Monthly Archives: August 2010

Technology Tool – Ooma

I’m on vacation this week and so we are having the worst weather of the summer! Oh well, gives me more time to write this blog. I like to write about tools I am actually using because I feel confident in my recommendations of them. This week I want to introduce you to VoIP tool Ooma.

I came across this almost by accident, one of those emails from Amazon recommending new electronics. I was initially about to delete it, but since I had never heard of Ooma I decided to investigate.

What Is Ooma?
Ooma uses your Internet connection to make phone calls. This means you can get rid of that nasty expensive land line that you don’t use much!

How Does It Work?
The really great thing about Ooma over alternatives you might have heard about, like MagicJack or Vonage, is that it let’s you use the current phones. The actual Ooma box sits between your Internet line and your router. Then you can plug in your current phone and you can use it just like you had plugged the phone into your land line jack. If you have a wireless setup with multiple handsets connected they will work just the same.

How Is Call Quality?
I have been using Ooma at home for over a year now and can say the call quality is great. Since the Ooma box sits between the Internet and router, it is able to monitor line activity and maintain call quality even if there are movies being streamed on your Internet line. When you pick up the phone there is a little jingle noise that let’s you know you are using Ooma.

How Much Does It Cost?
All US and Canada calls are free! The actual Ooma box varies in cost, currently about $200 – $250 depending on where you purchase it and coupons available. Since I bought the package last year, I pay no monthly fee. Now there is a monthly fee to cover the taxes and federal fee – think it is $3.50 a month. For international calls you can purchase a plan which is a good deal if you are making lots of calls. I, however, just use the prepaid option which still gives me calls to UK for 3.2c per minute – on par with calling cards I used to use.

Can I Keep My Current Number?
When you sign up for service you can also purchase the number porting service which allows you to port your current number to you Ooma phone service. Otherwise, you will be assigned a new number. What would be smart to do would be port your number to your Google Voice account and then have it forward your calls to your Ooma and cell numbers!

What Services Do I Get?
Ooma has a Premier monthly package you can subscribe to for $9.99. This gives you the ability to forward calls to another number, add more lines, etc. The basic service I have gives me caller ID and the Ooma answer machine. This does me fine and I have had no reason to upgrade to the other package.

When you buy Ooma in the box you get the main box and what they call a scout box. The scout let’s you use Ooma from any other room. As I have wireless handsets around the house I didn’t need it for this. I do have satellite TV service though which requires a constant phone line connection. I hooked up Ooma main set in my electronics cabinet (where I hide the modem, router, wireless router and big bulky electrical strip) and then put the scout box in the TV room and also use it as the answer machine. Honest, it wasn’t that complicated, but I like to have everything gadgetized in my house!

Answer Machine?
Yes, you get the answer machine, but even better it the Ooma Lounge which is the online account management piece. Here you can set up your email address and when someone leaves you a message on the answering machine you will get an email! You can either dial your phone number and prompt through to listen to the message of go to the Lounge online and listen to it there. Nothing worse than getting home and hearing a message to call someone, but now it’s too late. This way you can get immediate notification to check your messages.

Where Can I Buy Ooma?
Best Buy locations now carry Ooma packages, or you can get them from Amazon. Current Ooma users usually have refer a friend coupons that you can use to get a discount too.

I would highly recommend Ooma to anyone and can’t believe it is not more popular – probably because they don’t invest in advertising quite like Vonage and MagicJack. Well I am quite happy to give them a free plug here: http://www.ooma.com

Oh, I almost forgot, they have an Ipad add that let’s you make calls anywhere using your Ooma account from your Ipad – with the built in speakers and microphone!

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Technology Tool – Music Streaming

This week I thought I would take a look at some music services I like to use. There are 2 categories of service – those that stream music you own and services you subscribe to that stream music.

Streaming Music You Own
There are some rumors that Apple is planning an iTunes streaming service after they bought the streaming service LaLa, this might be interesting as a future option too.

In the meantime I have been playing with a couple of services, mSpot and mp3tunes. At first I liked the idea of being able to access my iTunes library anywhere, but now I find that most of the time I am not so interested in listening to that music. If you have a very large library of music the initial sync of either service is going to take a long, long time!

mSpot: www.mspot.com This service requires a sync tool to install on the PC with iTunes and syncs this up to your online mSpot account. First sync will be long if you have many songs. Free account gives you 2gig storage, about 1800 songs. Then you can purchase more storage with monthly plans: 10gig more for $2.99 a month, etc.

MP3tunes: www.mp3tunes.com On the computer where you have iTunes installed, you install a sync program. This goes to the different folders and iTunes storage areas to hunt out music you own. Create an account online and the sync program will upload all your music to your locker. The sync program also monitors your drive for more music that you add and will prompt an new sync to be run. The other nice option offered by this service is a channel on your Roku box that let’s you play all your tunes through your TV and home theatre system.

There are desktop, android, Apple and webpage options (and Roku) for accessing the service. You get 2 gig storage with a free account or 50 gig for $5 a month. I am not going premium on this service though, there are some negative comments on the Apple app because this was the same company that had another service that ran into legal issues and was shut down. People seem to be of the opinion this might happen again.

Subscription Streaming Music Services
This is now my preferred option for obtaining music. I don’t own the song, but I have access to a massive library. And both services also have then option to find similar music you might enjoy. This music discovery is becoming the feature people want so that you can discover and appreciate new artists or just new to you artists.

Pandora: www.pandora.com This free service is a must have for anyone these days who likes on the go music. You create stations like a radio using artists or songs and Pandora streams music of a similar nature. They do this via a special project they undertook called the Music Genome Project. A group of music-analysts listened to thousands of songs picking out all the different components that they have – harmony, lyrics, tempo, etc and applied these characteristics to all the songs. So when you create a Pandora station based on a song, they are accessing this library of characteristics to stream more songs like it.

So you are listening to a station you created and a song comes on you don’t like – what do you do? Well, you can give the sing a thumbs down or skips it. However, free Pandora accounts only get 6 skips a day. Free accounts also have a limit of 40hrs of music a month, but if you exceed this you have 2 options: pay 99c to have unlimited hours until the end of the calendar month, or sign up for a premium account. A yearly subscription, which includes unlimited hours ad free music and unlimited skips, costs a whopping $36!

Pandora is available on your desktop, smartphone, Apple iTunes stores and on it’s webpage. I am quite happy with the free version and usually stream it to my car stereo, via Bluetooth, from my Android phone to keep me entertained on the hourly ride home at night!

GrooveShark: www.grooveshark.com This is by far my favorite streaming service – so much so, that I just went premium on it! Never heard of GrooveShark? It is similar to Pandora except it let’s you search it’s massive user uploaded library for any song or artist to play. As you find those lost 80’s hits you can create playlists and save these for future sad parties!

GrooveShark even has widgets that you can use to embed your playlist in a website so that anyone can listen to your cool DJing experiment! Up until recently, Apple had denied the app from iTunes and you had to have a jail broken iPad/iPhone/Touch to use the app. Hah, the gods shone a light down and the app is now in the app store!!! Android has an app too, so you can keep your tunes with you all the time.

The GrooveShark website gives you free listening anytime, but the apps only give you a free trial and then you need to spring for the premium (VIP) account. At $3 a month or $30 a year I figured this was well worth it – cheaper than buying the occasional iTunes song. I have been very impressed with the sheer number of songs and artists in the library – rarely not finding what I am looking for. From Shirley Basset to Frank Sinatra to Lady Gaga and Michael Buble, oh and throw in some Pavarotti for good measure! The content is user uploaded so there is a vast array of disparate taste available.

There is now an option called ‘radio’ which plays on the Pandora idea of finding similar songs/artists to the last track played – for when the searching for those songs has just overwhelmed you!  The service seems to always be improving and adding new features – now if they would just get a Roku station I would be almost too happy!

As you might have gathered GrooveShark is my preferred option now.

  • Have you come across other services you like?
  • Do you prefer to purchase and stream or subscribe and stream?

Technology Tool – Evernote

Continuing on my series of posts on technology tools to help you work and live, this next tool is great:  www.Evernote.com

What does it do?
Kind of like a notebook that lives in the cloud, but also has web, desktop, Android and iPhone apps. Take notes, clip webpages, upload photos from the apps and it will sync contents to the web so that no matter where you next access Evernote, all your notes are up to date.

The great part is that you can save notes in to different folders (notebooks) so that you can keep everything relevant together. Planning a bathroom makeover? Keep everything related to that in one notebook. You can have a note with the room dimensions, keep notes on design ideas, clip screenshots or photos of things you see and like. Everything altogether and accessible were ever you are.

In a meeting where the team has been brainstorming ideas on a whiteboard? Take a photo of the whiteboard, upload it and Evernote makes the text searchable – right from the photo! Recorded the meeting too? Upload the recording to Evernote and you have the entire meeting saved. At a conference and getting business card? Take photos of them or scan them later, upload it to a notebook and all that text is searchable.

Another great feature is the ability to tag all your notes. Sometimes a note could be relevant to more than one notebook, so give it more than one tag. You can sort notes by notebook, date, tags or search through them all.

So how much does this cost?
How does FREE suit you? There is the premium version too for a whopping $5 a month, or $45 for a year. The free account gives you unlimited notes, but max of 40mb of uploads a month, premium ups that limit to 500mb a month. Free allows certain file extensions like images and PDF, premium enables them all. Going premium also gives you some nice features like secure encryption, ability to share notes with others for editing and PDF searching.

I haven’t gone premium just yet, but probably will soon. Right now I am writing this blog in Evernote so that I can add to it whenever the mood strikes. Now that I have a smartphone I am playing with the photo taking of receipts, whiteboards, etc and uploading them and testing out how good the text recognition is. Happy to report that it is damn fine for free!

A new feature I just noticed they have available form premium accounts is the ability to add Microsoft Office documents. Then you could access and edit(?) them from anywhere too. That in itself is almost worth the $5!

Not always got wifi when you need to access a note? On the Touch app you can favorite a note and that makes it available offline. The iPad caches all notes visited so they are always available. This was great for me when I was traveling – could keep my itinery, boarding passes, luggage tags and maps of visiting areas all as a favorite in my Touch. Even took scans of my passport and credit cards in case they got stolen. Even if my Touch was to have got stolen, I could access these documents from any Internet cafe by logging into the Evernote website.

Last month I cleared the clutter out of my filing drawer and scanned all those car service invoices. Now they are all in a notebook, tagged by the year of the service.

I installed the firefox clip tool which let’s you automatically add a note of either the whole webpage you are on or just the text you have highlighted. It can connect to your Facebook and Twitter accounts so that you can save information from your streams. Like RSS feeds? There is a connection for that too so that you can save the feed and edit to keep just the important links.

When you signup for an account you will get an Evernote email address to use so that you can automatically add notes via email. Looking in the user forums there also looks liken there is a way the automatically sync a local folder to upload new files automatically to Evernote. However, it does seem to involve a little scripting, so may not be ideal for a new user.

How stable is the company?
Seem to be doing well and they are always developing new extensions or adding to the apps that will work with them. Don’t really see a downside to it, even at $5 a month.

Technology Tool – TeamViewer

So I thought I would start a little blog series on some cool tools I have found to help you at work and at home. I am thinking a blog a week on each tool – keep me motivated to blog more regularly too!

This week I thought I would talk about a tool called TeamViewer (www.teamviewer.com).

What is it?
TeamViewer is a tool that let’s you conduct web presentations to an audience or it can also be used to screenshare/remote control another computer. At my company we have had great success using this in our support department to do screenshares with customers who call into us. To conduct an online presentation, just select that option on the interface and direct viewers to the TeamViewer presentation website where the session credentials can be entered. You can also have automatically generated emails sent to an email list with all the details. I also use this to remote control all my PCs from any web connection. Works more quickly and reliably than VPN when I am connecting to my work PC and it makes fast file transfers.

Is it secure?
TeamViewer’s website has documents that describe all the encryption they use and other security protocols to ensure you are getting a secure connection when connecting to another computer. Our security guys checked it over and agreed it is secure enough for us to use.

What about firewalls?
Using it to connect to customers all around the world and have rarely run into any firewall issues.

How does it work?
To do a screenshare with someone just send them an email with a small executable which they just need to run, not install. This gives them a number and password that we can then put into our TeamViewer and connect to the other PC. The other person can decide how much access they want to give you – read only through to full access.

TeamViewer can also be installed on each computer you want to access and these accounts saved to a partner list. This means each time you login you can connect to any partner machine that is also online. The partner list also let’s you name each computer so you can call one your work PC and another your home PC, etc. By having this setup you can connect remotely to each of the partner machines.

There is also a free iPad/iPhone app that you can use to connect to your partner list too. No need to worry about Flash issues when you can connect to your desktop and surf from there!

I have also installed this on my Mother’s PC so that when she has any problems I can remote connect and see exactly what is happening. Much easier than trying to walk through an issue from memory.

So this must be costly?
Actually, no – it is FREE for personal use!
For an enterprise license it is very reasonably priced based on how many concurrent remote sessions you need. We use this for our customer support department and bought into the 5 concurrent session limit and have not had any blocks from this (8 – 10 staff at any timezone). Interestingly, the pricing model they use is based on a one-time lifetime fee and you only need to spend more money if you want an upgrade. Business licenses start at $749, although we spent a few thousand on our licenses, it was still considerably cheaper than the alternatives we had been using. We had used Webex which was good, but pricey and we had tried GoToAssist which was also good, but about $20k more a year than TeamViewer!

All in all, I think this is a great tool that is equally of use at home and at work.