Vonage May Fall As Well

As I referred to in an earlier post, we are leaving Verizon to try the new T-Mobile HotSpot @Home offering. We were planning on keep one Vonage line for the kids, but they want in on the T-Mobile plan as well. We are going to test the reliability of the HotSpot @Home service then get the kids signed up. It could be no more home phone for us.

Google Enters the Phone Business

Google has acquired GrandCentral Communications. They made the announcement this week on the official Google blog.

GrandCentral Communications provides tools so that you have one telephone number. The service then will locate you by trying your home phone, cell phone, or work phone. It also has features such as personalized voice mail greetings based on the caller. I used a service similar to this for many years, but ultimately gave it up due to cost. My provider could only provide toll-free telephone numbers which resulted in expensive per-minute call rates. It would route calls to different telephones based on a schedule that I could setup via their web site. There are other players in this field, which I think is a key tool for any single or two person business.

I am unsure if GrandCentral was open to the public prior to the Google buyout, but at this point GrandCentral is only available as a beta for select users. They will probably expedite opening the service under the Google umbrella. I am curious how Google will integrate this into their total service package.

Signed up for T-Mobile HotSpot @Home Service

We are going to give it a try. The premise of this service is that our new wireless phones will operate on the normal T-Mobile network away from home. When we are at home they will connect with the T-Mobile branded Linksys wireless router to provide phone service via our Internet connection. I have seen some good reviews from a test of the system in Seattle, and I am excited to try it out. Supposedly the phones will connect to any wireless hot spot, but the free Linksys router is designed to reduce telephone battery usage.

The entire catalyst to change from Verizon Wireless has been the poor service that we get at home. We can only use our wireless telephones outside of our house. Even then we cannot stand on the north side of the house. I must admit that elsewhere the network is flawless. I have never been to any part of the country where I lost my Verizon signal entirely. I once stayed in a cabin in a deep valley at the edge of the Great Smokey Mountains National Park, and I still had five bars. We could actually see a cell tower out the back window. I assume that it was Verizon.

I hate to leave Verizon because we have been a customer since they bought our provider in the late 90’s. Does anybody remember the Primeco character, Primetheus? We are probably going to cut back to just one Vonage line as well. Our total savings should be $25 per month, and we will end up with one extra telephone line in our home.

Delivery of our equipment is scheduled for this week. I will take you through setup and initial use. Incidentally, I only live about 4 miles from a T-Mobile corporate store, but I had the equipment shipped because my T-Mobile corporate rep saved me $70 on the activation fees.

Summertime and the Lightening is Dangerous

I hope that you are enjoying a good summer, but we need to remember that we are in the thick of lightening season. You should take all recommended precautions to protect yourself from lightening, but you should also take some precautions to protect your computer and data. According to the National Lightning Safety Institute nature’s light show causes nearly $2 billion dollars in just computer and data damage every year in the United States.

Most of us think of lightening entering a building via electrical lines, but there are other ways as well. I am have seen lightening enter on telephone lines, television cable, and direct entry into a building. I have personally witnessed lightening enter a structure on three occasions. Once I changed my shorts, we found widespread damage in each case though out the buildings. Oddly enough most of the damage was not via the electrical lines, but actually via computer network cabling and telephone lines. I believe it is because these systems are never grounded as well as the electrical system in a building.

There are some steps that you can take to limit the damage:

  1. Install a GOOD surge protector on each piece of electrical equipment. You need to look for more than a power strip. A good surge protector should cost between $40 and $80, and it must include replacement value insurance for your equipment. Locate a surge protector that includes protection for phone, cable, and/or data lines as needed. Do not forgot the small but expensive devices such as your credit card machine and postal printer.
  2. I also like to plug my cell phone into a surge protector. I know that chances are slim for damage, but I would hate to have to replace an expensive PDA/phone due to an errant spike. The same goes for notebook computers. I generally go on battery on my notebook computer during a storm.
  3. Check the current surge protectors once a year. Be sure that the target equipment is still plugged into them, and if they have an indicator light check that it is illuminated.
  4. Protect computers and servers with uninterpretable power supplies (UPS). Even small electrical interruptions can wreak havoc with software including Windows and Outlook. If the outage catches the computer at just the wrong moment, corrupted data could prevent your computer from restarting. Connect the UPS to the computer using the USB cable and install the software if included. Most units on the market will shut down Windows based computers before the battery runs out of charge. Check the batteries every six months by testing via the included software. Servers and mission critical systems should be checked on a monthly basis.
  5. Avoid placing computers and servers on the same electrical circuit as appliances and air conditioners. These devices can cause low voltage on the circuit when they start.

You might be thinking – why not just unplug electrical devices. That is the surest way to protect against damage, but many times we forget or a storm sneaks up while we are away from home or the office. With the low-cost of today’s protection it is best to purchase the proper equipment and insurance.

You Are Step Closer To Not Using MS Office

Google has announced that they are purchasing Zenter. What does it mean to you? You are that much closer to using an equivalent to the Microsoft Office suite as an online service. Zenter offers an online service that allows its users to create PowerPoint like presentations.

This acquisition now gives Google the following in their office-like suite:

  • Email client
  • Calendar
  • Word Processor
  • Spreadsheet
  • Notebook for reference notes
  • Blogger to publish on the web
  • Presentation development (Coming Soon)

This comes on the heels of the purchase of another PowerPoint type of presentation software company – Tonic.

You can read the official release on the official Google blog.

Here is Garett Roger’s take on it:

Google acquires Zenter for presentations by ZDNet‘s Garett Rogers — Obviously, online presentation tools are important for Google — they have been on a shopping spree for these types of services lately. Today they are announcing the acquisition of Zenter and about a month ago, the company du jour was Tonic. Tonic has spent much time figuring out how to be 100% binary […]

The Danger of BIOS/ROM Updates

It is funny that I spent last evening setting up a new Dell with Windows Vista pre-installed. Ed Bott of ZDNet has been doing the same thing this week. I skipped the BIOS update. He did not as you can read in his blog. I had slightly better luck than Ed.

Day 2 with a new Dell and Vista by ZDNet‘s Ed Bott — I’m documenting my experience with a new Dell C521 that arrived last week. Day 1 was uneventful, as I unpacked the pieces, backed up the original hard drive and replaced it with a new larger drive, and installed a few updates. Well, uneventful except for the BIOS update I left running overnight… On Day 2, I get to put Dell’s support to the test as the system is completely unresponsive.

I have always been hesitant to update ROM in anything from computers to MP3 players. Updating ROM is usually referring to rewriting the instructions that are written onto a chip on the device. As the acronym implies, it is Read Only Memory. Writing to this memory was not intended when it was made. You never have a small problem when you are rewriting ROM. If there is a problem, then it usually really goes badly. Usually it is the death of the device.

To straighten out a couple of terms quickly here. The BIOS is the Basic In/Out System in a computer that is written in the ROM (Read Only Memory). The BIOS handles running the computer until the disk start spinning and feeding instructions to the processor.

The only time that I suggest updating the BIOS of a computer or ROM of any device is if there is a troubling problem or you really want a new feature.

A couple of examples:

1. I recently worked with a computer that had a bad time with USB devices. The printer/scanner/fax would work intermittently and the external hard drive used for backup would disconnect every couple of days. I tried software driver updates, but the problem persisted. A BIOS update was available, but I left it as my last resort. The BIOS update has appeared to correct the problem.

2. T-Mobile offered an update to version 6 of Windows Mobile for my HTC S620 PDA/Phone. Being a gadget junky and a sucker for anything free – I did take the risk of applying this update. On a serious note – I did need to test this update for a roll out at a company that uses many of these devices. It was fun trying out the new features, though.

If you do decide to perform a BIOS or ROM update do the following:

  1. Be sure that you really, really need the update. I equate a ROM/BIOS update with heart surgery. It either goes or not. There is no in between.
  2. Print and carefully read the manufacturers instructions all the way through and then download the update.
  3. If you are using a notebook computer or PDA or MP3 player be sure that you are using AC power. If you are using a desktop computer then be sure that you are using a battery backup or uninterrupted power supply.
  4. Disable any screen savers and turn off power management tools on your computer. Do not use any other software during the update process.
  5. Be patient. Let the update runs its course for a long time. I would wait for at least hour if things look like they are stuck. Your last resort is to stop the update process. Your device may never work again if you interrupt the update.

Continued Changes to Yahoo Panama Sponsored Search

Occasionally, I will submit stories about web design, search engine optimization, and sponsored search because I feel that it critical in small business technology.

I received notice this morning that Yahoo is going to cut costs for clicks from lesser known web sites. In other words, less pay for web sites that are not as popular. As an advertiser, I appreciate any price cut to stretch the budget a bit further. As a publisher this move is confusing. Obviously if you are generating less traffic then you will get paid less overall anyways. Is this a push to get advertisers to feature Yahoo advertising more prominently on a web page?

This is the key paragraph in the email that they sent this morning-

With quality-based pricing, you may be charged less for certain clicks than you otherwise would pay, depending on the overall quality of the traffic source the web site your ad appears on.

What is quality? It seems to be based on conversion, the ratio of clicks to site visitors.

I do know one thing. Google started this trend of non-transparency in paid search engine sponsorship. Yahoo jumped on the band wagon earlier this year when they saw Google’s success with the methodology. At one time, you simply had a matrix of your keywords along with your current highest bid and the three highest bids for each word. It was easy to check it several times a day to position yourself in relationship to competitors. Those days are gone on the large engines such as Google and Yahoo. The smaller engines still offer this flexibility, but they also do not offer much in the way of traffic. If you want big traffic then you must play in Yahoo and/or Google’s sandbox. It is like that abusive childhood friend who had all the cool toys.

More information about Yahoo Quality Based Pricing. The Yahoo Quality Based Pricing FAQ.

A New Way of Home Computing

Zonbu is soon to release a new type of computer for the home user. It features low power consumption and online backup of data. The greatest features are that it is always updated and includes many useful software applications.

The purchase cost is low, but there is a monthly subscription fee based on how much storage that you need. If you compare the costs of a computer, software, and backup media – this could be a positive product for someone that is not proficient in setting up or maintaining their own computer. This also covers computers for kids when the adult does not have the time to maintain the computer? (guilty) This will also keep the kids from “using” your computer. One downside of this computer for younger kids is that it will most likely not run any video games.

This type of computer is called a thin-client. The bulk of the storage and application data is stored on a central server somewhere. This not a new idea. It was discussed by several companies in the 90’s. It has even been implemented by some organizations such as the Florida city of Largo.

Day One With Windows Mobile 6

I evaluated and ultimately began using the T-Mobile Dash Smartphone a couple of months ago. I have been hesitant to write it up since I have learned that Windows would be releasing a new version of Windows Mobile and T-Mobile would be offering installation.

I will go into a further review of the Dash in a later post, but I can give you a quick description. The Dash is actually built by HTC for T-Mobile and is exclusively distributed by T-Mobile. It has an extremely small keyboard which is actually easy to manipulate once you use it for a short time. It is a good form factor for a PDA/phone, but not quite small enough to hold to one’s head. I know some that use it this way, but I find it much more comfortable to use a headset.

The download of the upgrade from T-Mobile got off to a false start. When I first attempted to download at 9:30 in the morning, the only download was for the MDA model. A quick call to T-Mobile indicated that the Dash download would be ready about Noon EDT. The download was available at 1:00. It was a 55 Megabyte size file which downloaded in a few minutes.

The initial installation takes about 10 minutes, but then the Dash takes many more minutes to sort itself out. It is disconcerting when it spends 5 to 10 minutes locked on the boot screen. One two occasions I was wondering if I would be making a trip to the local T-Mobile store. All ended well including that it automatically reinstalled my Garmin XT navigation software. Other software needed to be reinstalled.

The next problem was that the ActiveSync software on the desktop computer needed to be upgraded. ActiveSync version 4.5 is required. It was a quick trip to Microsoft downloads and an install. My Garmin Mobile 10 navigation software automatically reloaded. A note taking application had to be manually reloaded.

The first thing that I miss is that the bluetooth headset operates completely differently. The button on the ear piece no longer initiates or ends calls. Voice tags also appear to have disappeared.

A new feature is a female voice that announces phone calls by contact or phone number as well as incoming email subjects and senders.

I will post more as I use it more. I was originally going to create some screenshots, but decided against since they are all over the web anyways.

Change of Daylight Savings Time

The United States Congress has given us a nice springtime gift. They passed legislation in July of last year to extend Daylight Savings Time. This is the equivalent to a mini-Y2K. The reason given for the change is to save energy. The belief is that since Americans use the most energy in the evening, if you move it ahead by one hour we will save energy. The new dates for the change are March 11th and November 4 this year. (Here is a chart for dates up to 2040)

The difference between this event and Y2K is that this will happen four times this year. Hopefully you will be able to fix everything just once. I have ran down some common computer operating systems and how they are affected and more importantly, fixed.

Windows Vista – The best news! It shipped with the problem fixed. You are good to go.

Windows XP – Great news! Microsoft has released a patch. Even greater news! It does not appear to break anything*.

Windows 2000 – Bad news! Microsoft has NOT released a patch. Good news! A third-party has created an easy to use patch utility that does not appear to break anything*. You can find the unofficial, third-party patch at Intelliadmin. Microsoft has a procedure, but it is not for the faint of heart.

Microsoft Office – Not so bad! The only patch available is for Outlook. The calendar function needs to be updated to handle future appointments. Microsoft has supplied a repair utility for Office 2003 and 2007.

Other Software – Just about every software vendor that provides mission-critical software has released information about potential problems. Most problems that I have seen are fairly minor. The most significant seem to be when data is moving across time zones. An example would be branch offices feeding data to a central data center. Check with your software vendor for any possible advisories.

*I have tested these patches in my environments, but they may not work with your particular software. Test any way possible before installing into a working system.