Quilted Laptop Cover

For Do-it-yourselfers, here is a video showing exactly how to make a quilted laptop cover. This isn’t something I’m going to try no matter how easy it looks. I generally end up sewing closed the parts that need to be open and leaving open the parts that need to be closed–not a great combination for something that will be used to carry around several thousand dollars of equipment. Still it is worth checking out if you are interested in making your own cover.

Dropbox

Dropbox is a program/service that lets gives you a folder on your computer that syncs to their servers. You can put the same folder on a number of different computers and they will all stay synced together. So you put a file in your Dropbox folder at work and it shows up in your Dropbox folder at home. You can also share folders with other people and it has some nice features for viewing photos.

All in all, it makes a great way to move files around without using sneaker net and is a good way to backup important data with a minimal amount of effort. The program runs on OS X, Mac and Linux so it makes it easy to move things between different systems.

One of the nice things about Dropbox is how simple it is. You can easily explain it to someone who isn’t technical and they can have it up and running in just a few minutes. It doesn’t have many options so there isn’t much to confuse people.

In addition to the files being available in your Dropbox folder, they are also available online, so you can get to important items while you are on the road away from your computer or if you need an important file while your machine is in the shop.

Dropbox also can handle different versions of a file, so you can go back to a previous version of your file if you somehow mess up the current version. This is a great lifesaver if you accidentally overwrite a file with an older version or accidentally delete the contents.

For more detailed information on Dropbox, see this Dropbox review.

Ooma Review

After using Ooma for several months, I can say that I’m very pleased with it. I have the older version. The Ooma Telo looks promising, but it sounds like there are some problems that haven’t been quite resolved yet and some of the functionality doesn’t work like you would expect.

With the older Ooma unit and one Scout I’m able to have two phone lines. With two DECT 6.0 base stations and three DECT 6.0 headsets, we’ve been able to get a nice amount of functionality at a very low cost.

The Ooma service works well and I’ve had very few issues with the sound quality even though I’m on a 3.0/512 connection. Since the Ooma sites between the cable modem and the rest of my network, it can prioritize the traffic to keep a good quality sound.

Digital Signatures

There are several companies out there that will help you create a paperless workflow. Echosign offers a paperless approval and e-signatures with a free version as well as some paid versions. The free version is a great way to try it out without having to put any money up. This low barrier to entry sets their product apart from the competition. See the Echosign Review for more information and screenshots.

Docusign has a similar offering, but with no free version. Docusign offers some additional features and integrates with CRM systems. While Echosign uses a web based interface, Docusign has you actually download the documents that require your signature. Checkout the Docusign Review for more information.

For people who want a more generic solution, digital signatures and encryption give you a way to handle signatures and encryption without relying on a web based service. The downside is that it may take a bit more effort to get setup, but the upside is that you’ll be using a standard technology that works with most email clients on any platform.

Vonage Deals

Vonage is trying to keep people from leaving for other less expensive services like Skype and Ooma. They are also trying to protect their profit margins. If you call them up and tell them you are considering switching to a different service, they will give you much much better pricing.

I called to cancel and they said they would give me free voicemail transcription (usually cost me about $5 per month) and lower my monthly fee by $10 per month. When I told them I still wanted to switch, they offered me three months at no charge. Obviously this may not work out the same way for everyone, but it sounds like they have been instructed to basically give away their service to keep people from leaving.

Even if you don’t want to switch, it is worth calling in, talking to the person in charge of canceling your service and asking if they have any pricing that is more competitive.

Ooma Telo

Ooma is a VOIP provider that gives you free calling once you buy their hardware. Their next generation hardware is supposed to go on sale October 1st at Best Buy, but some Best Buy’s are already selling it. However, it can’t be activated until the 1st.

So far it appears that the Telo is currently being sold only as a base station. The handsets that are supposed to offer access to the Ooma premier features like multiple lines aren’t yet available. There are supposed to be some additional features like Bluetooth support that probably won’t be rolled out until later this year. It is possible that bluetooth will be an upgradable feature and not require additional hardware.

Ooma recently received $18 million in funding which should help lessen the biggest fear of using their service–that they will go out of business.

Google Voice

Awhile back Google bought Grand Central.  I have been using the service and it has been working well.  Google is now marketing the service as Google Voice (http://www.google.com/voice).  It is still isn’t open for the public, but if you are a Grand Central user, you may be able to upgrade by logging in to your Grand Central account and choosing the Google account you want to associate it with.

Google Voice Screen Shot

Google Voice Screen Shot

Some of the new features:

  • Transcribed voicemail – it appears to be done by a computer so it isn’t as accurate as services like Skydeck, but it should still be useful.
  • SMS Messages – you can send and receive SMS messages from your Grand Central number.  This is a big advantage if you use Skype because you can set Skype to use your Grand Central number as you outgoing caller ID.  When someone calls you can answer on Skype or on your cell phone or whatever other phone you have it setup to ring.
  • Free US Calls – you can type in a number you want to call and Google will call your number and then connect you with the number you want to talk to.  Pretty good deal if you have unlimited incoming calls on your cell phone.  International calls are charged a fee and it looks like they give you $1.00 to start out with.
  • Routing based on contact group - It looks like you can set your group of friends to ring your phone, your wife’s to ring her phone and family to ring both.
  • Call me widget – You can add some code to you website that people can click, type in their number and then start up a phone call with you.
  • Mobile access - There is a website optimized for use from a cell phone at www.google.com/voice/m.
  • Custom greetings – You can give different callers different greetings.  So you can do things like tell family you are away on vacation, but just ask other callers to leave a message.

If we could combine Skydeck, Google Voice and Skype, it would be the killer communication package.

To Save or Not to Save: Should you buy a used laptop?

In a world where technology goes out of date in the space of a few months, buying the latest and greatest may not always be the best idea. There seems to be a collective attitude at times that says we must always buy the best, fastest, shiniest product on the market. That is just fine in some cases, but the real question should be, “Do I really need this advanced technology, or is it just a convenience?”.

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While new technological developments in the computer world can be very fascinating, it is interesting to take a look at the other options available to consumers. In the article, “Why You Should Buy a Refurbished Laptop“, the author talks about the many benefits of purchasing one of these refurbished machines.

First of all, many of the computers that are returned are simply sent back because of cosmetic defects. If you do not particularly care about a scratch on the cover of the computer but simply want a functional machine, Dell and Apple both offer refurbished machines for a lesser cost than their newest computers. These machines have perfectly intact screens and other hardware, which makes them just as usable as the next laptop. Most companies have some kind of a service to provide refurbished computers to their clients. With some of them, the computers may not even have been used.  Usually the company has different types of refurbishments that they handle, some of which may be machines that have been repaired and tested, as well as those that have only cosmetic damage.

The main advantage of buying a refurbished laptop over turning to an outside seller is that there still may be a warranty available for the machine if it is purchased from the company. Sometimes eBay or Craig’s List sellers will have a computer for sale that still has its factory warranty, but this is not always the case. Also, when buying a computer from a third party seller, the buyer has no way of knowing if that seller is honest. Though many of them are, there is always a risk in the purchase.

For those that need a laptop that is still up to date without being brand new, buying a refurbished computer could be a very wise choice.

Pandora Radio

As the internet becomes a tool we use daily, it not only makes logical sense to create an internet radio station, but also from a practical standpoint. Pandora Radio uses a unique design that creates playlists specific to your own taste in music. This internet radio station is a product of the Music Genome Project, which was started to identify the individual characteristics of a massive amount of songs. The founders’ idea was to group songs based on the characteristics of the individual song, rather than the specific band or genre. This unique approach allows the user to search for a certain song, and if the song the user wants is found, the radio station creates a playlist or specific station of music that is similar in tone and sound to the original song. The goal of the founders of Pandora Radio was to analyze songs based on the fundamental characteristics of the music, such as the major or minor tonality, harmony and rhythm of a particular song.

As for the usability of the station itself, the interface is very easy to use and does not require much getting used to. This is really nice in that it does not waste any of your time. The only thing that the user must do is type in a search for a certain song and verify that the search result was what they wanted. Pandora then creates a playlist with songs of the same characteristics.

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Another neat feature is that Pandora allows for user feedback on the same interface in which the songs are being played. The “thumbs up” and “thumbs down” buttons beside each song are the means by which the feedback is accomplished. If the user does press the “thumbs down” button on a certain song, the station immediately deletes the song from playing on that particular station. That way, the user never has to listen to the offending song again while on the station that he or she created.

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 Oh, and the other great thing about Pandora is that it is free!

One additional aspect of this project that many users will find handy is Pandora’s mobile capabilities. Pandora Radio can be played from a mobile phone if the user so chooses, and the company offers this use for free! This differs greatly from the pricey alternatives to mobile music capabilities offered by other companies.

The only aspects of the usability of the station that a person might find unattractive are that the music played on the station cannot be “rewound” and replayed upon demand and that there is a limit on the number of songs that a user can “skip” per hour. These drawbacks are minor, and the station only implements them to comply with regulations.

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Overall, Pandora Radio is a fun, easy and hassle-free way to find a continuous playlist of songs tailored to an individual’s taste.The unique way in which the Music Genome Project analyzes songs allows for a wonderful user experience while keeping use of the product free of cost.

To read more about Pandora Radio and the Music Genome Project, visit their blog.

Sprint Airave

The Sprint Airave is a device that allows you to route your Sprint calls through your broadband connection instead of going through the regular cellular network.  It basically acts as a little cell phone tower in your home and connects to Sprint over the internet.  This is useful if you have a house somewhere with poor cell phone coverage and it is also useful if you have a land line or voip line that you use a lot at home, but would prefer to use the same device for all your calls.

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The Sprint AirRave has rather complicated pricing.  You have to pay $99 for the device itself, plus $5 per month.  Then to get unlimited calling, your account will require paying $10 per month for each phone you want to add unlimited calling to.  If you have multiple lines on the same plan, it costs $20 for all of your lines to be covered.

Part of the reason for this complexity is the fact that you can use other’s Airave stations.  So even if you don’t have a station yourself, you can add the $10 per month option to your phone and then use their Airave to make unlimited calls for free.  If you don’t want people using your Airave you can restrict it to only work with certain phones.

The Airave has been in testing for about a year and will be available in stores August 18th.