }

 

Speed Settings
I made the speed settings pretty simplistic in that when you make the bounce faster, it increases the pixel step between the 1 millisecond intervals. The slowest I have it handle is 1 px per millisecond. You could change it to allow slower speeds by increasing the milliseconds on the setInterval method.

    function goFaster() {
        xStep += 1;
        yStep += 1;
        speedText.value = xStep;
    }

    function goSlower() {
        if (xStep > 1) {
            xStep -= 1;
        }
        if (yStep > 1) {
            yStep -= 1;
        }
        speedText.value = xStep;
    }

 

I’m one of many Google Apps users that have been patiently waiting for Google to do something about syncing my Gmail contacts with Google Voice. Unlike a regular Google account user, a Google Apps user has their own domain name tied to a Google account and syncs only within those Apps (ie. calendar, mail, docs, etc.). Even though I have a Google account and Apps account with the same email address, that does not cause contacts to sync between the accounts. I essentially had the same people in my Google Voice contacts as I did in Gmail except only phone numbers in Voice and only emails in Gmail. Wouldn’t it be great to have them merged together under one contact??

It’s been years now and no fix in sight from Google so I started investigating other options. After scouring message boards and Google Help discussions, I came to find a site called Soocial.com that works as a hub from your multiple contact locations. You can tell the software which contacts should be merged and then once the dirty work is done, you have contacts propogated back to your contact locations with merged information.

This solution worked great for me because my Google Apps contacts would show on my Android OS cell phone but never the Google Voice information so I could quickly dial their phone number. After the sync, I had information from both Apps and Voice showing as one contact on both systems and on my smartphone.

Soocial’s service is free but they do offer a premium version for a few dollars more every month. With the free version, you’re limited to syncing 250 contacts and with only 3 contact application sources. Those limits are removed with the paid version.

My iPod Touch 2G has been having an issue with the power/lock button for months and I finally got around last month to fixing it. Well… I fixed that but managed to crack the digitizer glass screen when putting the assembly back together! Since my iPod was out of warranty, it was still a lot cheaper purchasing the individual parts and doing the repair myself. It would have been $150 to have Apple fix it and with that cost, it would have been more economical to purchase a new device. It totaled roughly $40 fixing it myself.

I recommend Amazon and TechStore for your part needs. Besides the actual parts, you may want to consider buying an iPod/iPhone repair toolkit. A typical toolkit includes a couple small screwdrivers, some plastic prying tools, and a guitar pick. Yes, a guitar pick (it’s supposed to help separate the glass screen from the back casing prongs). You can purchase a set for about $3 on eBay but to be honest, I was able to do the entire job with just a very small flathead screwdriver. For a thorough walkthrough, Rapid Repair has some good material. You could also try Youtube for video walkthroughs but be prepared to pause frequently.

Remember, it makes more sense to have Apple repair your device if  it is still under warranty. Otherwise, have fun and be patient!

We live in an age where land-line phones are going the way of the dinosaur; many opting to use their cell phone for home usage. Its fairly difficult these days to find a cell phone that isn’t the size of a credit card or smaller. Its even more difficult to convince those technically challenged love ones that they really should invest in one. The cell phones on the market currently are usually built to be very small, including small pad keys, making it virtually impossible for someone with vision impairment to operate. No sweat, get them a smart phone right? Well you could, but will it pass the learning curve? Change is difficult, especially for those that have stuck to their “system” for all these years.

My mother-in-law also fits into this category I mentioned. She was accustomed to a regular land-line phone all her life. Unfortunately, she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 1988 which had a negative impact on her vision. We never had an issue finding her a telephone that featured the enlarged buttons for the visually impaired, but I’ve found nothing of the like in the cellular phone department. The closest match I did come across was a specialized phone developed by Samsung only available under the Jitterbug calling plan.

My biggest gripe with land-line service is the inflated costs and fees that go behind each one. Most likely the result of many years of service and inactive regulations. So, let me add this up, $6.50 for a dial-tone, some other fee to opt out of printing my number in a directory, etc. If you want the non-standard goodies like Caller ID, Call Waiting; that will be extra. Oh wait, don’t forget a long distance plan. After everything is tallied, you’re receiving $60+ bills in the mail. Compare that to a cell phone plan you may only be paying half of that for (depending on your minute and texting usage).

So given all this, how do you convince the traditionalists that going all cellular is a good idea? That’s the question I had when I needed to find a new cost efficient phone plan for my mother-in-law. We can add her as an extra user to our cellular plan for a cheap rate of $9.99 (plus other small fees). Then I came across the XLink cellular gateway. This device allows you to connect any Bluetooth capable cell phone and make and receive phone calls from a regular land-line phone. A pricier model offers the flexibility to attach an existing land-line and use it in conjunction with the cell phone service. The XLink isn’t the only cellular gateway device out there. Simply typing “cellular gateway” can bring you up a slew of results. Interestingly enough, I was at Radio Shack a few weeks ago and noticed this XLink device but only it was marketed as the Gigaset cellular gateway by Siemens. So I’m not really sure who the true manufacturer of the device is, but I have used it and it works perfectly.

A few important issues to keep in mind before going all cellular in your household. If you need to send or receive faxes, or dial out with a modem; this will not work for you. There is, however, a number of online fax services that you can use to transmit and receive faxes via the Internet (ie. eFax, myFax). If you rely on land-line phone service for a home security system, this will also not work as the alarm system isn’t just simply dialing a number, but is really connecting to the monitoring station via a built-in modem (trust me, I’ve tried). Most security alarm companies do offer a proprietary cell phone service just for the system though. I know that Alarm.com systems do this. Also remember that if the power goes out in the house, that will cause the cellular gateway to shut off as well unless you have it plugged into a battery backup (UPS) device. That’s the one advantage of traditional land-line service; the power for the phone line is powered by the central office. Although, this is meaningless if your land-line phone system requires external power for cordless phone transmission or answering machine.

There’s been a slew of people getting hit by fake anti-virus programs lately, including one person very close to me; myself. I was using my desktop PC when I saw a virus alert popup window in the Windows system tray. The odd thing was that the anti-virus program was claiming to be something called Antivirus Soft. The problem was that I’ve always used AVG anti-virus, which was no longer showing in my system tray. Sure enough, somehow I managed to get this malware on my system (yes, this can chip away at an IT guy’s ego).

The truth is, it can be very easy to get this software on your machine to wreak havoc. There are two types of anti-virus malware that I’ve come across:

  • The first is the most intrusive and the example I described in the beginning of this post. This is the type of malware that actually installs software on your machine and gives an impression of an infection, when in reality, there is none. How would you get this on your machine? Simply by going to a website that has malicious code on the page can execute script to install the software. Another common method of infection comes from users opening email attachments, which is why you should be very cautious what you try to access. Even if the email appears to be from someone you know, it could be malicious.
  • A less intrusive type of anti-virus malware are simply pop-up windows claiming to be your anti-virus needing an upgrade. This occurrence is usually just an annoyance without the problem of having to actually clean out software from your system.

In both of these cases, you must remember the golden rule: NEVER GIVE OUT PERSONAL OR FINANCIAL INFORMATION. Your real antivirus program will never ask for a Social Security number. My friend was hit by a malware anti-virus program called Security Tool. He had called to tell me about a virus infection he had. By the time I called him back, he said all was OK; he just renewed his subscription to Security Tool. Right away, I knew he was duped. He had made the mistake of submitting his credit card information to these crooks just for the sense of “security” but all it did was lay dormant until it wanted to get more money from you. Luckily, he contacted his credit card company and was able to issue a chargeback in addition to closing the account. Closing the account is a must because who knows where this information goes.

If you do happened to get these nasty buggers on your machine, you can simply reboot into Safe Mode with Networking Support (hitting F8 during bootup on a Windows machine will allow you to choose this). Download yourself a copy of MalwareBytes, update the definitions within it, and run a scan to eliminate any known threat. This worked great for my problem and I had it cleaned up in minutes.

After cleaning off the malicious software, reboot your system. Your very next step should be to get yourself a legit anti-virus program. There are plenty of free options, two of which I recommend include Microsoft’s Security Essentials and AVG Free Edition. For a detailed list of legit anti-virus programs that available on the market today, look here.

You can also venture here to learn more about rogue security software and for a partial list of known fake anti-virus program names.

Very interesting and valid point was mentioned on Headline News yesterday. A common security question we’re asked to verify our identity is your mother’s maiden name. With the rising popularity of social networking and with the openess of personal data, is this really a good security question? Many things to consider and certainly worthwhile to contact that company and express the concern. In the meantime, always be sure that not only yourself, but also relatives, limit the information they share publicly no matter how harmless they think it may be. So moms, stick to the marital name online if possible.

I’ve been noticing a steady increase in computer theft, not only among businesses, but friends as well. Many of the cases I hear about involve the door to the office or room being locked leaving the number of suspects limited. Yet, there is still no direct evidence of who the thief was. So what can someone do to protect their machines and their data from theft? I spent some time researching this topic and found some of the best methods for protecting yourself from theft, and at the very least, recovering a stolen computer.

Physical protection of the computer is the first defense against theft. Most portable devices and computers have a small hole called a Kensington Security Slot. Purchasing a cable lock for this slot will allow you to lock down your computer to a stationary location, similar to a person locking a bicycle to a pole. Even locking the laptop inside a drawer can have the same effect.

Beyond physically locking down a machine, there may be instances where such a thing is not preventable (ie. having a laptop stolen from luggage). Recovery is your priority when this occurs, and at the very least, data protection. There’s a number of steps you can take to prevent data access and loss. The first and easiest being setting a BIOS password. This will require you to enter a password everytime the PC boots up even before the operating system starts loading. This normally also prevents an authorized user from trying to boot from another media to attempt access. Another data prevention measure is implementing encryption on your data using a strong encryption method and password. I’m a big fan of the free open-source software TrueCrypt. Simply adding passwords to open your Office documents, etc. are not secure enough and can easily be cracked.

The last step is recovery. There’s probably nothing more rewarding in these cases where the criminal is caught and you recover your property. I’ve looked at three recovery systems, each with their own benefits. Absolute Software makes a proprietary software called Lojack for Laptops. GadgetTrak, which was recommended to me by Founder and CEO, Ken Westin. Lastly, PreyProject is a free open-source recovery software. Out of the three, Lojack for Laptops has the most tamper protection if you’ve installed on a machine that supports the BIOS link in. You can view the list of compatible machines that have this feature on their website. Without the BIOS link, the intruder could potentially just format the drive and remove the recovery software. GadgetTrak had a neat recovery software designed specifically for the iPhone/Touch. PreyProject is free, so you can’t beat that either.

Feel free to comment and add any other suggestions you have on the topic of PC theft prevention and recovery. I’ve definitely not covered every aspect in this post. Also, you can read more about laptop theft here.

Most of you have heard about the recent unveiling of Apple’s tablet computer known as the iPad. I already own an iPod Touch 2G, and I’m looking at the demo of this thing and it is essentially an overgrown iPod Touch. You would think Steve Jobs and Apple would have made some enhancements in this grown-up adaptation but it lacks in the same areas both the iPhone and iPod do. Here’s the five reasons why I won’t be buying an iPad anytime soon.

  • No multitasking – The same problem I have with my iTouch. I can only run one app at a time. When I’m trying to listen to internet radio, check e-mail, and surf the web at the same time; I’ll run to my PC. Thanks.
  • No Flash support – Are you kidding me?! There is so much media content on the Internet using Flash its unfathomable to be carrying around this thing that doesn’t support it. Read more of Adobe’s gripe here.
  • No removable battery – Batteries are always prone to eventually go bad on devices that continually expend and recharge them. I don’t feel like having to ship my computer in for service when I need a new battery.
  • Low storage – The highest amount of space you can purchase the iPad is 64GB. In today’s technology and digital media, 64GB isn’t much. The iPad doesn’t even offer any media card slots to add additional storage.
  • Inflated Price – Given all the problems listed, paying anywhere from $499 to $829 (depending on storage) is robbery.

I once admired Apple’s innovations over the past decade, but I think they’ve become a bit greedy given the success. Despite the drawbacks, it does have some positives. AT&T is offering no contract 3G wireless plans, you can run virtually any of the existing 140,000 iPhone/iTouch apps, and it has it’s own eBook reader. As for me; I’ll wait for the next generation.