Skype

Since one of our daughters has been studying abroad this semester in Florence (aka Firenze) Italy - I set her and myself up with Skype.  This is a great service for low cost (and FREE) international long distance calling - depending on whether you are calling computer to computer or to/from a real phone.  Susan had been using the microphone and speakers built in to her laptop as her telephone.  Last month I hand delivered a USB headset to her.  Now, the sound quality of what I hear from her is superb. One of the features of the Skype service is called Skype To Go.  The best way that I can think of to describe this is kind of like a calling card.  You get a special telephone number in your local area.  When your authenticated phone calls the special number - you are connected into the Skpe system and your account.  You can speed dial from a dialing diretory of your contacts. The Skype To Go service has been working well and was a great resource.  Basically, I could call my Skype to Go number from my mobile phone dialing directory and then call Susan just by pressing the number 1 for my dialing directory.  I don't need to enter an account code, nor a password, nor her telephone number.  Kind of convenient.  That is up until last week.  Now it seems like the Skype to Go feature is broken.  It seems like this has been down for quite a while for a system that is to be considered ligitimate.  I finally got someone from technical support to acknowledge that there is a problem - however they can give no idea of when it will be working again. By the way, I just got set up for Google Voice.  Google Voice has many features including low cost long distance telephone calling.  It is not quite as simple to use from a mobile phone but at the moment - it does work - which is something that we can't say about Skype to Go.

Do you believe this c**p? from Microsoft Office Live

About a year ago I was reviewing credit card statements and found that Microsoft had been charging me $39.90 per month for 7 or 8 months.  After wending my way through the phone system maze that is MS I found that the free Beta service I had signed up for called Office Live Small Business had ended its free Beta period and converted itself and me to a paid account.  I informed the guy I was speaking to that he may have converted himself but no one had converted me and MS needed to 1) stop these charges and 2) find a way to refund me for the previous ones.  I explained that all I had signed up for was a free service.  They did both stop the charges and issue me a refund, by the way.

Now, a year later and guess what?  I’m reviewing credit card statements again and I’ve got another 9 months charges at $39.90 per month that started about 3 months after last year’s charges ended.

After asking twice to speak to a supervisor* I spoke to a guy that at least sounded like he understood what I was talking about.

GET THIS – He reviews their notes and tells me this is my fault (he didn’t use the word ‘fault’)!  That a year ago they (and this is his word which I questioned him about and he reused) COMMANDED me to call them back at a later time because at that time their computer system wasn’t capable of completing the task.  I quizzed him on this and he stood fast insisting that if his notes said I was COMMANDED this then I must have been COMMANDED to call them back.

So, this company, that makes operating system software and application software INCLUDING Database software had to COMMAND me to call them back to remind them to turn off these c**ppy charges that I never wanted.  They didn’t have the computing resources to do their job so they were outsourcing to me!

And another point – if they had in fact COMMANDED me to do something – I can promise you that I would not have done it but I would have remembered that they COMMANDED me.

When I asked this supervisor if there would be any need for me to call them again next year he assured me that there would not be.

- - - - -

*supervisor – some people think that I am a little bigotted.  they think that I think that people of certain distant nationalities that staff help desks are ignorant because of their national origin.  this is far from the truth.  i know that these peoples countrymen (and women) are very bright because they are all here, in our country, getting higher education and becoming doctors and engineers.  its the ones that are left behind that are hired at 20 cents on the dollar by the hundreds of head counts to fill ‘technical support’ desks with no experience about the subject matter that they are supporting – they are just taught how to read a script from a notebook.  so, i am not biased against people by their nationality – but by their capability (or lack thereof) to represent the company they work for.

Back to USA & Windows Phone

We had a great time in Italy.  I've got a post of the trip at my other blog.  I like when you reenter the US and the Passport Control officer says 'Welcome Home'. I am also kind of glad to be back to my regular mobile phone.  I have been using a Verizon HTC Touch Pro recently.  For the trip, I got a Verizon Blackberry 8830 (think that is what it is called) Worldphone - so it would be easier to keep in touch with family and business at home.  When I returned home last weekend I took the BB offline and reactivated my Touch Pro. Observations - I have a little more appreciatation for the BB system now.  I still prefer Windows or Palm since they are so much more open and more flexible as far as applications go. What BB has going for it - in my opinion - is that it is VERY easy to use as a phone.  I've got a contact list with a few thousand contacts and I don't have to access any special screen to get into lookup mode - all I have to do is start entering firstname, lastname or company and the phone does a FAST filtering of my contacts.  Also, for emailing and text messaging the process seems very efficient.  It's just that doing other things becomes much more limiting than on my windows phone. One feature of BB's that I was unaware of - PIN messaging or BB messaging or whatever you call it.  This is like text messaging but here's the deal.  With text messaging while roaming it costs something like 5 cents to receive and 50 cents to send.  BB PIN messaging between and BB's regardless of the carrier and regardless of where they are in the WORLD are FREE.  My daughter, who is studying in Florence this semester shares an apartment with 4 other girls.  The other 4 girls all have BBs.  It costs like $1/min to make phone calls on these phones but they don't use them for talking - they use them for BB messaging - FREE.  So, when I returned home from Italy last weekend, I had my BB reprovisioned on a different line on my account and then shipped the phone back to my daughter to use for the rest of her stay abroad.  Now she can use the BB messaging too.  And one more neat thing about our modern age - Susan is leaving Friday (today) to visit some other cities in Europe for her spring break.  I shipped the phone to her on Monday and she received it on Wednesday - even after one failed delivery attempt!  Pretty cool. Ciao ( my Italy pictures http://bit.ly/exJ8I )

I crossed over to the dark side

About a month or so I gave up my Treo 700P that was working just fine for me.  I had stayed with the Palm o/s because of an application that is important to me and for which I had not found a suitable replacement in the Windows Mobile world.  Anyway, a month ago my brother found the replacement application for me and he turned me on to the HTC Touch Pro which he has been using.  I bought a Touch Pro and I have to tell you – it took me at least a week just to get a mental picture of where the various programs and utilities were. I did finally get it and I do like the phone a lot.  I have been a Palm user for a long, long time.  About two years ago I bought a Windows based phone and I was shocked at how STUPIDLY designed it was.  A large criticism of mine was concerned with silencing the phone.  It required using the stylus because the touch item on the screen was too small.  And, worst of all, giving the silence command made NOISE.  What engineer thought that this was a good idea.

Joyce and I are now getting ready for a vacation to Firenze, Italy.  I got Joyce a world phone (CDMA + GSM)  last fall. This week when I was talking to the Verizon guy to make plans to activate the international service it dawned on me that, especially because of my business, it would make a lot of sense for me to have a world phone too.  I had planned on using one of the inexpensive unlocked GSM phones we got several years ago for our travels.  We would just get a local country prepaid SIM card when we went and enjoy very inexpensive local calling.  We would handle international calling with a global calling card.  This worked pretty well for us making calls but it wasn’t very easy for our family to reach us.  It required international dialing which in our circles wasn’t second nature plus it was much more expensive when done ad hoc.

The global phone idea seemed to make a lot of sense for me being able to keep in touch with business back home.  Verizon had a couple world phones and I picked a blackberry that might be called a curve (not sure).  It was going to be $170 minus a $70 rebate and I figured for $100 it would be worth it to me to just use this phone when I travel.  I went to the Verizon store, picked out a nice looking Red phone and went through the stuff with the sales person.  When she rang up the sale she looked up and said ‘Oh, your phone is free!’.  That was a nice surprise.  She said she thought it might be because of a buy one get another one program even though the one I bought (for Joyce) was 5 months ago.

Oberservations – I have always been kind of anti BB – because of the fact that it is not an open system.  I liked the ability with Palm and Windows to be able to find tons of 3rd party apps. from independent sources.

I first tried something called AstraSync – which is supposed to be software to do wireless sync of email/calendar/contacts for a lower price than the BB enterprise server.  In the last several months I tried to install and configure this software for 2 other peoples’ BB phones.  I was unsuccessful in this endeavor and found AstraSync’s technical support to be worthless.  They only have user supported forums for technical support.  Now, with my BB, I decided to try this software again.  I actually did get it to start sync’ing with my phone which is farther than I had gotten before.  HOWEVER, the sync’ing ran for hours and when it completed it started sync’ing again.  There was an ever present twirling icon in the center of my screen indicating that the sync’ing was going on.  This was annoying AND slowed down the operation of the phone.  Since I have an Small Business Server running in my office – I downloaded and installed the BB server software.  I got this running and sync’ing in a well behaved manner and think life is now good.

While I still do miss having all the nice 3rd party applications for the BB phone – I do find that some of the things it does are extremely FAST.  I’ve got an enormous contact list and all I have to do is type in a couple letters of a first name or a last name or a company and the result is immediate.

I do still plan to go back to my HTC Touch Pro when I return from this trip. I’ll keep the BB for a foreign travel phone.

I'm writing a new column

I don't know if associating with me will hurt their credibility but - www.TMCnet.com, the Web Publishing organization that is putting on IT EXPO in two weeks in Miami, invited me to write a blog there. It's supposed to be a pretty busy site - I'm going to give it a try - we'll see if anyone can find me there. My section is at: blog.tmcnet.com/allen-miller-on-response-point/ Regards, Allen

Response Point - Forward calls to Outside Agents

I've got a couple customers that have some remote staff.  They would like to have a voice mail box for these people in their Response Point system.  They would also like to be able to manually forward calls to these remote users - as in the case where the receptionist answers a call at the main office and tells the caller 'please hold while I transfer you to whatshisname'.

I have tried this out using my Aastra system.  I don't know if it works the same or differently on the other brands.  Here's what I have found - in case you can use it.

I create the user on my system. I configure the call forwarding for this user to send the calls to his external telephone number. Here’s where it gets a little quirky. If I do not assign this user to a telephone in the RP system – if I answer an incoming call and then park it – and then forward it to my remote guy's “extension” – I get an error message that says “Sorry, that extension does not exist or is out of service”. By the way – if I call in to the RP system and request that users extenstion – then the call DOES forward without any error message. The workaround for the quirky part is – if I have enough slots on phones on my system to assign this remote user to one of the RP phones – then I can do what I want which is – answer an incoming call – park it – and then forward to the remote user's “extension” and the call will forward outbound without the error message.

Pet Peeves

Do you have any pet peeves?

Every once in a while I am reminded that I have one or two.  This past week I was setting up some new monitors for a customer that wanted to enter the 2 Screen world with their office computers.  I've been using two monitors on my desktop computer for quite a while and I would never want to go back to a single monitor.  I remember when 15" CRT monitors were considered a nice size.  My monitors are 17".  When I went to my supplier to pick up monitors for my customer I had thought I would get him pairs of 20" wide screen monitors.  My salesman told me to get 22" wide screens - that they cost less than 20's!

Anyway, I am off the subject.

This pet peeve has to do with the way they wrap the monitor DATA CABLE. This has to be a result of some misunderstanding between cultures of the west and east.  Someone in the far east heard a word from the west - the word was probably "twist-tie".  The person in the far east didn't know what twist-tie meant and was embarrassed to ask.  They looked it up in their dictionary - did not find it - and decided on their own that it meant - wrap a data cable so that it would be completely sanitized and sterile when it was received and that it would be a pain-in-the-a** to unwrap.  Once one eastern company saw that the first company was doing with the cables they decided to copy the first because after all - they are masters of copying.  Next everyone was doing it.

If you are not sure what I am referring to - check out this photo.  In case you can't make out all the detail - there are:

  1. 3 twist ties
  2. 2 end caps
  3. 2 rubber bands
  4. 1 plastic sleeve
  5. 2 special wrappings for the connectors that are bound by the rubber bands.

It takes several minutes just to unwrap this single cord.

image

Blackberry Storm - Bug ?

This one took about an hour on the phone with Verizon technical support.  I had been using another cell phone to send a text message to the Blackberry.  The message was received, the status light flashed red, but there was no audible alert.  Of course since the phone had only come out yesterday - the tech. support person had not seen one yet.  She read through her manual - which had a lot more pages than my manual - and had me try a few things.  None of these things had any effect on my issue.

Finally, I found a setting in the SMS alert menu that DID NOT AT ALL sound like it was related. I figured this was enough reason to try it! 

The setting I am talking about is - NOTIFY ME DURING CALLS. This setting seems to blackberrysay that Yes means sound the alert if I am on a call and no means do not sound the alert if I am on a call.  The way it worked for me is that when I am NOT ON A CALL - I only get an alert if this item is set to YES.  If it is set to NO I get no alert when not on a call.

I have to imagine that is going to be a large problem for Verizon Storm users.  I hope that they are quick in coming out with a fix for this.

New Cell Phone

Not for me.  I’m still using my Palm Treo 700p.  I’ve always been kind of anti- Blackberry.  Mostly because I believe in the open  platform concept.  The one were all the great programming minds of the world can have a chance to put their skills to the test. Joyce has never had a smart phone before.  With traveling and being more interested in having access to email we went looking for a new phone to be able to be better connected.  We had 4 criteria, I believe.  These requirements were:
  1. Verizon Network - I still think this is the best
  2. World Phone - (GSM capabilities for Europe, etc.)
  3. Email
  4. Camera
It turns out there is only one phone that fits this bill and a few weeks ago there were none.  The new Blackberry Storm is the ticket.  We found this out about a month ago.  Joyce’s birthday was a few weeks ago so I told her I would get the phone for her for her birthday.  Yesterday I called the Kenwood Verizon store and they told me they were opening their doors at 7am today - two hours early - for the release and it would be first come first served.  There is a new store closer to our house that I also had been checking in with.  My name was first on their list but when I checked with them yesterday they said their ‘group of 15 stores’ was going to get 13 phones. So, I got up at 5:30am and got to the Kenwood store by 6.  I think there were 13 people ahead of me and I was wondering if they would have enough phones for me to get one (oh yes, and it was 28 degrees).  People near me in line seemed to have the idea that there would be 30 phones or so.  Just before 7 some store personnel came out and handed out vouchers for the amount of phones they had to the first people in line.  I don’t know how many they had but I got one - that’s all I cared about.  There were a lot of sales people on the floor when they let us in and at number 14 I was in the first wave of customers waited on.  It took me almost until 8am before I got out but I had my (I mean Joyce’s) phone. I took Joyce her new phone and left to go to work.  The phone looks beautiful - but I haven’t done much with it.  I did take a photo of one of those MINI cars.  I thought the sign in the back window was cute - it read ACTUAL SIZE. blackberry

Next Scheduled Podcast - Tue. 11/9 @ 7pm Eastern - w/ Richard Sprague

 

Episode 004 of the Response Point Podcast will be recorded via live conference call on Tuesday 11/9 at 7pm eastern time.

I am planning on doing a one-on-one chat with Richard Sprague, of the Microsoft Response Point Team.  During our talk I will quiz Richard on several items included in the 2 next waypoints on the Response Point Roadmap that was discussed recently in the Response Point Town Hall Meeting.

This episode will be conducted via public conference call.  You are invited to call in.  During my one-on-one chat with Richard the lines will be muted.  After we cover the planned material I will unmute the lines for anyone interested in asking questions or making comments.

To access this conference call - dial (can anyone really DIAL anymore?) 1-218-486-1616 and enter 30961 for the access code.

As always, if you wish to phone in or mail in you questions ahead of time - you can call 888-852-2158 and say PODCAST to the automated receptionist or select extension 401 to record your question or email to Allen at ResponsePointPodcast.com

This conference call will be recorded and available for download and podcast here and in the iTunes store.

image

Tracking down the Bandwidth Hog

This felt so good when I solved it (like a good bm) that i just had to follow it up with a blog post.

A new client of ours (Financial Services company) has a T1 line that handles their voice and data.  They mentioned that their Internet is slow.  I spoke to the ISP who told me this customer's bandwidth is maxed out.  They have 500k upload and it is being saturated.  After checking the applications that they typically use in their business I found that they have an ACT database that is hosted in the cloud.  I spoke to the technical support people for the hosted database and they told me that for the number of users this account has the most bandwidth they should be using is 190k.  Furthermore, they told me that if the browser connection to the database is closed the utilization should be zero.

With this information in hand I started to do some investigation.  This office is not too big and the people there are very cooperative and they said I could do some testing during office hours. 

One colleague suggested using a Calyptix UTM device for its bandwidth monitor.  I do use these devices but the bandwidth monitor graphic is not really useful for this study - not enough magnification (see insert).

image

I had recently read about the TOMATO firmware that can run on Linksys routers.  I grabbed an old Linksys router from the gadget warehouse (the newer versions don't work with Tomato) and installed the firmware.  The bandwidth monitor in the Tomato router was perfect (see insert). This Tomato display is from the actual problem network.  The green stuff at the bottom is download activity which was not the problem. The blue stuff averaging 700+k is the outbound problem.

image

Next I asked everyone to shut down their ACT web sessions.  There was no change in the activity when I did this. 

Next I disconnected a single workstation from the network.  I saw a dramatic drop in the outbound activity.  I thought I may have found the problem workstation.  HOWEVER, after I waited a short while, with that workstation still unconnected, the activity RETURNED to the high level!

I reconnected that computer and disconnected another computer.  I saw similar results.  Activity fell way off but then returned to the high level.

At this point I decided I would have to take some more disruptive action so I told the business owner I would return to do more testing when the office was closed.

Last night, after our trick or treaters waned - I went back to the office. 

I removed all the workstations from the network and then connected just one.  I saw the high level of outbound activity.  I then put to use two tools.  I used WIRESHARK to capture an interval of traffic.  I then sorted the traffic on Destination IP address and found one external IP that was the bulk of the traffic.  I next used Sysinternals TCPVIEW.  This utility enabled me to see applications/processes that were running along with what resource they were accessing.  I spotted my external IP address in the list and found that the CULPRIT was AFPW.OUTLOOK.SERVICE.EXE.  This was buried several folders deep in an Act  Web folder on the computer.  When I killed this process - VOILA - my outbound traffic utilization dropped to zero!

On Monday I will contact the ACT database people to find out if this errant process is even related to what they are doing or maybe just left over from some earlier and now unused installation.

CiNPA Load Fest (aka Geek Fest)

The Cincinnati SBS User Group is having a Load Fest today.  My wife called it a Geek Fest.  We've got 14 guys in a beautiful conference room at the Goodwill Industries facility in Cincinnati, Ohio, courtesy of George Placke - one of our generous members. We all have brought in server boxes and are installing Small Business Server 2008 on these boxes.  Kevin Royalty, our SIG leader and Small Business Server MVP is guiding us through the steps. Click the link below the picture to see some more pictures.
From LoadFest

RPer of the Year - WOW!

from the SMB DUDE blog

===================================================

SBSer and RPer of the Year Named!

Posted on October 5, 2008 by harrybrelsford

At our party inside the musuem, early last night we named:

  • SBSer of the Year: Susan Bradley
  • RPer of the Year: Allen Miller
  • SBSer of the Year - Special  Posthumous Edition: Bill Hunt

Thanks everyone and congrats to Susan and Allen!

===================================================

Thank you - thank you - thank you.

I Finally Made it - Who's Who

This just in - it arrived in my morning email - I am being considered for Who's Who.  Well, not actually Who's Who but Who's Who Among Women in North America! This is, and I quote,  "considered by many as the single highest mark of achievement.

The from email address is Nominationwhoswho [whoswho@pizzaextrasize.com].  And if this doesn't tell you something, just hover your mouse over the link to the convenient online form available at www.montclairwhoswho.com and you will see the real link to www.bankruptcyadvice1.com

Now I know many online scams are difficult for even the techies to fathom out but, come on, I mean really, has someone really fallen for this piece of drek?

WhosWho

Hi-Tech Printer?

Our daughters are mostly back to college for the fall (#3 starts tomorrow).  I got her twin sister a new laptop this summer because the old one had too many miles on it.  I picked up an HP that was priced attractively at one of the big box stores.  Since she would be in a two person dorm room with limited counter top space - I thought a wireless printer might be a good compliment.  It didn't have to be on her desk next to the laptop - it could be across the room on her dresser.  She could share the printer with her roommate so they only needed one printer between the two of them

I purchased the laptop and printer in our home town before she went away to school.  I configured the wireless printer connection and got it working.  When we got her to school I reconnected the computer and printer to make sure they were working.  So far all is good.

Now, a few weeks in to the fall quarter I get a call from the daughter.  She says - Dad, the wireless printer will not print for me wirelessly - it will only print with the usb wire.  AND, sometimes in the middle of the night when I am in bed the printer will start printing jobs for people I don't even know!

Nice going HP.  You continue to keep up the long time image I have of your multi-function printers.  Just who at HP thinks that a printer device should need software that takes 45 minutes to install?

Connected - again

I wouldn't think much about Cincinnati being affected by a hurricane - but this week it was.  Last Sunday we had a huge wind storm and 90% of Duke Energy's customers lost power.  Cincinnati lost a lot of beautiful trees to the wind.  We were out of power until Wednesday night.  One customer asked me 'where are you staying?'  I told him my bed required no electricity and that we were managing quite well.  Tuesday night was garbage night and we filled a couple cans emptying the freezer and the refrigerator.  It was probably time to get new food anyway. It's a little depressing to spend the evenings in the dark with just flashlights and candles.  The dogs loved it that we put them in the car a couple evenings and just drove around.  They got introduced to 'sliders' and it has opened up a whole new world for them.  It wasn't until tonight - Friday - that we got our internet service back and it has been a little spotty since it came back. All in all I would say we are very lucky.  Nothing here like what was happening in Texas.  I was sad to see that three people in the area lost their lives to this wind storm.  Condolences to their families and loved ones. Then again, there is our local rag - the Cincinnati Enquirer.  Always refreshing to know there is consistency in the world.  The front page on Monday morning after the storm - large headlines above the masthead - was about the Bengals.  Mention that three people had died was 'below the fold'.