Saturday, December 22, 2007

New feature in Zune 2.3 firmware

Despite Zuneinsider saying that there weren't any new features in the 2.3 version of the firmware, I just found one. The firmware update is supposed to help with battery life, and it has. But there is one feature that isn't being talked about. When playing a podcast, if you hit the center button, you are presented with the description of the podcast. On that screen, there is an option to unsubscribe now. That wasn't there before. Now, if they could add a "Mark as played" option to that screen, as I suggested in a previous post, I'll be happy.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Blockbuster Online is raising their rates, again...

I've been with Blockbuster Online for a few years now. I'm on the 3 at a time unlimited rentals with 2 movie/game coupons a month for in-store rentals. It started out being a nice deal. $14.99 a month. Then about a year ago, they raised it to $17.99 and for new accounts they made the coupons for movies only. They left accounts like mine alone (except for the price), so I can still get in-store rentals of movies or games with the coupons.

Well, I just received an email that they are raising the rates again. For the same plan, it will now be $19.99. I like the service, but I don't like it that much! I didn't like it when they raised it to $17.99. And that was barely worth it. Now that it will be going up to $19.99, it's not worth it at all. I just don't rent enough DVDs from them.

December 27th is when the website will be updated with the new pricing structure. At that point, I will have to decide to either go to a cheaper plan, or just cancel the account all together. I can get DVDs for free from my local library. I might as well take advantage of that. But Blockbsuter is more convenient.

Of course, another possibility is Netflix. They are actually cheaper than Blockbuster, at least for now anyway. I may give them a try. They just don't have the ability to provide free in-store rentals like Blockbuster can. But if I can get the same plan for less than what I'm paying now, it will be a trade off I can live with.

Look for an update on December 28th to see which direction I go.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Zune 2.0: The Good, Bad, and the Ugly

I've been playing with my Zune 30 (aka, original zune) for a couple of weeks now. I'd like to go over what I like and don't like about the new Zune interface and software. But first of all, overall, it's not bad. I was thinking that I'd either keep my Sony PSP and give the Zune to my son, or keep the Zune and give my son the PSP. I have given the PSP to him.

First, the good. I absolutely love the podcast support. I tell the software what I want, how many I want to have on hand at a time, and it takes care of the rest. When I am done listening or viewing a podcast, it will automatically remove it from the Zune, and sync the next episode (if available) to the Zune. I listen to and watch several podcasts, and it was a chore to get everything synced to my PSP, and make sure I had enough room to store them. With the Zune, I have plenty of room, and it simply is no longer a chore.

The interface on the Zune is nice. It is faster than the previous firmware when scrolling through the list of albums or songs. It is easy to find what I'm looking for.

I like the idea of wireless sync. I have tried it, and for some reason it is not working. I want to move the Zune software to another computer because where I have it now doesn't have enough hard drive space to support it (more on that in a moment). I hope that I will be able to get it working on the new computer.

My list of good things don't seem like much, especially after you see my list of the bad things, but the list of bad things are not deal breakers. If I had a choice between a Zune and an iPod Video or Touch, I'd go with an iPod. But my choice was between a PSP and a Zune. And given that choice, I'd pick the Zune. The list of bad things is merely things I would like to see Microsoft do to enhance the product.

Now the bad. I mentioned earlier that I liked how the software would automatically remove played podcasts. For a while, I couldn't figure out how to tell if an episode had been played yet, or not. And then I noticed that an unplayed podcast was just a little brighter than a played one. The difference is so subtle that I missed it for the longest time. And even knowing that, I have to move the selector up and down just so I can try to see the difference. I think Microsoft would do well to make the distinction a little more evident. And, along the lines of played versus unplayed, it would be really nice to be able to tell the software, from the Zune, that something has been played. The idea being that sometimes I start a podcast and don't want to listen to it all. As it is now, I have to either go to the software and mark it as played, or fast forward to the end of the podcast on the Zune and let it finish it. Doing the latter will cause the Zune to mark it as being played. I would rather go into an options page and select "Mark as played" from the Zune. That way, when I get the wireless sync working, I won't have to touch the computer at all.

I don't like the new rating system. If it's on my Zune, I like it enough to listen to it. So the broken heart idea doesn't work too well for me. If I give something a broken heart, it doesn't get on my Zune. So, that leaves two options for me, like it, or really like it. I can't set it up with the levels I was used too. Some songs I like more than others. And some more songs I like even more. I'm really not buying the excuse given. It's interesting that they say that there was confusion for the 5 star system. How in the world can a 3 star rating be "I love this song"? What is higher than that? "I really love this song"? Well, if you "really" love a 4 star song, does that mean you really don't love the 3 star song? Makes no sense to me. They could have, in the Zune software, a label beside the rating giving what the rating means for whatever number of stars were selected. And so I can better rate my list of songs, I hope Microsoft will consider changing it back.

I don't like how the Zune card doesn't show ALL of the songs I listen too. You would think by looking at my card that I don't listen to much of anything, other than the few that are listed there. According to the FAQ, most of the songs I play should be showing up. However, I have just noticed the updates. I will try their suggestions and see if that works. It would also be nice if it would list the podcast I was listening to. I believe I read somewhere (can't find it now) that it was coming.

Now for the ugly. I know a lot of people will disagree, but I don't like the software. It's just plain ugly. I will admit that it's better than the last version. But it still isn't as intuitive as it should be. In the podcast section, how do I tell the software to check for updates to all podcasts? I can't find how to do that. Right now, I have to right click on each one and tell it to check individually. When adding a new podcast, you have to stop everything from downloading, if you have already played the older episodes and tell it where to start. The software assumes that a new podcast has not been played ever. It can't assume that. Then, I'm getting a lot of cryptic errors. There are a couple of podcasts that some episodes work just fine, but others tell me that the format is incorrect and doesn't work with the Zune. Which I find hard to believe. Also, I was getting other cryptic errors that ended up being that I was running out of hard drive space. The encoder was trying to transcode the video files for use on the Zune, but was running out of room. Instead of telling me that it ran out of room, it just says "Unknown error".

And that's not all. Over on the music side of things, the album art was messed up in the new software (it was fine in the previous version). I tried a couple of things the online FAQ suggested, which was a mistake since it made the software think it was a new installation. Still didn't fix it. I ended up having to download the cover art from a website and tell the software to use that file for the cover art. It was a lot of trouble for something that should have been easy.

I don't much like the marketplace either. It's not real easy to browse anything. I knew that it was supposed to now have videos available, but I couldn't find any. And when I did find them, they wanted too much for them. Why not some freebie videos?

The point system stinks too. Most songs are 79 points. Which at first glance makes you think you are getting a deal, since Apple charges 0.99 cents per song. But considering you can get 400 points for $5.00, that's 0.0125 cents per point (And there is no discount for buying more points. 4000 points costs $50.00, or 0.0125 cents per point). So, 79 points is 0.9875 cents. Practically the same price as iTunes. Here's the kicker, however. When you purchase an album, the point value ranges from 800 to 900 points, or more. At 800 points, you're looking at $10.00. 900 is $11.25, and 1000 points is $12.50. The 50 Cent album, Curtis, is 1000 points on the Zune Marketplace, whereas in iTunes, it's $10.99. You are paying $1.51 more for the same album. Not exactly fair, is it? (And no, 50 Cent is not a choice I would make, it just happened to be the easiest example)

To end on a positive note, I do like the idea of the Zune pass. Basically, you pay $14.95 a month and you can download just about any song in the Marketplace. I think that includes videos, but I can't find anything to confirm or deny that. When you stop paying, the songs become unplayable. It's a great plan. But I listen primarily to podcasts, so it won't be worth it to me. Maybe one day I'll try it for a month.

The Zune, overall, has a lot of potential. I wish I had more control on the Zune. I wish I could record songs off the radio. I wish the software was more userfriendly. I wish the songs themselves were cheaper in the Marketplace. But will I give up my Zune? Probably not. If someone where to say that they'd trade my Zune for an 80gb iPod video, or even an iPod Touch, I'd do it without thinking twice. I'll even throw in the new Belkin case I just got off of Woot for the Zune (more on that in the near future). But until then, I'll be happy with what I have.

What would you like to see changed? Or do you like it as is?

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Perfect Paper Passwords

I have been listening to the Security Now podcast from the beginning. It is a really good podcast about computer or network security. It is hosted by Steve Gibson and Leo Laporte. Steve is the creator of Spinrite, a hard disk repair and maintenance utility. He is also the author of several free utilities that can be found at his website. The podcast is all about security. Sometimes I think they talk too much about Spinrite, or e-book readers and I also think Leo sometimes falls asleep during the taping because he'll ask Steve questions that Steve already addressed. But anyway, other than that, it's a really good podcast.

Lately, there has been a lot of talk about one time use passwords. Steve had a need for his staff to securely log into the GRC network when they are away from their home. He wanted everything to be as impenetrable as possible. Sometimes I think Steve goes overboard. He would prefer NO risk of attack, whereas I understand that there will be some risk involved. I would rather it be easier than harder. The more hoops I have to jump, the more secure it is, but you're also increasing the frustration level if you already have a low risk of some one trying to break in. I mean, who really wants to read MY email? And there are some instances where the extra hoops aren't so frustrating, like my Paypal account. You can listen to episode 115 for all the details about why he came up with this, but he wanted something that couldn't be sniffed and used again later. I think what he has come up with is very good. And I think it will work for a few different websites or systems. For example, I think this would be perfect for Passpack or Clipperz. Websites like that have the potential of being targets, and this would give one more authentication factor that would be incredibly hard to attack.

The system Steve has come up with is called "Perfect Paper Passwords", or PPP. The website has all the information about it. Steve said that someone has already used his system to create a plug in for the Mac that will use this authentication system for logging into an OS X system. If someone comes up with something for Windows, I'd probably use it.

Also, I like my Paypal Security Key, but what Steve has come up with is better in a lot of ways. The biggest difference is cost. It doesn't cost anything to print out a card. And it will also have a low start up cost for websites too. It's just really cool. And I really hope Passpack and Clipperz will implement it, as I still use both of those sites and would enjoy the extra security.

And speaking of Passpack and Clipperz. I sent Steve feedback asking him about those two sites. He hasn't answered it yet, but he did answer someone else about a similar website called Passlet. I asked Steve what he thought of those sites, and based on his response to the Passlet question, he seems to think they are okay. But, Passlet is just plain ugly and doesn't provide nearly the same feature set as Passpack or Clipperz. Maybe Steve will still have a look at my question and answer it. I'm hoping he uses a tracker and will see this blog post. If not, I'll try again because I'd really like to know what he thinks of these sites, and maybe even compare it to Passlet.

(I realize I didn't say anything about Leo as an introduction. After all, who doesn't already know Leo?)

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

I fell for the Social

A year ago, I looked at a Zune and said to myself, "my that sure is ugly." I heard about $1.00 from every Zune sale was going to Universal Studios. Zune was being released from Microsoft. And did I mention that it was ugly? I could not see how this ugly MP3 player would be able to compete with the iPod. I didn't like the idea of Universal getting more money than they deserve. It would be a tough thing for them to do to try and take some market share from Apple. But Microsoft, being Microsoft, had to try. And they weren't that successful. People had trouble with it. And, well, it's ugly.


Move forward one year, and Microsoft has just released their second generation Zune. This time, they have an 80 gig version to replace the 30 gig original version. And they also have a flash based player in a 4 gig and 8 gig variety. The new Zune's include some nifty new features, like being able to wirelessly sync with the host computer. And they aren't quite as ugly as before.


One of the nice thing they are doing is allowing the original Zune's to take advantage of the new features. The original Zune has a firmware update that gives it most of the new features. The only thing missing has to do with video playback. Not a huge deal.


So, everything is looking up for Microsoft. They may actually give the iPod a run for its money. But only time will tell.


Why am I talking about this? Well, our good friends at Woot recently had a really good sale on refurbished brown original Zunes for $75.00. I just couldn't resist. Who ever heard of a 30 gig MP3 player for $80.00 (with shipping)? No one. So, I got it. But the thing that sold me the most is that, 1. Microsoft would be updating the firmware to allow the latest goodies to be included. Something Apple rarely does, if at all. And 2. podcasts are now supported. I listen/watch podcasts on my Sony PSP, and it's a pain to deal with the limited amount of memory. Having 30 gigs available was very tempting for that alone.


Now, I'm a Zune owner. (not quite ready to say that I'm a "proud" owner) And I'm happy that the latest software and firmware has finally been released. Over the next few days I'll go over some of the new features in more detail. But so far, I'm really impressed with the podcast aspects of the software. More on that in the next post.


If you are interested, my Zune card is http://social.zune.net/member/RonnieMorgan.

Monday, November 5, 2007

What?! No Gphone!?

The rumors of a Google branded cell phone have been all of the Internet for some time now. And today, we finally found out what all the rumors were about. I, personally, think this is the better way to go. Instead of a limited number of people switching carriers to own your phone, you can hit a larger audience by creating an OS that can span across many different phones from many different carriers. Brilliant!

What Google has done is develop an open platform that will run on Linux based phones. Of course, they will use Google mobile applications too. Google has also started an alliance called the Open Handset Alliance to develop the platform. The platform will also be called Android.

I really think this is going to be great. I have a Verizon phone right now, and I hate the interface they have put on my Razr. There has been buzz about Apple not allowing third party applications on the iPhone. With the platform by the Open Handset Alliance, all of that will be moot. The interface, I assume, will be better than anything we've seen so far. It will be open, hence the name. And because it will be open, we should see LOTS of applications for the devices.

There is already at least one possible prototype being revealed that will use Android. I'm sure as the days and months go by, we'll start seeing more and more. Apple's iPhone will have a run for it's money.

The ONLY bummer I see out of this is that Verizon is not listed as a partner in the Open Handset Alliance. Maybe it's time to start looking for another carrier???

Monday, September 24, 2007

Funny tasting pudding

Just heard about a new site today called "ThePudding" that will offer FREE PC to phone calling. The service will be much like Skype in that all you need to make calls is a headset that includes a mic, and a computer with internet access. Once the software is up and running, you can dial anyone you want, and for however long you want. All for free.


But, something doesn't taste right when you really get into it. While you are sitting there talking to your friend about the movie you saw last night, advertising is being displayed in the window about that movie. Then, you start talking about going out to Burger King for a sandwich after the movie, and strangely the advertising switchs to an Ad for McDonalds. How does it know what you are talking about? Well, it's simple, the Pudding servers are listening in and looking for key words. Yes, Gmail, and other email services, look through your email for certain words to display advertising, but this idea is just creepy.

The service is not up and running yet, but they are accepting people for a beta test. I have added myself to the beta list so that I can play with it, but you can be sure that I won't make real calls with it. It will be fun to call my cell phone with it and see what words I can say to make it display certain ads. But other than that, I don't like the idea of it listening to me.

And, on top of that, it only works in IE.

Friday, September 21, 2007

BlogRushing more readers

I mentioned a few days ago that I was going to try a new service called BlogRush. The service is having a rought start, as people are trying to cheat the system (surprise, surprise). They are working to fix that problem. But the idea is promising. Basically, the widget on the right side of my blog provides a list of other blogs that are related to my blog. When you are reading my blog, you might see something of interest at another blog. And that blog may be a blog you have never heard of before. So, you are able to discover new content. Likewise, people will discover my blog because my posts will be linked in someone else's blog. Cool huh?! All of this is free, by the way.

So far I have had 107 impressions on other blogs with no click throughs (bummer). Each time the widget is displayed on my blog I am allowed an impression on someone else's blog. And right now, oddly enough, I have a minus 67 credit balance. Since the widget has been displayed 40 times from my blog, and my blog has been listed 107 times, that leaves me 67 impressions in the hole. This happened because they, for the beta test, gave bonus credits to everyone in the network.

Once the network grows, and is secured from cheaters, it should provide a fair way of getting other blogs noticed. Especially the more popular ones. And hopefully it will help get my blog out there more. But only time will tell.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Minty fresh finances!

I have been playing with a new website the last couple of days that helps you manage your finances. It's, so far, looking really really good. I have been using Microsoft Money for quite a while now. But this site makes managing my money easier than MS Money.

After signing up, the first thing you will do is add your bank and credit card accounts. The site will then download transactions and other information every day. Once that is complete, it will show you things about your money that you probably didn't know before.

I know how much credit card debt I have, but to see it in one place is kind of shocking. It will show you the interest rate you are paying, and how it compares to other people. It will even show you how to save money, based on your spending habits. For instance, it saw that I had made gas purchases on a credit card. It offered another credit card that actually gives a 6% cash back option for gas purchases. And based on the gas purchases so far, I stand to save $147.00 a year. That is awesome! Once it has a couple of months worth of data, I imagine it will find other areas where I can save money.

The only down side I can see to this is the fact that you have to give it all of your username and passwords for each of your accounts. I checked out their security information and they seem to have everything in order there. So, I'm not too concerned, but it is still a risk that you are taking.

Mint.com has also won the TechCrunch40 Top Company award at the TechCrunch40 Conference this year. The site is free and easy to use. They just launched, and some aspects have been a little slow. So, if you want to give it a try, keep in mind that it's new. I have noticed speed improvments over the last couple of days, and I'm sure it will only get better.

Monday, September 17, 2007

ViaTalk

Well, it's been a rough time, but I finally have decent phone service
again. And to recap, I was on Sunrocket for about 2 years before the went belly up on me. During that fiasco, I had heard about ViaTalk, and it sounded like a good alternative. It had all of the features I was used too from Sunrocket. And, was even a bit cheaper. So, I signed up. And, so did everyone else... Which caused it to take FOREVER, it seemed like, for my service to be activated. I didn't have to wait for hardware because I could use my Sunrocket device instead of their own. But because I was dead in the water, thanks to Sunrocket, and because it was taking a long time for them to activate my account, I decided to try another Voip provider and dump Viatalk.

That worked, but there were some serious sound quality issues that I had not had before with Sunrocket. And, while setting up the other Voip proivder, ViaTalk finally activated my account. So, for fun, I thought I would try the Sunrocket device on ViaTalk and see what it sounded like. I would cancel the worse sounding one. I never got the chance to try that because when I reset the Sunrocket device, I lost access to the web interface. The Voip provider assures me that they didn't change the password to the unit, but because I wasn't able to get to the web interface, I'm guessing they are the ones that disabled that. And then throw in the fact that I didn't disconnect it from the outside world, I think Teleblend reset the unit completely. So, now I have a dead device. The Voip provider I was trying wanted $75.00 to ship out a device. And, ViaTalk wanted $40.00. And they were even going to rush it to me. So, I got the device and immediately started the process to transfer my number.

Now, 2 months later, I have stable phone service. My phone number transferred just fine. And, I'm canceling the other Voip provider. Luckily they had a "first month free" deal, and it isn't going to cost me much for all of this mess.

But I have a chance to save even more. ViaTalk has a referral deal where if I get 10 people to sign up, I will receive my service free of charge. For each account, I receive a 10% discount. Once you sign up, you'll have the opportunity too! So, if you would like to help save me a buck, leave a comment with your name and email address, or email me at [email protected] and I'll get you an invite right away!

BlogRush

I'm trying out a new widget on the site that promises to attract more visitors to my blog, and to provide links to other blogs for my readers. In order to activate it, I need to do a posting that has my referral code in it. I'll do another posting soon after I play with it a bit.

Monday, August 6, 2007

PassPack and Clipperz, head to head

I've talked about PassPack and Clipperz before. I have been playing with both sites over the last few months, trying to decide which one I want to use. They both have features that are necessary, like a high level of encryption. They are both easy to use. They both are easily accessible from any browser and computer. Where they differ is in the implementation. I still like the interface of PassPack better than Clipperz. To me, it just makes more sense. But Clipperz's interface is not bad either. I just prefer PassPacks.

Clipperz has had a feature called "Direct Login" for awhile now. This feature allows you to click a link and have Clipperz automatically open a window (or tab) for that site, and automatically log you in, doing it in a highly secure way. They include a bookmarklet to help with the creation of the card with the necessary information for automatic log ins. This, for the most part, works.

PassPack has had a similar feature in the works for awhile now, and has recently released it as "Auto-login". I like the way PassPack has implemented this feature. They have a button similar to Clipperz's bookmarklet called the "PassPack It!" button. This button allows you to easily configure a website for auto-login. You first create an entry in PassPack for the site in question. After that, you click on the "Go There" button to open up the website in a new window or tab. Then you click the PassPack It! button and, if this is your first time setting up the site, it will give you instructions to click on the username field, then the password field, and then the login button. You are basically teaching the system where the fields are. After that, when you click the PassPack It! button on that website, it will automatically fill in the information and log you in.

I like PassPack's set up process, but I like the way Clipperz does it after everything is set up. Setting up direct login's for Clipperz is a bit tedious. But once it is set up, you click on one link, a new window or tab is opened to that site, and you are automatically logged in. PassPack, however, you have to click on the "Go there" link and then click on the PassPack It! button to initiate the auto-login. A "Go there and log in" button in PassPack would make PassPack more competitive. So, right now, I'm leaning towards Clipperz again. It saves me an extra click...

Currently, I have 37 entries. Most of those sites work. But some do not. Some sites have two step authentication. This is where you enter a username (or some other information) on a screen, and after clicking "next" or something other button, you are presented with a second screen with your password field, and they usually have other identifiable information to thwart phishing. Systems like this simply do not work with auto-login systems like Clipperz and PassPack. Maybe one day, but not now.

Then, there are sites that have a single place to log in, but do it in a funky way. Or have a window that pops up like Diet Television. Or, they have a box that slides down from the top, like Technorati does. These sites, as well as the two step authentication, just don't play nice with Clipperz and PassPack.

Here is a list of sites that do work:
Boxbe
Blockbuster Online
DomainDiscover
ILetYou
OboPay
PayPerPost
Prosper

This is just a sample of ones I've set up for auto-login.

Now, when I first set a few up sites for auto-login, there were a few that Clipperz could do that PassPack could not do. Trying everything again today showed that all sites that worked in one works in the other. So, either I was screwing something up, or PassPack has made some improvements in the last couple of days. I'm not sure which. But what I do know is that I really like being able to click one button to have everything done for me. I don't know if it was designed that way, or if PassPack will fix it. Until it is fixed, I'm going to have to start using Clipperz a little more than usual.

I will, however, continue to use both. I don't like the idea, for one, of having all my eggs in one basket. Plus, Clipperz still doesn't have one-time password capability yet. PassPack currently has this feature (they call it a "Disposable Login"). I can set up a one-time password that automatically expires after a certain period of time. A period of time I can select. I can use the randomly generated password exactly one time to log into my account. It helps keep the keyloggers at bay.

Clipperz is also lacking decent backup and restore features. You can export your data in a printable format. But that isn't very secure. PassPack can give you a printable version, if you'd like, but you can also have the data stored in an encrypted file. And the file can be encrypted with your account passwords, or a completely different password can be used. Your choice. Clipperz has no import feature, and PassPack offers the ability to import a CSV file, or you can restore the encrypted file mentioned above.

That's it for now. They both have had quite a lot of improvments over the last few months. And there just isn't a clear winner. Both are well done and easy to use. As improvements are made, I'm sure a winner will be more clear. But until then, I'll continue using both.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Invites for private betas

A few weeks ago, I talked about GrandCentral. I mentioned that I had some invites for the service, as they had gone to that method for new accounts because of the Google acquisition. I ran out of invites for the service, and even after posting that I had ran out, I still have requests for invites.

The cool thing is, there is a new site that will take care of you. It's called InviteShare. Sign up for an account there, select what website you want an account with, and eventually someone will send you an invite. Once you have your account, you would then return the favor and send invites to other people waiting on the list. If people give back, there should be virtually an unlimited number of invites available.

Another cool thing is that you can find out about other sites that are in the "invite only" status. I'll be checking out other sites to see what they are about. And if I like them, or have something to say about them, you'll be seeing it here.

SunRocket runs out of fuel and crashes a miserable death!

I'm sure everyone, by now, has heard about SunRocket, the VoIP company that decided to shutdown without ANY warning. I have had phone service with SunRocket for a little over 2 years now, and have loved it. There was very little downtime. Call quality was great. And when it wasn't, it was probably because my son was downloading something at the time.


So, on Monday July 16th, my phone died. I had heard that SunRocket was having troubles, but I figured we'd be warned if they were about to be shutdown or anything. But, that didn't happen. Phone service just died with no warning. The next day, a new company mysteriously appeared called Teleblend. It promised to offer the exact features of SunRocket, and for a lower cost. It has been suspected that the original owners of SunRocket were behind it, as Teleblend seems to have a lot of information about SunRocket customers.


Other VoIP companies were inundated with new account requests. Most people seem to be going to ViaTalk.com. I even signed up for an account on the 19th. But then people were complaining that it was taking too long, and people started to cancel the account. SunRocket has also come out with their choices for replacements, Packet8.com and Teleblend.


Another company I looked at was Allo.com. I was excitied about what they had to offer. They had all of the features I wanted, and even had Caller ID Spoofing available. For the longest time, I have been trying to get people to start using my GrandCentral number instead of my SunRocket number. Part of the problem is when we call people. The caller ID is displaying my SunRocket number. If my caller ID were displaying my GrandCentral number, more and more people would actually start using it. So, having the ability to use the caller ID spoofing feature in Allo.com was very appealing. And, it was even cheaper than I was paying for SunRocket. BUT... When I tried to sign up, the sign up page stated that it was down for maintenance. After checking again the next day, I got onto their online chat and found out that they were also going to be shutting down on July 31st. Two VoIP compaines in one week are down the drain. This doesn't make be feel good about sticking with VoIP.


As I said earlier, I signed up with ViaTalk after I found out about Allo not being around anymore. I expected it to go pretty quick since I was going to use the SunRocket gizmo,which is the device that is used to create the dial tone for a regular phone. It, technically speaking, should be fairly automated and fairly easy to do. But knowing that they were being swamped for lots of SunRocket customers, I thought it may take a day, 2 at the worst. But here it is, the 25th, and as of this morning, still no account. During all this time, I kept hearing about another company called NuVio. My understanding is that they primarily are a business VoIP provider. So, they should know something about having good call quality. And, probably have decent customer service. They also claim to be profitable. They had just started residential service, and were offering a deal for SunRocket customers. Service, they promised, would be up and running within 24 hours, as they would be able to use the SunRocket gizmo.


Because I was tired of waiting, I decided to send an email to ViaTalk to cancel my order, and to sign up with NuVio. Literally within minutes, I had phone service up and running under NuVio. It was exactly what I was expecting from ViaTalk. But then, 3 hours later, I had my account created on ViaTalk. I think I'll stick with NuVio anyway. They don't exactly have Caller ID spoofing, but I can change the name of the outgoing caller ID, and it appears that I can even have the number blocked. I could, possibly, change the name to my GrandCentral number. I'll have to play with that and see what happens.


It's been an interesting week trying to figure out what is going on, trying to find another provider that is going to stick around for a while, and trying to get everything up and running before I lose the ability to transfer my current number to my new account. Hopefully things will calm down now.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

GrandCentral invitations available

Update 2: I'm still receiving requests for invites. I still do not have anymore. Please have a look at this post for more information about how to get an invite.

I've been wanting to talk about GrandCentral for sometime now. But just haven't had a chance to do it. But now that they have been purchased by Google, I figure I better say something.

GrandCentral is a really cool way to manage your phones. The idea is, you get one number that you give out to everyone. Then, depending on who is calling, you can choose to have your cell phone, home phone, work phone, or whatever, ring. All at the same time. Or, you can have it ring just your cell phone. Or just go straight to voice mail. It even has the option of letting you listen in on the recording of the voice mail so that you can choose to break in and accept the call, or not. And there are many, many more features.

With all of that, you may be asking yourself how much this service costs. Well, it's available for the introductory price of ZERO dollars. That's right, GrandCentral is free. Everything is free. And, even after they are out of beta, most of the features will continue to be free, with some features having a minimal monthly charge.

And what is interesting is that Google has acquired them now. So, who knows what they have planned for it. But I can only be excited about it!

While Google is taking over, they have moved to an invite system for new accounts. If you'd like an invite, email me at [email protected] or post a comment with your email address and I'll get one out to you. I have 5 available right now, and I'm not sure if I'll have anymore after that. We'll see after I send a couple.

Update: I'm currently out of invites. When I get more, I'll post another message.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Pownce first impressions

Well, so far, I like Pownce. It's a lot like Twitter in that you can post messages about whatever you are doing at the time. But you can do more. You can post links, you can post files, you can send private messages, either individually or to your group of friends. There has been talk out there about how much they hate Pownce. I'm really surprised about this. They even call Pownce nothing more than an FTP program.

But I like it. I like that it has a program that can be installed locally to watch things for you and allow you to post messages. I like that it's more broad than Twitter. Twitter just wants you to answer the question "what are you doing right now." But what if I don't want to post that, but instead want to post a cool link you just found? People ignore the Twitter question, but it's still kind of limiting. Especially with a 140 character limit to the messages. Pownce doesn't seem to have that low of a limit on their posts.

There is also the commenting system. Comments, or replies, can be posted on any of the messages. Twitter can't do that.

There is also the friend system. You can be a friend or a fan of someone. For instance, I have Leo Leporte as a fan. When I added him to my list, it said that he would receive a message asking if we were friends, and if so, he would add me to his list. At that point, we're friends. But if he (and I'm sure he'll choose this) tells the system that we're not friends, I'll just be a lowly fan. I will be notified of his public posts, but he will not be notified of my posts.

I think Pownce beats Twitter. But not sure if it beats Jaiku. More on that in the next post.

I'm now pownceing!

The good folks at mashable.com are doing an unlimited pownce invite campaign where you post a comment asking for an invite and people with invites give them away. The idea is that once you get an invite and create your account, you use the 6 invites in your account on someone else who has posted an invite request. So, esstentially, you have unlimited invites available, if everyone uses at least one of their invites in return. It is a great idea.

I'll give it a run through and get back to posting.

If anyone is interested, my pownce address is http://www.pownce.com/rmorgan.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Pownce

Kevin Rose has announced his latest project called Pownce. It's an instant messengering, file transferring, social networking web application/program. It looks really cool. But, the problem is, it's invite only right now. I'm hoping someone will be so ever nice and send me an invite. I would be extremely appreciative for it! Send to [email protected]

Thursday, June 7, 2007

No longer a myth

MythTV, for me anyway, is no longer just a myth. After a good bit of playing around, I finally have a MythTV box up and running. And I have to say, it's pretty nice. It takes a bit of getting used to, but I'm learning it's evil ways.


First, I didn't end up doing the Ubuntu -> MythTV way. The instructions I found here and here were great. Very detailed and helpful. The problem is that I kept having trouble with my graphics card, or the IR receiver, or something (but it usally had something to do with graphics card or IR receiver). So, I started looking around for more help and found MythDora and KnoppMyth. MythDora was really pretty cool looking. It uses Fedora for the OS, the open source version of Red Hat Linux. But it didn't have the IR receiver working correctly, so I moved on to KnoppMyth. Both MythDora and KnoppMyth were extremely easy to install, but everything just worked in KnoppMyth. I didn't have to touch any config files, or do anything special to get it up and running. Just followed the instructions, and presto, it was up and running.

I did, however, have a couple of issues. First, you have to make sure you select the correct frequency table. For me, it's "us-cable". I accidently left it as "default" and nothing worked. AND, there are two different places in the setup where you have to make sure it's set to us-cable (or whatever is needed for your situation). The last issue I had took the longest time to figure out. I could see the video on all the channels, but on the higher channels the video was choppy, jittery, fuzzy, and whatever other word you can think of for BAD. The lower the channel the better the video became. So, channel 2 was fine while 99 was completely unwatchable. I searched high and low trying to find an answer for that. I tried changing the bitrate. I tried completely reinstalling the whole thing. I figured I had screwed something up, and since the system had installed on the 40gig drive instead of the 200gig drive, I figured I could kill two birds with one stone. But, that didn't fix it either. During my research I saw something about the resolution, that MythTV defaults to 480x480, but that 4:3 tv is 640x480 and DVD is 720x480, etc. Since I was in the setup trying to figure out the bad video problem I thought I'd up the resolution to something higher. Changed it to 640x480 and noticed that the picture was better but still bad. I thought, "hmmm, maybe it needs to be 720x480? But that doesn't make sense, the table clearly says that 4:3 TV is 640x480. Well, it can't hurt to try..." And whamo! The picture was crystal clear! Oh happy days!

Since then (2 days ago), I have been playing with it, and figuring it all out. I need a new remote, one that has page up and page down buttons on it. When you go into the program guide, you have to scroll up or down one channel at a time. Page up and page down would make going through the guide much easier and quicker.

I have also discovered that live tv is recording all the time. So, you may not be home, but if you left it with the tv playing, it will record every program on that channel. Which then screws up the recorded program listing. So, I now make sure it's left on a menu when I'm not watching anything. I also think it would be wise to not ever watch live tv. Just watch the recorded programs and you never have to worry about extra programs in the recorded programs list. It would, however, be nice if the system would immediately remove those programs when you change a channel, or go back to the menu.

Setting up scheduled programs is a bit tricky. It's not bad, it's just that there are a ton of settings to choose from. I like Tivo's season pass option. Just tell it that you want a season pass, that you want new episodes only, and how many you want kept, and that's pretty much it. But in MythTv, there are options for everything. It's crazy (in a good way). And at first, I thought there was no way to tell it to record new episodes only, but I accidently found it under "Check duplicates for" option.

Other than that, it wasn't too bad setting up. The only bad thing now is that I want another tuner. I have the Hauppauge PVR-150, and I would love a PVR-500. That is the one that is a dual tuner card. And my long term goal is to set up another box, put a PVR-350 in it (that has hardware mpeg decoding built in) and make it a frontend box and make the current box a backend server. And eventually, I'll get a couple of HDTV tuners for off the air programming. But since I don't, yet, have an HDTV TV, it won't much matter. But father's day is around the corner?!?!

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Passpack and Clipperz

As promised, I've been playing with Passpack and Clipperz for a few weeks now. And, I have to say, I like aspects of both of them. But Passpack is in the lead, by the narrowest of margins. Since my last report of both services, both have introduced more features or improvements.

Clipperz, for instance, now has a "Clipperz Compact" version of their service. It works in Firefox, and allows you to log into your account from the sidebar. When you want to log into a particular website, you just click on the icon for that website and Clipperz Compact does the rest. Passpack has not yet introduced an autologin feature (supposedly it will be introduced next month).

Clipperz has also improved the interface with new card templates and password strength indicators. The card templates allow you to select what kind of website it is, and it will then fill in appropriate fields for that type of site. And when typing in a password, an indicator just below the field will indicate how good of a password it is.


All of those improvements are a move in the right direction, but it still isn't as easy to use as Passpack. Clipperz is lacking a password generator and a one time password generator. I think a one time password generator is a great idea (and it is "coming soon" for Clipperz). If I happen to use a computer at the Library, or at an Internet Cafe, I can use my one time password without fear that a key logger recorded my account information.

Passpack is best for websites. It's geared for it. It would, however, be nice for it to include the ability to secure other things like Clipperz can do. Like, for instance, a lot of websites are using other questions for forgotten passwords, or extra security. Clipperz allows you to add other fields to the card to track what you put for those extra security questions. This is why I like aspects of both sites.

In the near future I'll do a side by side comparison of the two. Hopefully Passpack will have their auto-login feature released by then.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

MythTV, so far it's just a myth

Well, over the last few days I have been playing with my MythTV box. And it's been interesting, to say the least. Just when I think I have it running, something gets screwed up and I have to start all over again. If I were more knowledgeable with linux, I may be able to fix it without starting over, but since I can't fix it, I start over.


I have a P4 2.5 ghz machine with 512 megs of ram, plenty of hard drive space, a Hauppauge PVR150 card, and an Nvidia Geforce MMX 440 graphics card. The graphics card has a video out, which is nice for easily hooking up to a TV.


A lot of the problems are just mistakes on my part. I installed lirc for the remote control and forget to include a certain word on the command line for installation. It then becomes partly installed, enough for me to think it is installed, but not really. I solved that problem without restarting, but then when I turned it off (graceful shutdown) and moved it to where I thought it would be, it gave me an "unable to start mysql" error when I turned it back on. I searched all over trying to figure that one out, and ended up restarting from that one.


So, the installation went a bit quicker this time and got everything up and running, but forgot to tell the tuner card that I have cable so it was only seeing and looking for the first 13 channels. I changed the setting to us-cable and instead of restarting the machine, I restarted MythTV. It goes to a black screen and nothing else. Acting pretty much like it was dead. So, I turned it off (not a graceful shutdown) and turned it back on. NOW it is giving me a X-server error. It was getting late, so I turned it off and will try to find a fix for it tonight.


I think I'm going to like it once it's up and running. But it makes me nervous about counting on it. I can't have little oddities screwing the system up so easily. I have been using the howto from Ubuntu's site here. It is really well done, and shows exactly what you need to do every step of the way. The way they do it is different than the other howto's I've seen. The biggest difference is that they have you install a command line only version of Ubuntu. It then installs Gnome later in the process. I can understand the reasoning behind doing it this way, but I have to wonder if this is the reason why it hasn't acted very stable for me. So, I think (unless I can figure out how to fix the current problem) I'm going to try the howto from this site. It is using the latest version of Ubuntu, and the full graphical version, as well. I have seen this site referred to by other sites, so it seems to be the one to go with.


I did, however, try it from that site at first. But I really didn't know what I was doing at the time, so I tried the other site as it gave more details about what to do. Now that I know a little more about what I'm doing, I'll give it a try.


More details to come!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

I met Robert X. Cringely!

First of all, I realize it's been a while since I posted. I went out of town for a business trip and was lucky enough to have met someone I've admired for sometime now. And I've tried to read and watch anything and everything he's ever done. Robert X. Cringely has written for InfoWorld and has hosted several TV shows on PBS that can be found from the link on his name. I particularly like Triumph of the Nerds where he takes a look at the people who made the computer industry what it is today. Bob is knowledgeable and funny. I have learned a lot from him over the years. And it was a great pleasure to have met him. Here is the proof!


Sorry about the picture being blurry. I wish I had seen it before leaving him. And I'm hoping someone out there that knows something about fixing stuff like that can fix it. Or, maybe I'll get the chance to meet him again. Maybe I'll email him and see if he'll mind it!

He was at the conference I was attending to talking about the future of libraries, and more specifically, the future of technology in libraries. As expected, it was a great talk. I had no idea that he was the one responsible for creating the trash can (for the mac, the recycle bin on windows) that is on your desktop. In fact, I had no idea that he was so involved in the beginning of Apple. Maybe he mentioned it in Triumph of the Nerds, but it's been a few years now and I don't remember if he did. Time to watch it again!

Supposedly there are two Robert X. Cringely's out there according to this. But I'm not buying it. This is just the kind of thing that he'd think was funny. And it is. Be sure to check out everything he does. I'd highly recommend it, and well worth your time. You can find his blog at PBS here, and his blog at Infoworld here.

And no, I STILL can't believe I met him. I have to look at the picture everyday just to believe it!

UPDATE: Okay, I guess I am buying it now (that there are two Robert X. Cringely's out there). Just messing around and searched for Robert X. Cringely on Wikipedia and found this article. I guess I'm not as much of a tech geek as I thought I was. But the good thing is, THIS Robert X. Cringely is the one I knew and admired. So, all is good.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Unlimited Joost invites!

I now have unlimited Joost invites for anyone willing to put a link to my blog in their blogroll or website. Add a comment with your name and email address and a link to you blog or website, and the invite will be on it's way.

Thanks to all who have previously done this!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

More Joost invites

I just discovered that I have 5 Joost invites that I can give away. First 5 people to add my blog to their blogroll or website will get an invite. Post a comment with your blog and email address, and the invite will be on it's way.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Ubuntu and MythTV

I think I'm going to finally do it. I have been getting more and more upset with my cable company (Comcast), and I think I'm going to go ahead and set me up a Ubuntu/MythTV box. I have one of those Motorola DVR boxes from Comcast that I have not liked from day one. The interface sucks. But for $9.95 a month, it wasn't too bad of a deal. However, I just noticed that they have raised the rate to $11.95 a month. And the stupid guide has ads on it now. If they are going to put ads on it, the cost should have gone down. So, I want to get rid of it. And, it will certainly be a good way to get my feet wet with Ubuntu as well.

The problem is, I don't have a lot of money to spend on it. So, I will be using old equipment wherever I can. I will also be setting up RSS feed tracking for the shows I like to watch the most, so I don't need a lot of tuner cards. I will get at least one tuner card, and I'm still looking for the best deal on that. Maybe a Hauppauge PVR-150. Or maybe I'll splurge and get a PVR-500. Whatever I get, it will be hardware based MPEG-2 encoding. That will help keep the CPU requirements low. I have a machine already that is a P4 3.2Ghz, which should be enough CPU power. Hopefully, the only thing that I'll need to buy is a larger hard drive, more memory and a tuner card.

I've also decided to blog my progress. I've seen plenty of people do this already, but I think I can put a different spin on it and give it a fresh look. There are changes in Ubuntu 7.04 that makes a MythTV installation better, which I plan on talking about, as well.

So, to begin the process, my next entry will be about the computer itself. Whether or not I want to have a front computer end and a back end computer, or one computer that acts as both front end and back end.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Presents for my birthday

Today is my birthday. And surprisingly, I have a couple of gifts. You may think that Ubuntu is being released for the millions of fans that have been looking forward to it, but in reality, it's my gift. I won't be selfish and not let you have a copy. I don't mind sharing.

Seriously though, I have been playing with Ubuntu for a while and I like it, but just never thought I could make an actual switch to it. I certainly like the idea of getting away from the Microsoft tax. It's well supported. Easy to use. And very well designed. So, what's keeping me from making the switch? Basically, lack of software support. There are certain programs I need for work that are not available for Linux. A lot of what I do can be in Ubuntu. But not everything.

Now that the latest version has been released, and released on my birthday, I think I'm going to finally take the plunge. What I'll do for the apps that I need for work is run VMware and have a Windows virtual machine to run the needed programs. I'm not sure when I'll finally do it. I have too many projects going on at work at the moment, but as soon as I do, I'll blog about it here.

But Ubuntu isn't the only gift I got today. Thunderbird, an email client from the folks at Firefox, have released version 2.0. I'm a gmail user, so I really don't see a need for switching. But, it's my birthday present, so I HAVE to try it.

So many presents, so little time...

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Joost invite giveaway

I was just notified of an available invite that was added to my Joost account that I can giveaway. If you would like the invite, add my blog to your blog list or post an article in your blog linking to my blog. The first person to do this and post a comment will get the invite.

You can link to this blog (www.ronniestechblog.net) or my other blog at www.ronniesblog.net.

Monday, April 16, 2007

The Raw Feed

There are lots of places on the net that I use to help keep me up to date on the latest happenings in the wonderful world of technology. One particular site that I enjoy a lot is The Raw Feed. Mike Elgan (who also produces a great email newsletter at this site.) is the author of the site. I like the list because he has interesting things that don't necessarily make it into mainstream media.

Add the RSS to your favorite RSS reader. You'll be glad you did.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Traineo

I have been using this site for a while now, and it's pretty cool. Traineo is a weight loss and fitness tracking website. You can track your workouts, diet, and weight. And you can set up other categories to track yourself in the My Logs section. For example, my wife and I track our waist size in inches.

I don't use it to track my workout or diet, but I do use it for my weight and waist size. On both, you are able to see a graph of your progress, which allows you to see how you are doing over a period of time. That is really nice.

You can also track your BMI, Body Fat Percentage, Distance run in km and miles, Happiness, Sleep and Waistline in CM and Inches. There is also a "Cans of tuna" available which makes no sense. But, it's there. And if any of those options aren't what you are looking for, you can enter your own with whatever measurement unit and it will allow you to track that too.

But one of the coolest features is the motivator system. You can set it up so that other Traineo members can become a motivator for you. They have access to your logs, and can receive emails letting them know your current stats. If you need other people to help keep you motivated, this is one good way of doing it.

Related to the motivators is the ability to add a badge to your website or blog that also displays your current stats. I will include one of those at the end of this blog.

Overall, it's an excellent way of keeping track of your fitness goals. You may be asking yourself now, "so how much does it cost?" Well, that would be a great question. And the answer is, NOTHING. The service is completely free. So, there is no reason to not give it a try.

Now, if only it could exercise for me!

traineo

Friday, April 13, 2007

PassPack

A comment was posted on my last entry about Clipperz about a competitor for Clipperz. And, I have to say, Clipperz has some tough competition. PassPack seems to take password management up a notch, or two. I don't know who made it onto the scene first, but there are a lot of things I like about PassPack. For the most part, it's the same as Clipperz. When you add username and passwords to PassPack, it encrypts the data locally and stores the encrypted data on the servers. Like Clipperz, PassPack has no way of resetting your password for the PassPack system.

But some things that make PassPack stand out are the double passwords required for logging in. One password is for getting into the account. And the second password is for unpacking the data. It's kind of nice to have the double layer of security.


Another nice thing about PassPack is the password manager. After you have entered a username and password, you can view the record with the information and the password is scrambled. Unlike Clipperz, you can highlight the field and do a standard copy and paste to copy the password. Someone watching over your shoulder will not see the password. In Clipperz, the best I can tell is that you have to unhide the password in order to be reminded of what it is. With PassPacks way of doing it, it is never revealed.

Like Clipperz, PassPack also has disposable logins. If you are going to be using your account from a public computer, or a friends computer, you can create a disposable login that will work exactly ONE time. That way, if they have a key logger running on the computer, they will not be able to have access to your data.

PassPack is working on a direct login feature for their product, and they promise that it will be a lot easier to use than Clipperz.

One other thing that I really like about PassPack is that they offer a password generator. With a password manager like this, longer tougher passwords are possible. Especially since the password can be copied and pasted easily. And, when they get their version of the direct login, you won't even have to copy and paste it. So, having a generator that will give you more secure passwords is a huge plus.

I'll keep playing with both services and will post an entry in the future what my experiences are. If anything, if I have my passwords in both services, I'm doubly protected if one goes under. Which also makes me wonder how they are going to make money. Clipperz has an entry on their blog about it. Should be interesting.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Clipperz

If you are like me, you have LOTS of different accounts on many different sites. If you are also like me, you have the same password at all of those sites. Yes, I know, it's dumb to do something like that. I figure that the sites I go to can be trusted to not go trying out my credentials at other sites. I don't usually create accounts on sites that can't be trusted, and if I do, I use different credentials.

That being said, I have always hated this habit of mine. I didn't want to write down my passwords on paper. I didn't want to create a file on my computer with my passwords. I didn't want to use a program on my computer to keep track of passwords. Either of the last two options would be lost if the computer died. I also haven't been to keen on the OpenID thing either. I just don't trust the key holders.

So, that's where the topic of this post comes in. The site is called Clipperz. It is a site that will allow you to manage all of your username and passwords for any site on the Internet. And, it does it in a highly secure way. You could be thinking, "how is this different than OpenID? Won't they have all the keys to your information?" Well, actually, no they won't. The reason is, the browser will encrypt the data before sending the information to the website. The information to Clipperz is a bunch of noise, more or less. In fact, if you lose/forget your Clipperz username and password you're simply out of luck as there is no way they can retrieve the information for you. You can even have a look at the code they use to verify their claims.

This just looks to be the ideal solution to all of my password problems. I can now use different passwords for all of my site accounts. I won't lose the data if my computer crashes. It's accessible from any browser. I don't even have to worry about my computer getting compromised and someone finding my passwords in the password manager of my browser. It's the ideal solution.

Besides being a great way to store passwords, it's also a great way to login to sites for you. They call it "Direct Logins". When you create a "Card" for a site, you can set it up for direct login. Then, when you click on the direct login link, it will open up a new window (or tab) and automatically log you in to that site. The drawback is that not all sites will work. I'm sure Cipperz will be working on making it work with more and more sites, but it's, for the ones that work, a great way to log in.

Direct logins are created with the help of their "Bookmarklet". Basically, you drag the bookmarklet button to the bookmark toolbar of your browser. Then, on a site that you want to create a card for, you click on the bookmarklet and a popup window is displayed with code that is prehighlighted. Copy that code and paste it into the appropriate box when creating a card. You may have to clean up some of the fields that are unnecessary for logging in. But once you have the data entered and saved, you can then try clicking the direct login link to automatically log in.

Also, the site can be used for any piece of information. That is probably why they use "cards" instead of some other name. The fields are not limited to just username and password. Any field label can be used with any type of data for the information. So, whatever your secrets are, you can securely store it. For instance, bank account numbers could be stored.

The site is also completely anonymous. All you need to create an account is a username that isn't already being used, and a passphrase. No email address, or any other identifiable information, is required to create an account.

The site is still in beta and is completely free for the time being. And new features are planned for the near future. One that I'm looking forward to is sharing of data. Another function of password management I have been interested in is for where I work. I want a way to securely allow access to passwords to certain employees, and only the passwords I select. So far, I just haven't found anything that works like I want. Hopefully, the sharing feature will do just what I'm looking for.

If you are looking for a way to store passwords, Clipperz is a great way to do it.

I'm finally on Joost!

Well, I finally got the long awaited email yesterday letting me know that I was officially invited into the beta for Joost. I will have a more complete review in a few days, but initially, it looks good. The biggest problem I see with it now is that it insists on being full screen. It will run in a regualr window, but some of the functions only work in full screen mode. Why? I have no idea. The functions block viewing of the content, and would make more sense for it to be viewed/used outside the video area.

There are, also, issues of pixelation on fast moving content. Hopefully that will improve over time, but most of the video I have seen looks great. I think if I were watching it from a TV, it would probably not be noticeable. At least, not on a regular TV. And HDTV may be a different story.

And, there isn't a lot of content available at the moment. That, I assume, will change before it comes out of beta.

I don't yet have any invites. As soon as I get some, I'll offer them to anyone who wants one.

Monday, April 2, 2007

EMI is DRM free now!

Well, it looks like someone finally got a clue. It has been announced that EMI will make higher quality DRM free songs available on iTunes starting next month. The down side is that songs will now cost $1.29 each. But, you will get them at a higher quality level now, 256kbps. And songs that you have already purchased can be upgraded to the higher quality for $0.30 each.

I am just so glad to hear about this. Hopefully this will be a success for EMI, and if so, I hope other record labels follow suit. If they would stop spending millions of dollars on suing people for downloading copyrighted music, they will actually begin to make a few million.

In related news, Lucky and Flo have sniffed out more illegal DVD's. A few weeks ago, they sniffed out 3 million dollars worth of counterfeit DVDs and caused a reward to be put on their head from the "bosses" of the counterfeit ring. How much was spent on training these dogs? About $17,000! THAT is what the RIAA and MPAA need to be doing. They will see greater returns on their investment by doing things like this than to go around suing dead people and 12 year old kids. It would help their reputation, and people MIGHT actually start listening to them when they talk about how much stealing copyrighted material hurts the artists.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Looks like I'm staying with Paytrust after all...

Well, I got a response back from Paytrust. And I finally got a decent answer. An answer that justifies why they made the change. It's amazing that after 3 years of begging for a decent answer, I finally get one. Despite me telling them that they were insulting my intelligence and practically demanding a straight answer for 3 years they continued to insist on the "it's your anniversary date" excuse.

Here is what they said:


Dear Mr. Morgan,

I can appreciate your views. In the first instance where customers
inadvertently made payments to Paytrust rather than to their indented
payee, typically customers would ask for a refund rather than let us
keep their funds. In the instance where customers did not pay their
fee, this was not as large of an issue, but occasionally customers would
avoid paying their fee by changing the date of their bill which kept
accumulating causing issues with our member billing system. Both
instances required unnecessary resources to correct.

Every billpay service, or, any subscription based service for that
matter that charges monthly service fees, has this exact set up. MSN
Bill Pay, Yahoo Bill Pay, MyEZbills, Statusfactory, Checkfree, Quicken
Bill Pay, to name a few. However, Paytrust had the distinct honor to be
named #1 bill pay service by Toptenreviews.com for 2007.

I hope I have answered your questions. Any additional discussion on
this subject I will ask that you contact me directly by phone so that I
fully cover all your questions rather than creating an email chain.

Once again, we thank you for your business and hope to serve your long
term bill pay needs here at Paytrust.

Regards,

Greg Theoharis
Customer Relations Manager

The list he provided is not exactly what I was asking for. I wanted a list from 5 different industries. But, between finally getting a decent reason and thinking of other companies myself, AND just not liking the idea of having to keep up with this stuff myself, I think I'm going to stick with them. Yes, there are other concerns that people have brought up. The convenience is just to great to give up at the moment. If Greg had come back with, yet another, lame excuse, I would have continued my dropping of them. However, I did say that if he came up with a list of 5 companies that I would stay. So, I'm staying.

The other companies I thought of are Tivo and Sunrocket. I have never tried to get my billing date changed with either of them, but they do charge my credit card on a set day every month. And, they are different industries.

I told Greg that in the future they should make sure the customers are well informed of any changes like this. And to NOT give stupid excuses for the changes. All I ask for is the truth. Hopefully they will listen.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Another cool new feature from Boxbe

Boxbe is on a roll lately! They now have the ability to filter your Gmail account. Normally, you would either need to use your Boxbe account as your main email address, or, have your email forwarded to it. I have my email forwarded, so this isn't that huge of a deal to me. But, if your Gmail address is what you give out, then Boxbe can now work for you too. Just follow the instructions that are on their blog, and you'll be on your way!

The only downside I see to it is that you'll have a Boxbe message code in your signature. But if you are used to using your Gmail address as your main address, and want to take advantage of Boxbe, this will be a nice way of doing it without having to tell everyone your new address.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Website to watch - iletyou

An interesting website is about to come out of beta called iLetYou. It's like Peerflix, but you get your DVD's back. It's more like Netflix or Blockbuster Online. Basically, you can open up your own video and game rental store. You get to set the prices. And you get to decide how long people can rent your DVD's and games. People will be able to search for a title and select the best deal from any of the stores that have an available copy. iLetYou even has the ability to allow you to charge a subscribtion fee, much like Netflix and Blockbuster, and your customers will be able to keep the DVD's for as long as they want.

You, of course, don't have to rent your DVD's if you don't want. You can still get an account to rent from the stores listed on the site. They are currently in closed beta, but invitations can be obtained by entering your email address.

It has the makings of being competitive to Netflix or Blockbuster. The only concerns I have will be the reliability of the individual stores, how disputes will be handled, and the policies for when a person doesn't return an item or they return it damaged. I'm sure those concerns will be answered by the time they come out of beta. But until then, check it out. It could be an interesting alternative to Netflix and Blockbuster.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Paytrust - Why I'm leaving them...

Paytrust, for those who don't know, is a really cool way of taking care of your bills. They can receive literally all of your bills, organize them, store them, pay them, etc, etc, etc.... It is simply a really nice way to manage your money. Even companys that don't have electronic means of sending bills, ie. paper bills, can be received by Paytrust with your special mailing address that you give your creditors. Paytrust can even send a letter to the creditor with the special mailing address themselves, asking the company to change the mailing address for you, saving you the trouble. They can send payments electronically, so same day payments are no problem. And for creditors that don't have that option, they can cut a check and mail it to them. All automatically, or when you tell them.

I have had an account with them for over 4 years, and for the most part, have enjoyed every minute of time that it's saved me. But, I have decided to leave them. About 2 1/2-3 years ago, they decided to change how they bill you for their service. Like every other creditor in the world, they sent you a bill, you had a due date, and unless you changed it, it would automatically be paid that day. They changed it to where you could no longer change the day. For a while, I was living paycheck to paycheck. All of my bills were paid on pay day. I can't have things coming out of the bank account any other time. It makes things tight for the rest of the time when I would wait for the next paycheck. And now, I have to be extra careful to make sure there is enough money to cover their fee at the time they say it will be taken out of the bank. There have been a few times when their service fee "bounced" and I was charged an over draft fee at the bank. Which at my bank is twice the cost of the Paytrust service. It is just so incredibly frustrating to begin to get an upper hand on the finances, only to have something like this mess everything up.

You could be thinking right now, "why don't you just manage your money better? Don't spend ALL of your money at once". Well, you're right. I know when they are going to take it out. All I need to do is make sure enough is left to cover it. And for the most part, I do. Here is my biggest problem. I feel like they are taking control of MY money away from me. I NEVER agreed to this method. My account was created in the olden days when they did things correctly. How do I know that they won't start doing this with my other bills? I can get away with a $12.95 hit at the wrong time, but I can't have my mortgage payment coming out at the wrong time. It is MY money, and I will pay my bills when *I* say too.

For 2 1/2 years, I have been emailing them, asking them to change the date (and they did a few times), asking them to put the correct way of doing things back. Every time I did this, I would get lame excuses back about how it's my "anniversary date", and it can't be changed. And every time, I would ask them to not give me the same lame excuses, but they would anyway, insulting my intelligence. I mean, come on!? An anniversary date? By their logic, I have an "anniversary" date on just about everything. But I don't see the electric company forcing me to pay their bill on a certain date. Yes, it has to be paid *BY* a certain date. And, if I don't, I get a late fee. But they are not going to force me to pay on my "anniversary" date just because that was the date my electric service was turned on. It just does NOT make any sense. Paytrust is taking control of MY money, and I will NOT tolerate it.

The last few times I emailed them about this, I kept asking for a manager, president, vice-president, someone with some decision making power to explain to me why this was really done. I finally got a response from a customer relations manager. I don't think this person has the level of decision making power I was hoping for, but he'll do for now.

Here is his response:

Dear Mr. Morgan,

First, my apologies for the late response. Your dissatisfaction in your
inability to control the processing date of the Paytrust service fee,
and/or, our inability to modify it is well documented.

You are correct that in the past (at least three years ago), our
customers had the option to control their Paytrust bill. In that
format, Paytrust was set up as a regular payee. Several reasons
contributed to our decision to change our system. Some of the reasons
were customers inadvertently making payment to Paytrust for excessive
amounts, or, alternatively, customers were not paying their member
service fee at all. The decision to change the Paytrust payee to
prevent access from the end-users was difficult, but necessary.
Currently, the processing date is hard coded in and impossible to be
changed on a permanent basis. This is an industry wide practice and we
have no plans to change the process at this point.

We truly value your business and it will be extremely disappointing to
lose you as a customer over this issue. I assure you that had we had
the ability to change the date, it would have been changed by now.

If you would like to discuss this issue further I encourage you to
contact me via phone at the number below.

Regards,

Greg Theoharis
Customer Relations Manager
For the first time, I got one answer I was expecting. That people weren't paying their Paytrust bill. But that still isn't a good excuse. Punish me because you have a problem with other customers? Not a good idea. Do like the electric company, turn off service. But the one that surprised me is the idea of people paying more than they owed. Paytrust doesn't want your money until they are ready for it, and when they are ready for it, it has to be THIS day and in THIS amount. If it were me, I would be HAPPY to take more then you owe AND before it was due. The more people that do that, the more money I get to sit in the bank earning interest. Customers should be awarded for paying early and paying more. I just couldn't believe my eyes when I read that. Amazing.

So, although I love the service, I will be leaving them in hopes that more people will follow. I don't care if this is "hard coded" in the system now. I'm a computer guy. Code is NOT hard. Code can be changed at ANY moment. You, the company, have to decide whether or not the code meets your customers demands. If enough of us drop the service for this reason, the code WILL be changed. And, customers, once again, will be back in complete control of their money.

But, in the interest of fairness, and since Greg mentioned that it's an industry standard. I have asked him for 5 companys that have this practice that he claims is an industry standard. Although I just happened to think of one company/industry that he may claim to be using this practice which are the banks. Banks will charge a monthly service fee, and you don't have any control over when that is paid, as far as I know. The problem with that is, it's a bank. Paytrust is not a bank. And, I didn't think of banks before because all of my checking accounts are free. The only time I have to worry about charges are when I try to pay for something when I don't have the money. Overdraft fees are the pits, but that's another story. And is COMPLETELY in my control. If Greg gives me a list of at least 5 different companys that do what Paytrust does, I'll keep my account. I'll post when I have his response.

And if anyone knows of another service that does what Paytrust does, let me know. There are a few, but none of them have the ability to receive paper bills.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Boxbe updates

Boxbe has made the promised changes. In their blog entry today, Randy Stewart, Product Manager, announced that messages can now be forwarded from the original senders address instead of "[email protected]". You can also disable the message headers.

Domain approvals have also improved. Evidently, subdomains didn't follow the same rules for top level domains. So, for example, "bounces.amazon.com" would follow the same rules that have been set for "amazon.com".

You can also now search the approved senders list. I have 80 people in my approved list. Randy has 500. Looking through the list can be a little hard. You can now search the list with the latest enhancement.

I'm impressed that they are making changes when they promised to make them. Very impressive. And I look forward to other enhancements in the future.