Thursday, February 25, 2010

Is That Cell Call Worth Killing For?

A few weeks ago we discussed the dangers of using a cell phone in the car, whether talking on the phone, or worse yet, texting while driving.

Take the pledge and commit to banning the use of cell phones in your car. Point your browser to Oprah's No Phone Zone Pledge. You can read more here about the dangers of using a cell phone while driving. You may not want to admit it, but in many cases, it's worse than driving drunk!

Just turn it off!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Google Voice -- Way to Cool!

Google has a new service called Google Voice. In their words, "Teach your phone new tricks."

The service gives you two options:
1. Use your existing number:
  • transcribed voicemail online
  • low cost international calls
  • custom greetings for callers
2. Get a Google number:
  • same features as above
  • Google number can ring on multiply phones (more on this later)
  • get transcribed voicemails via SMS text
  • advanced call screening

I went with option two. Here's why. My employer requires me to carry a cell phone for my position. They used to provide me with a cell phone, but policies from higher up--not the local unit--would not allow me to take zero cost personal calls on the phone. So, rather than have to carry two phones, I turned theirs back to them, and got my own cell phone and agreed to take work calls on that phone.

Years of experience has taught me that people tend to skip trying to contact me at my desk phone, and instead call my cell phone. I have always been a frugal type, and while it bugged me even when they were calling the employer's phone, I really did not want them eating up minutes on my personal plan when they could just as easily call me at my desk phone.

(Hey--Northern Cheapskate--you will be really proud of this...) So, I signed up for a Google phone number to solve my problems and really extend the versatility of my phone. Here's how I leverage it.

First of all, Google let me search for a phone number I wanted to use. I found one that I like in the 651 area code, selected it, and Google assigned it to me right on the spot. Within 5 minutes it was working for me.

Now I have a Google phone number to give out to work related contacts. They don't need my real cell number (you'll see why shortly). I only give my real cell number to friends and family.

Cool--Next, I configured it to ring on my cell phone and my desk phone. That's right, when you call my Google phone number, it rings on both my desk phone and my cell phone simultaneously. (I can make it ring on more phone if I want, and can set up temporary ones too.) Which ever one I answer connects me to the caller. So, if I am at my desk and someone calls my cell phone, I can avoid using my plan minutes and answer it on my "land line".

The caller cannot see my real number, just my Google number. I can place outbound calls from the Google number using my cell phone too.

Even More Cool--I let Google Voice act as my voice mail for my cell phone. If I don't answer the call, the caller can leave a voice message. The service will then transcribe the voice message into text, and send it to my phone via SMS (text message).

Why is this so useful? Well, I try to practice pretty decent cell phone etiquette: I don't take calls in the car, during meetings or when conversing with someone face to face. But, since I am on call most of the time, I can wait for the text message to come through (which happens quickly after the caller leaves the voice message) and determine at a glance if it is something that I need to respond to immediately. If not, I can wait until I am finished with whatever I am doing at the time.

More Features
There are even more features to this phone number, such as call screening, custom greetings for individual callers or groups of callers, block lists, etc. I cannot comment on their utility, as I have not bothered to use them yet. The ability to ring on multiple phones and voice to text transcription make the application useful enough for me.

There Aint No Free Lunch
The service is in "Beta" stage right now, and is free (I don't have to pay for the number either). I don't know how google can afford to give it away, but, as long as they do, I'll take advantage of it. It is worth noting that the voicemails are stored on Google's servers, and that they actively scan all of the messages with their transcription tools. I suspect they are using these messages to test out their transcription software which they hope to "perfect" or optimize for speech to text web browsing.

Would I pay a fee for this service? you bet, if it was reasonable. I wont show my hand on this amount yet, but it sure is worth something to me.

More Info...
You can request a Google Voice account (it's by invite only right now) at but expect to wait a while to get your invitation to participate.

Chad Haatvedt

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Quality Web Based Shows Are Here!

Tired of channel surfing on your TV and not finding anything really worth looking at?

Well, some pretty decent original web shows are showing up on the internet. There are whole channels and services dedicated to providing great content. Most of the programs are shorter than traditional TV shows (well, maybe not too much shorter considering that 12 minutes of a half hour show are commercials).

Here are some of my favorites... has been hosting and showcasing independent shows since 2005. Lots of great content, you can search genres and it also has nice tools for content providers to publish their works.

Revision3 is one of the leading Internet television stations. They create and produce all original content in episode format. It is community driven. It too is searchable.

Miro is a handy tool for grabbing and watching Internet based programs. It is a free HD video player. It can play almost any video file and offers over 6,000 free internet TV shows and video podcasts.

Miro has a nice, easy to use interface designed for either regular or fullscreen HD video. Since Miro downloads most videos, you can take your shows with you, even on an airplane. Miro is 100% free and open source, developed by a non-profit organization and volunteers around the world.

How good is it?
There is lots of good content out there on these sites, but that does not mean it's all great. You'll have to plod around and see for yourself. There are program ratings, but I don't put much stock in them. Check out the featured programs, and explore genres that look interesting to you. The nice thing is that most of them are short, and there is a scroll bar in the player so you can fast forward to speed up the preview process.

Production quality ranges from decent to awesome. Even the worst is way better than the best youtube quality.

What you need to view this stuff.
You need a decent Internet connection (1.5Mbs or faster) to get a decent experience watching these programs. If you want to watch it full screen on your computer (or on a flat screen monitor hooked up to your computer) you need a pretty decent machine. Video rendering takes a good graphics card or a lot of CPU horsepower.

My Roku player has several of these channels so i can watch them on my TV set.

Prism -- Web apps installed on your computer

Would you like to be able to click an icon on your desktop or start menu and go right to your favorite web application like twitter, gmail, facebook, etc? If so, you might want to check out PRISM.

Prism is an application that lets users split web applications out of their browser and run them directly on their desktop. Prism opens up your applications (such as Facebook) without all of the regular browser menus, so in this case, only Facebook will run in the browser.

It is developed by the Mozilla folks (they bring you the Firefox browser) so it is a name you can trust.

Here's a screenshot of my Twitter page running in a Prism application. This is running in a "Firefox like" window, but it does not have all of the other baggage of a browser. No more opening bookmarks, tabs, extra browser windows to get to my Twitter page.

Prism apps run more stable and are less prone to bugs and browser crashes. If Firefox crashes, your Prism apps are not affected.

Learn more about Prism at