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.

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.

Screenshot 1

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.

 Screenshot 2

 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.

Screenshot 3

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.

Remote Signaling System for Your Home

Light BulbPicture this: you are working in your home office,  maybe in the basement or on 2nd floor, your wife (or husband) is cooking dinner, and the kids are screaming, but you are oblivious to it.  Maybe you have some music on, or are just too far removed from the “action”.  Your wife, needing some assistance, calls you once, then twice, and finally storms into your office wondering why are ignoring her.  Sound familiar?  This no longer happens in our house since I setup a way for my wife to signal me remotely, using X10 technology. Continue reading

Television: The New Movies

Home TheaterTechnology is once again changing the face of personal entertainment.  Not long ago, the only place one could go to experience epic stories brought to life on a big screen with heart pounding acoustics was the local movie theater.  Today, with the growing commonality of big screen TVs utilizing new technologies such as plasma and LCD projection, as well as home theater surround-sound systems, one can experience this in the comfort of home. Continue reading

How to Create a Virtual CD Drive (Windows XP)

CDLong ago, software companies enforced copy protection by requiring that the original product CD be inserted with each usage.  When copying CDs in their entirety became commonplace, the software giants turned to other methods, mostly centered around internet-based authentication.  However, when I installed several games for my son on our new computer, I found that the old practice still persisted.  Several games made by different manufacturers all required that the CD be inserted to run them.  Since he is too young to be handling CDs, I was motivated to find a solution to this problem. Continue reading

TiVo vs. Windows Media Center

Windows Media CenterTiCo CentralThere are two basic ways to enter the world of the Personal Video Recorder (PVR): through a dedicated hardware unit, like a TiVo or ReplayTV, or through a software-based PVR that runs on your home computer, like Windows: Media Center Edition (WMCE) or MythTV.  In this article I will compare the most popular form of each platform, TiVo and WMCE, to help you figure out which one would be best for you. Continue reading

Travelling with Movies on a Mac

DVD Player IconThere are several situations where you might want to dump a DVD to your hard drive to watch later. For instance, I get significantly better battery life when watching a video from my hard drive than I get when watching it from a DVD. If I’m stuck in a plane for several hours, having my movie on the hard drive can be the difference between finishing the show, or running out of power halfway through. I use a PowerBook and in OS X 10.3 and earlier you could just use the built in Disk Utility to copy a DVD to your disk, but it stopped working in 10.4. However with a few free tools you can accomplish the same thing and more.
Continue reading

TiVo: Focused TV

Now Playing on TiVoHave you ever sat down in front of the TV after a long day, hoping to find an interesting show, only to end up surfing channels for a few minutes and then turning it off?  Have you ever caught yourself saying “I have 70 channels, and there is nothing on!”  Friends, there is a solution to this problem: the Personal Video Recorder (PVR), the most common version known as TiVo. Continue reading