Category: MP3 Devices

How Good Can a $298 Android Tablet Be?

Pretty damn good in the case of the new 8″ Vizio Tablet. While it’s not going to take any speed awards when compared with the new Galaxy Tab 10.1, it does have a 1GHz processor with 512MB of RAM which delivers respectable performance with incredible battery life that rivals any iPad. Storage capacity is limited to 2GB, but you can add a 32GB microSD and meet any computing demands you may have. Currently the device is WiFi only.

As you might expect, Vizio knows a thing or two about televisions, and there’s a silver lining with the Vizio Tablet. Not only is an IR blaster included in the hardware, but you also get a giant TV remote that controls any combination of TVs, cable and satellite boxes, DVD and BluRay devices, and about 95% of the other video and audio components you will find on the planet. And it works as well or better than any of the pricey, high-end touchscreen (with a little screen) TV remotes that would easily put you in the Poor House. Say goodnight, Logitech. There’s also a front-facing 640×480 camera which easily suffices for video conferencing. No current video conferencing apps work, by the way, but it’s only been on the street for a week. The best news of all, you can pick one up at Costco or WalMart if you want one today. Or order it from Amazon if you prefer tax-free.

We don’t dive too deeply into the technical weeds in our reviews. If you want the technical assessment, check out this SlashGear review. What we prefer to evaluate is real-world usage of these devices. The Vizio Tablet passes with flying colors. In addition to reading email and browsing the web, here’s the suite of applications which we think matter to most folks. We want to watch videos from YouTube and NetFlix. We want to stream music from Google Music and Spotify and read our Kindle books. We like to use Skype. Sorry, Apple, we also like Flash video support which works perfectly on the Vizio Tablet even though it’s currently running Gingerbread.1

Last, but not least, being a phone nerd, we obviously want to make and receive free phone calls using either an Asterisk® server with CSipSimple or Google Voice using a $50 Obihai device and the free ObiON client for Android. Both work great!

Of course, the usual Android favorites including Google+ with the exception of (the currently non-functioning) Huddle for video conferencing with up to 10 participants, Maps, Navigation, and Google Talk all work flawlessly. Gallery is perfectly synched with your Picasa photo collection which now can store unlimited photos at no cost through Google Plus. If you want to actually take professional photographs and make feature films, this isn’t the device for you. With the exception of Skype which is not yet available for this device (which was just released), everything else we’ve mentioned works great especially if you’re living on a budget. And, with the addition of Huddle in Google+, the absence of Skype support really doesn’t much matter any more. If you happen to need a Google+ invite, here’s a link compliments of Nerd Vittles. Finally, and pardon us for repeating, if you’re sick of wrestling with a half dozen remotes to watch television, this device is worth its weight in gold. You’ll be asking yourself why no one but Vizio was smart enough to think of it.

Vizio also had a better idea when it came to the Android user interface. As you can see in the photo above, there’s a top section where you can install your Favorite Apps. Immediately below that is your entire Applications collection. At the very bottom, there are five buttons which you can assign to your Must-Have Apps such as email, your web browser, the Google Market, Settings, and whatever else you happen to like.

Another nice touch that hasn’t been mentioned in many of the reviews is that Vizio has added a new keyboard option. If you remember the ergonomic keyboards that had the keys divided into two sections, Vizio has done much the same thing on the touchscreen which greatly improves typing for those that actually learned how. This keyboard, of course, can be toggled on and off depending upon your personal taste.

In conclusion, we think Vizio has hit a home run with this device. The price point, the feature set, the form factor, and the incredible battery life are just about perfect. We’ve listed a few of our favorite Android apps below to get you started. Enjoy!


Originally published: Wednesday, August 10, 2011




Need help with Asterisk? Visit the PBX in a Flash Forum.
Or Try the New, Free PBX in a Flash Conference Bridge.


whos.amung.us If you’re wondering what your fellow man is reading on Nerd Vittles these days, wonder no more. Visit our new whos.amung.us statistical web site and check out what’s happening. It’s a terrific resource both for us and for you.


 
Awesome Vitelity Special. Vitelity has generously offered a terrific discount for Nerd Vittles readers. You now can get an almost half-price DID from our special Vitelity sign-up link. If you’re seeking the best flexibility in choosing an area code and phone number plus the lowest entry level pricing plus high quality calls, then Vitelity is the hands-down winner. Vitelity provides Tier A DID inbound service in over 3,000 rate centers throughout the US and Canada. When you use our special link to sign up, Nerd Vittles gets a few shekels down the road to support our open source development efforts while you get an incredible signup deal as well. The going rate for Vitelity’s DID service is $7.95 a month which includes up to 4,000 incoming minutes on two simultaneous channels with terminations priced at 1.45¢ per minute. Not any more! For our users, here’s a deal you can’t (and shouldn’t) refuse! Sign up now, and you can purchase a Tier A DID with unlimited incoming calls and four simultaneous channels for just $3.99 a month. To check availability of local numbers and tiers of service from Vitelity, click here. NOTE: You can only use the Nerd Vittles sign-up link to order your DIDs, or you won’t get the special pricing! Vitelity’s rate is just 1.44¢ per minute for outbound calls in the U.S. There is a $35 prepay when you sign up. This covers future usage. Any balance is refundable if you decide to discontinue service with Vitelity.


Some Recent Nerd Vittles Articles of Interest…

  1. Honeycomb has been promised for down the road. []

Welcome to Frontier Days

One of my favorite vacations as a kid was spent enjoying Frontier Days in Cheyenne, Wyoming. If you’ve never been with your family, you need to add this to your Bucket List. It’s a week-long celebration that you’ll never forget. To commemorate this year’s event which is going on right now, we decided to celebrate by staging our own Frontier Days here at Nerd Vittles. It provides you an opportunity to join with us in kicking the tires of all the new stuff we’re working on this summer to write about in the fall. In the grand tradition of Cheyenne’s Frontier Days, expect a wild ride! If you’re a bit squeamish about knowing how sausage is made, today’s introduction to new projects may not be your cup of tea. For the pioneers, it’s Party Time! So let’s get started.

Introducing Asterisk 10. At the top of our list is the brand new Asterisk®, formerly known as Asterisk 1.10. You’ll want to read Kevin Fleming’s announcement of the name change, and then read Malcolm Davenport’s summarization of the new product. Here are a few excerpts:

A major focus of the Asterisk 10 development cycle was Asterisk’s support for media types. In versions of Asterisk 1.8 and prior, Asterisk supported a rather limited number of codecs due to some architectural limitations. Plumbing was ripped out, kitchens were remodeled, girders were swapped, and Asterisk 10 now has a media architecture that’s capable of handling both a nearly unlimited number of codecs as well as codecs with more complex parameters…

Asterisk 10 [also] provides basic video conferencing support. That’s right, if you and your friends have video-capable SIP devices, that all speak the same video codec and profile, you can create multi-party video conferences.

Asterisk 10 can also improve your faxing experience. Asterisk 1.4 is capable of T.38 pass-through, where one T.38 capable endpoint can send a fax directly to another T.38 capable endpoint – usually a couple of SIP peers. Asterisk 1.6.X and 1.8 are capable of T.38 termination, where Asterisk can read/write TIFF files from/to T.38 endpoints. Now, with Asterisk 10, transparency between non-T.38 and T.38 is possible.

Whenever there are major plumbing changes, there usually are some major surprises awaiting those of us that depend upon Asterisk to actually make calls. That’s where you come in. Tom King has quickly put together a new PBX in a Flash 1.7.5.6.3 ISO that includes PIAF-Red, aka the new Asterisk 10. We encourage you to try it on a non-production machine, and report any problems both to us (on the PIAF Forum) and to Digium® (in the Bug Tracker). Here’s a download link to get you started. Here’s the new Cepstral TTS installer.

Introducing Incredible PBX 2.0. Frontier Days wouldn’t be complete without a new version of Incredible PBX. In this beta release, we’ve reworked Google Voice support and added one of the most requested features, the ability to enter dial strings for trunks in outbound routes the old-fashioned way.

On the Google Voice front, we’ve replaced the hard-coded Google Voice code in Incredible PBX 1.8 with Marcus Brown’s new FreePBX® module. It not only makes Google Voice usage optional, but it also lets you add and remove multiple Google Voice trunks to your heart’s content. And the setup process takes less than a minute to enter your credentials.

Incredible PBX 2.0 also includes Andrew Nagy’s new Swiss Army Knife Module for FreePBX. This module adds some of the most requested features that currently are missing from FreePBX 2.8 and 2.9:

  • Export a CSV file of your Dial Patterns from Outbound Dial Plans
  • Use Textbox Dial Patterns for Outbound Routes
  • Modified Blacklist Module allowing any value, not just numbers
  • Coming Soon: reg-exp black/white list module

If you’d like to take Incredible PBX 2.0 for a spin, here’s a download link with instructions. Be aware that this version is NOT suitable for use on any system that is not also protected by a hardware-based firewall. For example, don’t use it on a hosted server such as RentPBX.com just yet. We use a different security model on hosted and cloud-based systems, and it is NOT included in this build. Finally, Incredible PBX 2.0 is not yet compatible with Asterisk 10 and PIAF-Red, but we’re working on it.

Introducing Google+. Unless you’ve been sleeping under a rock, you probably have heard that Google has a new little product of its own. In less than 3 weeks, Google+ has grown to over 20 million users, and it’s still by invitation only. You can read our writeup of it on Nerd Vittles. Suffice it to say, it is a game changer for those of us in the technology business. It’s an almost perfect tool for carrying on a problem-solving dialog, and we plan to make extensive use of it in coming months to support PBX in a Flash and Incredible PBX. Don’t be shy. We’ve got plenty of invites. All you have to do is drop us a note and include the word Google+ so we’ll know what you need. We’re turning requests around in less than a day. One final hint. Use your real name on Google Voice, or the Soup Nazi may remove your account. It’s become a bit of a brouhaha at the moment… as one might expect during Frontier Days.

Introducing OS X Lion. Apple has not been asleep at the wheel either. Their new operating system release is extraordinarily good but only available as an over-the-air update to an existing OS X 10.6.8 system. You can read our writeup of the gotchas for a quick and painless install. And, if you’re in the market for a new notebook, we can’t say enough good things about the new MacBook Air. It’s in a league of its own.

Introducing Google Chromebooks. Last but not least, we need to say a few words about the amazing new Chromebooks running Google’s Chrome OS. As with cellphones, Google is not making the hardware. So you have a choice of Samsung or Acer at the moment. The Samsung model starts at $429 for the WiFi only model. The comparable Acer machine is $80 cheaper. We opted for the Samsung WiFi machine which is well made, has an incredible battery life, and just works. For 95% of what we do, it’s a perfect device. There’s a short list of gotcha’s. First, you’ve got to have network connectivity since everything is cloud-based. Second, if your requirements include a lot of graphics manipulation and editing, this probably is not the machine for you quite yet. Finally, if movies (NetFlix) and music (Spotify) are must-have’s, you’d better wait a month or two until those products are available for the Chromebook. Google Music, which allows you to put your own music collection in the cloud, works fine today! There’s an add-on extension to Chrome for Google Voice. As of yesterday, it works flawlessly to make and receive calls. In summary, if your computing requirements primarily involve surfing the web, email, and SSH, then you’re going to be very happy with the Chromebook.

In our case, we’re trying to alternate our use between a Chromebook and the new MacBook Air. So far, we’ve been very satisfied with both. And the Chromebook is 1/4 the cost! Pioneers Forever! Enjoy!

Originally published: Tuesday, July 26, 2011




Need help with Asterisk? Visit the PBX in a Flash Forum.
Or Try the New, Free PBX in a Flash Conference Bridge.


whos.amung.us If you’re wondering what your fellow man is reading on Nerd Vittles these days, wonder no more. Visit our new whos.amung.us statistical web site and check out what’s happening. It’s a terrific resource both for us and for you.


 
Awesome Vitelity Special. Vitelity has generously offered a terrific discount for Nerd Vittles readers. You now can get an almost half-price DID from our special Vitelity sign-up link. If you’re seeking the best flexibility in choosing an area code and phone number plus the lowest entry level pricing plus high quality calls, then Vitelity is the hands-down winner. Vitelity provides Tier A DID inbound service in over 3,000 rate centers throughout the US and Canada. When you use our special link to sign up, Nerd Vittles gets a few shekels down the road to support our open source development efforts while you get an incredible signup deal as well. The going rate for Vitelity’s DID service is $7.95 a month which includes up to 4,000 incoming minutes on two simultaneous channels with terminations priced at 1.45¢ per minute. Not any more! For our users, here’s a deal you can’t (and shouldn’t) refuse! Sign up now, and you can purchase a Tier A DID with unlimited incoming calls and four simultaneous channels for just $3.99 a month. To check availability of local numbers and tiers of service from Vitelity, click here. NOTE: You can only use the Nerd Vittles sign-up link to order your DIDs, or you won’t get the special pricing! Vitelity’s rate is just 1.44¢ per minute for outbound calls in the U.S. There is a $35 prepay when you sign up. This covers future usage. Any balance is refundable if you decide to discontinue service with Vitelity.


Some Recent Nerd Vittles Articles of Interest…

Tips, Tricks & Apps to Get the Most Out of Your iPad 2

Rather than providing another glowing review of the iPad 2®, we thought it might be more helpful to sketch out the daily use potential of this incredible device based upon our experience and that of our 10-year old daughter. Yes, we’re one of the 30% who purchased an iPad 2 having already owned a number of first generation iPads. With double the RAM and nearly double the processing power of the first generation device, the one cautionary note that potential purchasers should heed is don’t buy the $499 model. Our daughter has survived a year with a $499 iPad only to find it completely full when she attempted to load Garage Band. And you will want Garage Band which is a storage hog by iPad standards. That’s not to suggest that Katherine’s iPad hasn’t served her well. She has almost 150 applications plus substantial collections of photos and music. What she doesn’t have is movies and video clips. With the addition of two cameras on the iPad 2 as well as Camera, AutoStitch, Movie, and Photo Booth apps and once you see what’s possible with iMovie, you’ll be begging for more storage capacity. Keep in mind that your storage capacity choice is irrevocable! There’s no way to add more storage later unless you buy a new device. And there’s no external storage other than removing apps and data through the iTunes interface. Perhaps more than anything else, that’s why the absence of a microSD slot on the iPad 2 is both a significant shortcoming and a huge disappointment.

The other suggestion we would offer to first-time iPad 2 purchasers is this. Get organized early. What we mean is decide early on how you’re going to use the 10 screens to organize your applications. Before the year is out, you will use all 10 screens assuming your bank account survives. At least now you can also create folders within a screen if you run out of room. Here’s our methodology, and it has served us pretty well. Screen 1 is reserved for the apps we use every day. The other screens are reserved for categories of applications: business, news and books, social, drawing and graphics, music, games, location-based services, and system/network management. If you’re a big gamer, artist, or musician, you may want to reserve two screens for your favorite category. The point is to spend a little time up front deciding how to organize applications. And, fortunately, you can move things around with the iTunes interface down the road so long as you leave one screen available for reorganizing.

You can also place six apps at the bottom of the display, and these are accessible from all 10 screens. Here’s where you’d want your browser, email or Gmail buttons, App Store, and Settings. That leaves you two more must-have apps. If you play music all the time, you’d probably want the iPod app. If you look at Photos all the time, you’d want the Photo app. But you get the idea, use Screen 1 for Daily Use Apps and the 6 bottom slots for your must-have at all times apps. If you don’t heed this advice, then you’ll find yourself having to search for apps on Screen 0 every time you want to use an application.

Favorite Apps. That brings us to our favorite apps. For ease of reference, we’ll cover these in the same way they are organized on our iPad 2. And, we’d love to hear about your favorite apps, too. Just post a comment. In the Daily Use category, here’s our list:

Calendar
Contacts
Mail
Maps
Videos
FaceTime
Camera
Photo Booth
EyeTV
YouTube
Hulu Plus
SlingPlayer
NetFlix
Bria
Travelin’ Man
OBiON
Pandora
Pulse News
Flipboard
iSWiFTER
 

Most of the above applications are self-explanatory, but we’ll mention a few. If you have a Mac, then EyeTV is a must-have addition. It lets you play and record all your favorite TV shows. Removing commercials from a one-hour show is about a 2-minute click-and-drag operation. And it’s incredibly easy to export your favorite recordings in either iPhone or iPad format. So long as iTunes is running on your Mac desktop, you can play your recordings or live TV at any time using either a WiFi or 3G network connection. SlingPlayer does much the same thing (only worse) with no recording capability, but it works with Windows machines as well as Macs, and it’s a standalone device. The Netflix app lets you stream movies and TV shows to your iPad for $7.99 a month, and it supports 6 simultaneous devices including many current generation HDTVs. OBiON is the VoIP app that lets you make free Google Voice calls in the U.S. and Canada using your $49 OBi device. You can read all about it here. If you have an Asterisk® PBX, then you’ll want Bria and our Travelin’ Man app for secure, remote, and free SIP communications. Finally, there’s the new iSWiFTER app which brings Flash video back from the dead on the iPad platform. It’s free for a limited time and, believe it or not, it’s available in the App Store.

Books & News. We spend every morning at the breakfast table with the Books & News page on our iPad. Here’s our list:

Kindle
iBooks
Friendly (Facebook)
Twitterific
AccuWeather
ABC News
ABC Player
CBS News
CNBC RT
CNN
Huff Post
Newsy
NYTimes
News Pro
USA Today
WSJ
Wash Post
The Daily
TV Guide
Tweetdeck
 

We don’t watch much Faux News which has become more akin to Incitement TV. We really hoped The Daily would be different. It’s not. But… to each his own.

Business Apps. This is kind of a catch-all page for stuff we use frequently as well as some apps we’ll probably never use again. Here’s our list:

iMovie
Keynote
Pages
Notes
Bento
Sorted
2Do
Todo
Zenbe Lists
Voice Memos
aNote Lite
Dictation
Due
FlipTime XL
MobileNoter
Pad Info
PaperDesk LT
News Rack
GoodReader
textPlus
 

Of all the ToDo applications that are available (and we’ve tried most of them), we like Todo the best. But, for quick reminders, you can’t beat Due. GoodReader, Keynote, and Pages are must have business apps, and iMovie is every bit as good as the app on the Mac. It’s about perfect for an on-the-go, need-it-in-a-hurry project.

Navigation & Wi-Fi Apps. When we’re on the road or looking for a WiFi Hot Spot or good place to eat, here’s our list:

CoPilot HD
Charts & Tides
Navionics Marines
ShipFinder HD
GPS Drive HD
GPS HD
Hurricane HD
UrbanSpoon
Epicurious
Where To Eat
ZAGAT
Zillow.com
WiFiGet HD
Dash Four
Mifi
World Atlas
Skobbler
SpeedBox
WiFon
Trapster
 

GPS navigation on the roads is hit and miss on the iPad. Nothing comes close to Google Maps navigation. CoPilot could be a contender except for the outdated maps and copy protection paranoia. On the water, both Charts & TIdes and Navionics Marine are fantastic. We compared both of them to a $10,000 Nav system on a very fine boat only yesterday. There was virtually no difference in the information available with the exception of the radar-enhanced features. If you’re always shopping for real estate, there is no finer app than Zillow, period. If you’re in to fast cars, there is no finer app than Trapster.

Games. Last but not least, everybody needs a diversion once in a while. Here’s a list of some of our favorite iPad games:

Game Center
GearedHD
Frogger
Foosball HD
AirCoaster
Angry Birds
Asphalt 5
JirboBreak
Doons HD
ElectroRacer
FarmVille (WAF)
Hit Tennis 2
iFooty
Pac-Man
Pinball HD
RealRacing HD
RealRacing GTI
Snowboarding
Checkers HD
Wacky Circus HD

 

This will probably be the category that changes the quickest with the new lightening-fast graphics and dual core processor on the iPad 2. Stay tuned!

Originally published: Monday, March 14, 2011


Need help with Asterisk? Visit the PBX in a Flash Forum or Wiki.
Or Try the New, Free PBX in a Flash Conference Bridge.


whos.amung.us If you’re wondering what your fellow man is reading on Nerd Vittles these days, wonder no more. Visit our new whos.amung.us statistical web site and check out what’s happening. It’s a terrific resource both for us and for you.


 
Awesome Vitelity Special. Vitelity has generously offered a terrific discount for Nerd Vittles readers. You now can get an almost half-price DID from our special Vitelity sign-up link. If you’re seeking the best flexibility in choosing an area code and phone number plus the lowest entry level pricing plus high quality calls, then Vitelity is the hands-down winner. Vitelity provides Tier A DID inbound service in over 3,000 rate centers throughout the US and Canada. When you use our special link to sign up, Nerd Vittles gets a few shekels down the road to support our open source development efforts while you get an incredible signup deal as well. The going rate for Vitelity’s DID service is $7.95 a month which includes up to 4,000 incoming minutes on two simultaneous channels with terminations priced at 1.45¢ per minute. Not any more! For our users, here’s a deal you can’t (and shouldn’t) refuse! Sign up now, and you can purchase a Tier A DID with unlimited incoming calls and four simultaneous channels for just $3.99 a month. To check availability of local numbers and tiers of service from Vitelity, click here. NOTE: You can only use the Nerd Vittles sign-up link to order your DIDs, or you won’t get the special pricing! Vitelity’s rate is just 1.44¢ per minute for outbound calls in the U.S. There is a $35 prepay when you sign up. This covers future usage. Any balance is refundable if you decide to discontinue service with Vitelity.


Some Recent Nerd Vittles Articles of Interest…

Motorola Xoom: A Disappointing Introduction to Android 3.0

As the old saying goes, “Beauty is only skin deep.” And so it is with Motorola’s new overhyped Xoom tablet featuring Android 3.0. We really wanted to like this device. The form factor sounded appealing, Android 3.0 is awesome, and dual cameras plus a dual-core processor had us chomping at the bit for a chance to try out this bad boy. It’s hard to find a new toy we don’t like, but then along comes the Xoom. It may weigh the same as an iPad, but it feels much more bulky. We personally like the form factor of Samsung’s Galaxy Tab compared to this monstrosity. And the dual core processor was a disappointment as well. We noticed very little difference in performance during our real world testing. You’re not going to hold this device with one hand for very long. It’s too heavy in all the wrong places. So we kept asking ourselves, “Where would you use it?” And the most likely places would be in bed or sitting on it’s $149 speaker dock connected to a big monitor. For both of those options, there are better solutions with an Apple TV and an iMac. The biggest fail may be the power button, positioned on the back of the unit at the exact spot most folks will use to hold the device to watch a movie.

Vaporware: 3.0 Strikes & You’re Out. We’ve saved the real Parade of Horrors for last. Motorola basically ruined the introduction of Android 3.0, designed specifically for the tablet form factor, by prematurely releasing this half-baked product. They hyped Verizon’s 4G network, but there’s not one 4G component in the device. You’ll have to send it back to Motorola for a week to get that upgrade… someday. Motorola advertised Adobe Flash support which still is the Achilles’ Heel of the iPad. But there’s no Flash to be found. Talk about ironic, you can’t view Motorola’s XOOM web site from the device. Flash, too, will be an upgrade… someday. Then there’s the non-functional microSD slot. Yep, you guessed it. Someday. Sorry, but $800++ for a prototype device is insulting. It also says something about Google’s lack of control over manufacturers. Seems to us it wouldn’t be that difficult to write a license agreement that says, if you want to use our trademarks on your device, you won’t release the product until a specified list of functions actually work. And pardon us for stating the obvious but advertising should be something more than a big pile of bullsh*t.

For those that are silly enough to buy the Xoom, there is some good news. The device was rooted in a matter of hours. So you can load all your favorite utilities and functions easily. Here’s a link to the cookbook. Be aware that rooting the device may deprive you of the ability to ever get the vaporware upgraded for 4G, Flash, and a functioning microSD slot. Of course, maybe that was the plan all along.

There are many good reviews of the Xoom and Android 3.0 if you want the usual Silicon Valley PR fluff from the folks that received the evaluation units. Start here and here. Suffice it to say, it’s a major upgrade to Android. We like the new UI; however, we’re not all that keen on the lack of buttons and particularly the placement of the Home and Back icons in the lower left corner of the screen. 90% of the world is right-handed. So why you’d position the most used screen real estate in the most difficult place to access it with your right hand while holding the device in your left hand is a real head-scratcher.

Finally, a word about data plans. In order to purchase our unit at full retail from Best Buy, we had to buy at least one month of Verizon service. In our law school days, this used to be called tying in antitrust law. Since it makes corporations extra money, it’s probably fine today. Verizon, however, has taken greed to a whole new level. And this is just for 3G service. 4G reportedly will cost a few cents more. 1GB of data will cost you $20 a month. That’s about two 4-hour car trips with a teenager using the device. 3GB of data will cost you $35, 5GB runs $50, and 10GB is a whopping $80. As a point of reference, AT&T’s 2GB data plan with equivalent 3G service is $25 for the iPad. So, yes, you’ll be using WiFi a lot thanks to the greed of Verizon and AT&T. Of course, you can’t buy a WiFi-only unit. That’ll be available someday after Verizon has gotten their initial pound of flesh. And, at least for us, WiFi performance compared with the iPad and Galaxy Tab was no great shakes. What is certain is that, with this device, you probably will want to consider tethering from a cellphone that still has an unlimited data plan unless you’re willing to give up eating lunch in order to pay your monthly Verizon bill. HINT: Read our review of the Optimus V and Virgin Mobile’s $25 a month unlimited 3G data deal. Or Sprint’s Mobile HotSpot for the HTC Evo runs $1 a day and provides unlimited 4G data at a fraction of the cost of Verizon’s 3G offerings.

Footnote: Following our return of the device and cancellation of the service, we received a bill from Verizon which included an undisclosed $35 activation fee in addition to the prorated charges for data service. AT&T charges no activation fees on iPads and other tablets. With this addition, it boosts the cost of the Motorola Xoom sufficiently to make it more costly than even the top-of-the-line iPad 2. After 30 minutes on the phone with Verizon “customer care,” a supervisor finally waived the $35 fee. And you thought no company could rival AT&T’s dismal track record. Think again.

My 10-year-old daughter echoed our sentiments about the Motorola Xoom: “Thanks. I’ll keep my iPad.” In case you’ve forgotten, Apple will announce a new iPad later this week, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see a new processor and (working) microSD slot in addition to the oft-reported camera additions. We recommend you wait for a better alternative! There will be many, not someday, but very soon. And, indeed, there now are. See our recent article.

Originally published: Monday, February 28, 2011


Need help with Asterisk®? Visit the PBX in a Flash Forum or Wiki.
Or Try the New, Free PBX in a Flash Conference Bridge.


whos.amung.us If you’re wondering what your fellow man is reading on Nerd Vittles these days, wonder no more. Visit our new whos.amung.us statistical web site and check out what’s happening. It’s a terrific resource both for us and for you.


 
Awesome Vitelity Special. Vitelity has generously offered a terrific discount for Nerd Vittles readers. You now can get an almost half-price DID from our special Vitelity sign-up link. If you’re seeking the best flexibility in choosing an area code and phone number plus the lowest entry level pricing plus high quality calls, then Vitelity is the hands-down winner. Vitelity provides Tier A DID inbound service in over 3,000 rate centers throughout the US and Canada. When you use our special link to sign up, Nerd Vittles gets a few shekels down the road to support our open source development efforts while you get an incredible signup deal as well. The going rate for Vitelity’s DID service is $7.95 a month which includes up to 4,000 incoming minutes on two simultaneous channels with terminations priced at 1.45¢ per minute. Not any more! For our users, here’s a deal you can’t (and shouldn’t) refuse! Sign up now, and you can purchase a Tier A DID with unlimited incoming calls and four simultaneous channels for just $3.99 a month. To check availability of local numbers and tiers of service from Vitelity, click here. NOTE: You can only use the Nerd Vittles sign-up link to order your DIDs, or you won’t get the special pricing! Vitelity’s rate is just 1.44¢ per minute for outbound calls in the U.S. There is a $35 prepay when you sign up. This covers future usage. Any balance is refundable if you decide to discontinue service with Vitelity.


Some Recent Nerd Vittles Articles of Interest…

 

Incredible PBX for Asterisk 1.8: Back from the Brink

Photo courtesy of<br />
Blou_Aap. Artist unknown but terrific.Ever had one of those weeks? It was a wild ride these past 7 days with the introduction of Asterisk® 1.8.1 and some new Google Voice twists. And then there was our DNS provider Omnis.com that trashed name resolution for our primary domain, pbxinaflash.net, while claiming with a straight face that they didn't provide tech support for their own stupidity. Yikes! But where there's a will, there's always a way. And by Friday night, not only were all the issues sorted out but the Google Voice Gtalk interface in Asterisk 1.8 for free calling in the U.S. and Canada is now better than ever. Our special thanks to the Asterisk Dev Team and Tom King of the PIAF Dev Team for restoring peace in the valley. No more callback hoops for outbound calling. Free DIDs in most area codes. Instantaneous connections. Crystal clear calls. You can almost hear a pin drop. And Incredible PBX now brings you all this magic in a turnkey install that even a monkey could handle.

As if we needed another one, our other surprise last week was the Ebay appearance of a Nortel SIP Videophone labeled as a 1535, but it had no WiFi in either the hardware or in the particular software build. The merchant was as surprised as we were to discover the missing WiFi component and now has corrected the ad. But that won't make the WiFi reappear. For those of you still purchasing these phones (and they're worth it), read the fine print if WiFi or firmware upgrades matter to you. The Turkish models have neither. As anyone that tracks Ebay auctions will tell you, the law of supply and demand controls the price. These began in the $30 range and as recently as two weeks ago were selling for almost $80. They've now dropped back into the $50-$60 range. You're usually better off calling the merchant, and the more you buy, the better the price. Five Stars Telecom usually stocks the U.S. models. But ask to be sure.

So here's the drill today. Just download the brand new PBX in a Flash 1.7.5.5.4 ISO with the newly patched Asterisk 1.8 Purple payload. Then burn the ISO to a CD and boot your server from the PIAF CD. Choose the Purple Edition after CentOS installs which will load Asterisk 1.8.1 with FreePBX 2.8. Finally, run through the 5-minute install of Incredible PBX for Asterisk 1.8.1. In less than an hour, you'll have a turnkey, secure PBX with a local phone number and free calling in the U.S. and Canada via your own Google Voice account plus dozens and dozens of terrific Asterisk applications to keep your head spinning for months. Not only can you start enjoying free phone service immediately, but you'll have a robust PBX platform that will keep your eyes popping for months learning about all the features that would have cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars less than a decade ago. Did we mention that all of this telephone goodness is absolutely FREE!

Thanks to its Zero Internet Footprint™ design, The Incredible PBX also remains the most secure Asterisk-based PBX around. What this means is The Incredible PBX™ has been engineered to sit safely behind a NAT-based, hardware firewall with minimal port exposure to your actual server. And you won't find a more full-featured Personal Branch Exchange™ at any price.

The Incredible PBX Inventory. For those that have never heard of The Incredible PBX, here's a feature list of components you get in addition to the base install of PBX in a Flash with CentOS 5.5, Asterisk 1.8, FreePBX 2.8, and Apache, SendMail, MySQL, PHP, phpMyAdmin, IPtables Linux firewall, Fail2Ban, and WebMin. Cepstral TTS, Hamachi VPN, and Mondo Backups are just one command away and may be installed using some of the PBX in a Flash-provided scripts.

Prerequisites. Here's what we recommend to get started properly:

Installing The Incredible PBX. The installation process is simple and straight-forward. Here are the 5 Easy Steps to Free Calling, and The Incredible PBX will be ready to receive and make free U.S./Canada calls immediately:

1. Install PBX in a Flash 1.7.5.5.4 Purple Edition
2. Download & run The Incredible PBX 1.8 installer
3. Run passwd-master on your PIAF server
4. Map UDP 5222 on firewall to PIAF server
5. Configure a softphone or SIP telephone

Installing PBX in a Flash. Here's a quick tutorial to get PBX in a Flash installed. To use Incredible PBX for Asterisk 1.8, we recommend the very latest 32-bit version of PBX in a Flash 1.7.5.5.4.3 If you installed it last week, that's not new enough. The ISO hasn't changed, but the Purple payload is radically different since this morning! Unlike other Asterisk aggregations, PBX in a Flash utilizes a two-step install process. The ISO only installs the CentOS 5.5 operating system. That hasn't changed. But, once CentOS is installed, the server reboots and downloads a payload file that includes Asterisk, FreePBX, and many other VoIP and Linux utilities including all of the new Google Voice components. To get the patched version of Asterisk 1.8.1, use today's new 1.7.5.5.4 ISO. Choose the new Purple Payload, and our special Asterisk 1.8 patched release and all of the Google Voice goodies will be configured automatically. And you won't have to worry about the CDR crashing your new server either.

You can download the 32-bit PIAF 1.7.5.5.4 from SourceForge or one of our download mirrors. Burn the ISO to a CD. Then boot from the installation CD and press the Enter key to begin.

WARNING #1: This install will completely erase, repartition, and reformat EVERY DISK (including USB flash drives) connected to your system so disable any disk you wish to preserve! Press Ctrl-C to cancel the install.

WARNING #2: The PIAF Dev Team currently classifies PIAF-Purple and Asterisk 1.8 as E-X-P-E-R-I-M-E-N-T-A-L. Remember the Pioneers! If you have a low threshold for pain, if you depend upon your PBX to actually make and receive phone calls, or if you understand the WAF and prefer sleeping with both eyes closed, abort this install now and choose PIAF-Gold, PIAF-Silver, or PIAF-Bronze. Otherwise, enjoy the ride!

On some systems you may get a notice that CentOS can't find the kickstart file. Just tab to OK and press Enter. Don't change the name or location of the kickstart file! This will get you going. Think of it as a CentOS 'feature'. :-) If your system still won't boot, then you have an incompatible drive controller.

At the keyboard prompt, tab to OK and press Enter. At the time zone prompt, tab once, highlight your time zone, tab to OK and press Enter. At the password prompt, make up a VERY secure root password. Type it twice. Tab to OK, press Enter. Get a cup of coffee. Come back in about 5 minutes. When the system has installed CentOS, it will reboot. Remove the CD promptly. After the reboot, choose PIAF-Purple option. Have a 15-minute cup of coffee. After installation is complete, the machine will reboot a second time. You now have a PBX in a Flash base install. On a stand-alone machine, it takes about 30 minutes. On a virtual machine, it takes about half that time. Write down the IP address of your new PIAF server. You'll need it to configure your hardware-based firewall in a minute.

NOTE: For previous users of PBX in a Flash, be aware that this new version automatically runs update-programs and update-fixes for you. You still should set your FreePBX passwords by running passwd-master after The Incredible PBX installer finishes!

Configuring Google Voice. You'll need a dedicated Google Voice account to support The Incredible PBX. The more obscure the username (with some embedded numbers), the better off you will be. This will keep folks from bombarding you with unsolicited Gtalk chat messages, and who knows what nefarious scheme will be discovered using Google messaging six months from now. So why take the chance. Keep this account a secret!

We've tested this extensively using an existing Gmail account, and inbound calling is just not reliable. The reason seems to be that Google always chooses Gmail chat as the inbound call destination if there are multiple registrations from the same IP address. So, be reasonable. Do it our way! Set up a dedicated Gmail and Google Voice account, and use it exclusively with The Incredible PBX. Google Voice no longer is by invitation only so, if you're in the U.S. or have a friend that is, head over to the Google Voice site and register. If you're living on another continent, see MisterQ's posting for some tips on getting set up.

You must choose a telephone number (aka DID) for your new account, or Google Voice calling will not work... in either direction. Google used to permit outbound Gtalk calls using a fake CallerID, but that obviously led to abuse so it's over! You also have to tie your Google Voice account to at least one working phone number as part of the initial setup process. Your cellphone number will work just fine. Don't skip this step either. Just enter the provided 2-digit confirmation code when you tell Google to place the test call to the phone number you entered. Once the number is registered, you can disable it if you'd like in Settings, Voice Setting, Phones. But...

IMPORTANT: Be sure to enable the Google Chat option as one of your phone destinations in Settings, Voice Setting, Phones. That's the destination we need for The Incredible PBX to work its magic! Otherwise, all inbound and outbound calls will fail. If you don't see this option, you may need to call up Gmail and enable Google Chat there first. Then go back to the Google Voice Settings.

While you're still in Google Voice Settings, click on the Calls tab. Make sure your settings match these:

  • Call Screening - OFF
  • Call Presentation - OFF
  • Caller ID (In) - Display Caller's Number
  • Caller ID (Out) - Don't Change Anything
  • Do Not Disturb - OFF

Click Save Changes once you adjust your settings. Under the Voicemail tab, plug in your email address so you get notified of new voicemails. Down the road, receipt of a Google Voice voicemail will be a big hint that something has come unglued on your PBX.

Running The Incredible PBX Installer. Log into your server as root and issue the following commands to download and run The Incredible PBX installer:

cd /root
wget http://incrediblepbx.com/incrediblepbx18.x
chmod +x incrediblepbx18.x
./incrediblepbx18.x
passwd-master

If you've installed the previous version of The Incredible PBX, you'll recall that there was a two-step install process after configuring another trunk with either SIPgate or IPkall. That's now a thing of the past. All you need to do after The Incredible PBX script completes is run passwd-master to set up your master password for FreePBX.

When The Incredible PBX install begins, you'll be prompted for the following:

Google Voice Account Name
Google Voice Password
Google Voice 10-digit Phone Number
Gmail Notification Address
FreePBX maint Password

The Google Voice Account Name is the Gmail address for your new dedicated account, e.g. joeschmo@gmail.com. Don't forget @gmail.com! The Google Voice Password is the password for this dedicated account. The Google Voice Phone Number is the 10-digit DID for this dedicated account. We need this if we ever need to go back to the return call methodology for outbound calling. For now, it's not necessary. But who knows what the future holds. :roll: The Gmail Notification Address is the email address where you wish to receive alerts when incoming and outgoing Google Voice calls are placed using The Incredible PBX. And your FreePBX maint Password is the password you'll use to access FreePBX. You'll actually set it by running passwd-master after The Incredible PBX completes. We need this password to properly configure the CallerID Superfecta for you. By the way, none of this confidential information ever leaves your machine... just in case you were wondering.

Now have another 5-minute cup of coffee, and consider a modest donation to Nerd Vittles... for all of our hard work. 😉 You'll find a link at the top of the page. While you're waiting (and so you don't forget), go ahead and configure your hardware-based firewall to support Google Voice. See the next section for what's required. Without completing this firewall configuration step, no calls will work! When the installer finishes, READ THE SCREEN just for grins.

Here's a short video demonstration of the original Incredible PBX installer process. It still works just about the same way except there's no longer a second step to get things working.

One final word of caution is in order regardless of your choice of providers: Do NOT use special characters in any provider passwords, or nothing will work!

Firewall Configuration. We hope you've taken our advice and installed a hardware-based firewall in front of The Incredible PBX. It's your phone bill. You'll need to make one adjustment on the firewall. Map UDP 5222 traffic to the internal IP address of The Incredible PBX. This is the port that Google Voice uses for phone calls and Google chat. You can decipher the IP address of your server by logging into the server as root and typing status.

Logging in to FreePBX. Using a web browser, you access the FreePBX GUI by pointing your browser to the IP address of your Incredible PBX. Click on the Admin tab and choose FreePBX. When prompted for a username, it's maint. When prompted for the password, it's whatever you set up as your maint password when you installed Incredible PBX. If you forget it, you can always reset it by logging into your server as root and running passwd-master.

Extension Password Discovery. If you're too lazy to look up your extension 701 password using the FreePBX GUI, you can log into your server as root and issue the following command to obtain the password for extension 701 which we'll need to configure your softphone or color videophone in the next step:

mysql -uroot -ppassw0rd -e"select id,data from asterisk.sip where id='701' and keyword='secret'"

The result will look something like the following where 701 is the extension and 18016 is the randomly-generated extension password exclusively for your Incredible PBX:

+-----+-------+
id         data
+-----+-------+
701      18016
+-----+-------+

Configuring a SIP Phone. There are hundreds of terrific SIP telephones and softphones for Asterisk-based systems. Once you get things humming along, you'll want a real SIP telephone such as the $50 Nortel color videophone we've recommended above. You'll also find lots of additional recommendations on Nerd Vittles and in the PBX in a Flash Forum. If you're like us, we want to make damn sure this stuff works before you shell out any money. So, for today, let's download a terrific (free) softphone to get you started. We recommend X-Lite because there are versions for Windows, Mac, and Linux. So download your favorite from this link. Install and run X-Lite on your Desktop. At the top of the phone, click on the Down Arrow and choose SIP Account Settings, Add. Enter the following information using your actual password for extension 701 and the actual IP address of your Incredible PBX server instead of 192.168.0.251. Click OK when finished. Your softphone should now show: Available.

Incredible PBX Test Flight. The proof is in the pudding as they say. So let's try two simple tests. First, let's place an outbound call. Using the softphone, dial your 10-digit cellphone number. Google Voice should transparently connect you. Answer the call and make sure you can send and receive voice on both phones. Second, from another phone, call the Google Voice number that you've dedicated to The Incredible PBX. Your softphone should begin ringing shortly. If not, make certain you are not logged into Google Chat on a Gmail account with these same credentials. If everything is working, congratulations!

Here's a brief video demonstration showing how to set up a softphone to use with your Incredible PBX, and it also walks you through several of the dozens of Asterisk applications included in your system.

Solving One-Way Audio Problems. If you experience one-way audio on some of your phone calls, you may need to adjust the settings in /etc/asterisk/sip_custom.conf. Just uncomment the first two lines by removing the semicolons. Then replace 173.15.238.123 with your public IP address, and replace 192.168.0.0 with the subnet address of your private network. There are similar settings in gtalk.conf that can be activated although we've never had to use them. In fact, we've never had to use any of these settings. After making these changes, save the file(s) and restart Asterisk with the command: amportal restart.

Learn First. Explore Second. Even though the installation process has been completed, we strongly recommend you do some reading before you begin your VoIP adventure. VoIP PBX systems have become a favorite target of the hackers and crackers around the world and, unless you have an unlimited bank account, you need to take some time learning where the minefields are in today's VoIP world. Start by reading our Primer on Asterisk Security. We've secured all of your passwords except your root password and your passwd-master password, and we're assuming you've put very secure passwords on those accounts as if your phone bill depended upon it. It does! Also read our PBX in a Flash and VPN in a Flash knols. If you're still not asleep, there's loads of additional documentation on the PBX in a Flash documentation web site.

Adding Multiple Google Voice Trunks. Thanks to rentpbx on our forums, adding support for multiple Google Voice trunks is now a five-minute operation. Once you have your initial setup running smoothly, hop on over to the forums and check out this Incredible solution.

Choosing a VoIP Provider for Redundancy. Nothing beats free when it comes to long distance calls. But nothing lasts forever. And, in the VoIP World, redundancy is dirt cheap. So we strongly recommend you set up another account with Vitelity using our special link below. This gives your PBX a secondary way to communicate with every telephone in the world, and it also gets you a second real phone number for your new system... so that people can call you. Here's how it works. You pay Vitelity a deposit for phone service. They then will bill you $3.99 a month for your new phone number. This $3.99 also covers the cost of unlimited inbound calls (two at a time) delivered to your PBX for the month. For outbound calls, you pay by the minute and the cost is determined by where you're calling. If you're in the U.S., outbound calls to anywhere in the U.S. are a little over a penny a minute. If you change your mind about Vitelity and want a refund of the balance in your account, all you have to do is ask. The trunks for Vitelity already are preconfigured with The Incredible PBX. Just insert your credentials using FreePBX. Then add the Vitelity trunk as the third destination for your default outbound route. That's it. Congratulations! You now have a totally redundant phone system.

Using ENUMPlus. Another terrific money-saving tool is ENUM. Your system comes with ENUMPlus installed. The advantage of ENUM is that numbers registered with any of the ENUM services such as e164.org can be called via SIP for free. You can read all about it in this Nerd Vittles' article. To activate ENUMPlus, you'll need to register and obtain an API Key at enumplus.org. It's free! Sign up, log in, and click on the Account tab to get your API key. Once you have your key, copy it to your clipboard and open FreePBX with your browser. Then choose SetUp, ENUMPlus and paste in your API Key. Save your entry, and you're all set. After entering your key, all outbound calls will be checked for a free ENUM calling path first before using other outbound trunks.

Stealth AutoAttendant. When incoming calls arrive, the caller is greeted with a welcoming message from Allison which says something like "Thanks for calling. Please hold a moment while I locate someone to take your call." To the caller, it's merely a greeting. To those "in the know," it's actually an autoattendant (aka IVR system) that gives you the opportunity to press a button during the message to trigger the running of some application on your Incredible PBX. As configured, the only option that works is 0 which fires up the Nerd Vittles Apps IVR. It's quite easy to add additional features such as voicemail retrieval or DISA for outbound calling. Just edit the MainIVR option in FreePBX under Setup, IVR. Keep in mind that anyone (anywhere in the world) can choose these options. So be extremely careful not to expose your system to security vulnerabilities by making certain that any options you add have very secure passwords! It's your phone bill. 😉

Configuring Email. You're going to want to be notified when updates are available for FreePBX, and you may also want notifications when new voicemails arrive. Everything already is set up for you except actually entering your email notification address. Using a web browser, open the FreePBX GUI by pointing your browser to the IP address of your Incredible PBX. Then click Administration and choose FreePBX. To set your email address for FreePBX updates, go to Setup, General Settings and scroll to the bottom of the screen. To configure emails to notify you of incoming voicemails, go to Setup, Extensions, 701 and scroll to the bottom of the screen. Then follow your nose. Be sure to reload FreePBX when prompted after saving your changes.

A Word About Security. Security matters to us, and it should matter to you. Not only is the safety of your system at stake but also your wallet and the safety of other folks' systems. Our only means of contacting you with security updates is through the RSS Feed that we maintain for the PBX in a Flash project. This feed is prominently displayed in the web GUI which you can access with any browser pointed to the IP address of your server. Check It Daily! Or add our RSS Feed to your favorite RSS Reader. We also recommend you follow @NerdUno on Twitter. We'll keep you entertained and provide immediate notification of security problems that we hear about. Be safe!

This latest version of Incredible PBX locks down your server to private networks and existing, registered Asterisk devices. Should you need to enable additional IP addresses for other devices or providers at a later date, simply add the new IP addresses to /etc/firewall.whitelist and then rerun /root/firewall-whitelist.sh. For additional background, read this article.

Enabling Google Voicemail. Some have requested a way to retain Google's voicemail system for unanswered calls in lieu of using Asterisk voicemail. The advantage is that Google offers a free transcription service for voicemail messages. To activate this, you'll need to edit the [googlein] context in extensions_custom.conf in /etc/asterisk. Just modify the last four lines in the context so that they look like this and then restart Asterisk: amportal restart

;exten => s,n(regcall),Answer
;exten => s,n,SendDTMF(1)
exten => s,n(regcall),Set(DIAL_OPTIONS=${DIAL_OPTIONS}aD(:1))
exten => s,n,Goto(from-trunk,gv-incoming,1)

Kicking the Tires. OK. That's enough tutorial for today. Let's play. Using your new softphone, begin your adventure by dialing these extensions:

  • D-E-M-O - Incredible PBX Demo (running on your PBX)
  • 1234*1061 - Nerd Vittles Demo via ISN FreeNum connection to NV
  • 17476009082*1089 - Nerd Vittles Demo via ISN to Google/Gizmo5
  • Z-I-P - Enter a five digit zip code for any U.S. weather report
  • 6-1-1 - Enter a 3-character airport code for any U.S. weather report
  • 5-1-1 - Get the latest news and sports headlines from Yahoo News
  • T-I-D-E - Get today's tides and lunar schedule for any U.S. port
  • F-A-X - Send a fax to an email address of your choice
  • 4-1-2 - 3-character phonebook lookup/dialer with AsteriDex
  • M-A-I-L - Record a message and deliver it to any email address
  • C-O-N-F - Set up a MeetMe Conference on the fly
  • 1-2-3 - Schedule regular/recurring reminder (PW: 12345678)
  • 2-2-2 - ODBC/Timeclock Lookup Demo (Empl No: 12345)
  • 2-2-3 - ODBC/AsteriDex Lookup Demo (Code: AME)
  • Dial *68 - Schedule a hotel-style wakeup call from any extension
  • 1061*1061 - PIAF Support Conference Bridge (Conf#: 1061)
  • 882*1061 - VoIP Users Conference every Friday at Noon (EST)

PBX in a Flash SQLite Registry. Last, but not least, we want to introduce you to the new PBX in a Flash Registry which uses SQLite, a zero-configuration SQL-compatible database engine. After logging into your server as root, just type show-registry for a listing of all of the applications, versions, and install dates of everything on your new server. Choosing the A option will generate registry.txt in the /root folder while the other options will let you review the applications by category on the screen. For example, the G option displays all of The Incredible PBX add-ons that have been installed. Here's the complete list of options:

  • A - Write the contents of the registry to registry.txt
  • B - PBX in a Flash install details
  • C - Extra programs install details
  • D - Update-fixes status and details
  • E - RPM install details
  • F - FreePBX modules install details
  • G - Incredible PBX install details
  • Q - Quit this program

And here's a sample from an install we just completed. We'll have more details and additional utilities for your use in coming weeks.



Click above. Enter your name and phone number. Press Connect to begin the call.


Special Thanks. It's hard to know where to start in expressing our gratitude for all of the participants that made today's incredibly simple-to-use product possible. Please bear with us. To Mark Spencer, Malcolm Davenport, and the rest of the Asterisk development team, thanks for a much improved Asterisk. To Philippe Sultan and his co-developers, thank you for getting the final kinks out of Jabber with Asterisk. To Philippe Lindheimer & Co., thanks for FreePBX 2.8 which really makes Asterisk shine. To Lefteris Zafiris, thank you for making Flite work with Asterisk 1.8 thereby preserving all of the Nerd Vittles text-to-speech applications. To Darren Sessions, thanks for whipping app_swift into shape and restoring Cepstral and commercial TTS applications to the land of the living with Asterisk 1.8. And to our pal, Tom King, we couldn't have done it without you. You rolled up your sleeves and really turned Asterisk 1.8.1 into something special. No one will quite understand what an endeavor that was until they try it themselves. And, finally, to our legion of beta testers, THANK YOU! We've implemented almost all of your suggestions.

Additional Goodies. Be sure to log into your server as root and look through the scripts added in the /root/nv folder. You'll find all sorts of goodies to keep you busy. The 32-bit install-cepstral script does just what it says. With Allison's Cepstral voice, you'll have the best TTS implementation for Asterisk available. ipscan is a little shell script that will tell you every working IP device on your LAN. trunks.sh tells you all of the Asterisk trunks configured on your system. purgeCIDcache.sh will clean out the CallerID cache in the Asterisk database. convert2gsm.sh shows you how to convert a .wav file to .gsm. munin.pbx will install Munin on your system while awstats.pbx installs AWstats. s3cmd.faq tells you how to quickly activate the Amazon S3 Cloud Computing service. All the other scripts and apps in /root/nv already have been installed for you so don't install them again.

If you've heeded our advice and purchased a PogoPlug, you can link to your home-grown cloud as well. Just add your credentials to /root/pogo-start.sh. Then run the script to enable the PogoPlug Cloud on your server. All of your cloud resources are instantly accessible in /mnt/pogoplug. It's perfect for off-site backups and is included as one of the backup options in the PBX in a Flash backup utilities.

Don't forget to List Yourself in Directory Assistance so everyone can find you by dialing 411. And add your new number to the Do Not Call Registry to block telemarketing calls. Or just call 888-382-1222 from your new number. Enjoy!

Originally published: Monday, December 13, 2010


Quirks & Bugs. Well, there aren't any that we know of. But we'll keep a running list here so you can check back from time to time if you don't participate in the PBX in a Flash Forums.


VoIP Virtualization with Incredible PBX: OpenVZ and Cloud Solutions

Safely Interconnecting Asterisk Servers for Free Calling

Adding Skype to The Incredible PBX

Adding Incredible Backup... and Restore to The Incredible PBX

Adding Remotes, Preserving Security with The Incredible PBX

Remote Phone Meets Travelin' Man with The Incredible PBX

Continue reading Part II.

Continue reading Part III.

Continue reading Part IV.


Support Issues. With any application as sophisticated as this one, you're bound to have questions. Blog comments are a terrible place to handle support issues although we welcome general comments about our articles and software. If you have particular support issues, we encourage you to get actively involved in the PBX in a Flash Forums. It's the best Asterisk tech support site in the business, and it's all free! We maintain a thread with the latest Patches and Bug Fixes for Incredible PBX. Please have a look. Unlike some forums, ours is extremely friendly and is supported by literally hundreds of Asterisk gurus and thousands of ordinary users just like you. So you won't have to wait long for an answer to your questions.




Need help with Asterisk? Visit the PBX in a Flash Forum.
Or Try the New, Free PBX in a Flash Conference Bridge.


whos.amung.us If you're wondering what your fellow man is reading on Nerd Vittles these days, wonder no more. Visit our new whos.amung.us statistical web site and check out what's happening. It's a terrific resource both for us and for you.


 
Awesome Vitelity Special. Vitelity has generously offered a terrific discount for Nerd Vittles readers. You now can get an almost half-price DID from our special Vitelity sign-up link. If you're seeking the best flexibility in choosing an area code and phone number plus the lowest entry level pricing plus high quality calls, then Vitelity is the hands-down winner. Vitelity provides Tier A DID inbound service in over 3,000 rate centers throughout the US and Canada. When you use our special link to sign up, Nerd Vittles gets a few shekels down the road to support our open source development efforts while you get an incredible signup deal as well. The going rate for Vitelity's DID service is $7.95 a month which includes up to 4,000 incoming minutes on two simultaneous channels with terminations priced at 1.45¢ per minute. Not any more! For our users, here's a deal you can't (and shouldn't) refuse! Sign up now, and you can purchase a Tier A DID with unlimited incoming calls and four simultaneous channels for just $3.99 a month. To check availability of local numbers and tiers of service from Vitelity, click here. NOTE: You can only use the Nerd Vittles sign-up link to order your DIDs, or you won't get the special pricing! Vitelity's rate is just 1.44¢ per minute for outbound calls in the U.S. There is a $35 prepay when you sign up. This covers future usage. Any balance is refundable if you decide to discontinue service with Vitelity.


Some Recent Nerd Vittles Articles of Interest...

  1. For 64-bit systems with Asterisk 1.8, use the Cepstral install procedures outlined in this Nerd Vittles article. []
  2. If you use the recommended Acer Aspire Revo, be advised that it does NOT include a CD/DVD drive. You will need an external USB drive to load the software. Some of these work with CentOS, and some don't. Most HP and Sony drives work; however, we strongly recommend you purchase an external DVD drive from a merchant that will accept returns, e.g. Best Buy, WalMart, Office Depot, Office Max, Staples. You also can run The Incredible PBX on a virtual machine such as the free Proxmox server. Another less costly (but untested) option might be this Shuttle from NewEgg: $185 with free shipping. Use Promo Code: EMCYTZT220 []
  3. HINT: Version 1.7.5.5.3 ISO also works just fine. []

Avoiding a $100,000 Phone Bill: VoIP WhiteList for IPtables

It’s been almost a year since we last wrestled with VoIP security for Asterisk®. With Christmas just around the corner, it seemed like a fitting time for a report card. Suffice it to say, the bad guys have not stood still. Attacks have become much more frequent and more sophisticated as VoIP systems have proliferated. A year ago we saw brute force attacks with thousands of password attempts on VoIP servers. These attacks could easily be detected by Fail2Ban. What we are seeing today are one and two hit drive-bys that usually are initiated from Windows zombies or hosted accounts established with stolen credit cards. These VoIP attacks fly under the radar unless you review your logs every day. Have the creeps gotten more patient? No, just smarter. They now understand the VoIP security model that has been deployed on systems like PBX in a Flash, and they simply work around it. Two hits per server, and they’re off to the next IP address only to return in a few hours to try two more. Are these attempts successful? Well, here’s the latest recipient of a $100,000 phone bill so the answer would appear to be affirmative.

We continue to wrestle with new security approaches to better protect Asterisk VoIP systems, and we’ve stumbled upon another golden arrow for your security quiver. Our Incredible PBX platform continues to offer the very best security solution because it is designed to sit safely behind a hardware-based firewall with virtually no exposure to the Internet. But such deployments assume that both your server and your phones are all safely ensconced behind a hardware-based firewall. If it turns out that you want to deploy a SIP phone for use by grandma or you’ve decided you’d like to try hosted PBX service from a provider such as rentpbx.com,1 then there either need to be holes opened in the firewall or there is no hardware firewall protection in the case of hosted service.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve explored a number of new security approaches to better protect your Asterisk server. These include The SunshineNetworks Knock as well as VoIP Black Lists and VoIP White Lists. If you’re technically savvy, you’ll want to carefully consider “The Knock” for all of your SIP phones exposed to the Internet.

We spent a good bit of time considering various VoIP BlackList solutions. As the name implies, a list of the bad guys’ IP addresses is fed into IPtables which then blocks access to your server from these addresses. Sounds good, right? One approach with a BlackList is to block all IP addresses from “problem countries.” The methodology to implement this solution can be found in this thread on the PIAF Forums. The problem, of course, is identifying the “problem countries.” Another option was to implement an IPtables Blacklist based upon the work of the VoIP Blacklist Project. Perhaps ironically, the VoIP Blacklist Project actually blocks the IP addresses of both Nerd Vittles and PBX in a Flash, and emails requesting removal of our IP address were ignored. To save time, the VoIP Blacklist Project employs CIDR Masks which can blacklist hundreds of thousands of IP addresses in one fell swoop. Problem is that a lot of innocent people get caught in the net, and there’s no easy way out without maintaining the blacklist yourself. The final dagger in the black list approach is zombies. Insecure Windows machines have been compromised by the droves worldwide and particularly in the United States. So identifying all of these now-malicious systems is not unlike playing Whack-a-Mole. When you block one of them, six more pop up. So, after giving it the good old college try, our view of VoIP Blacklists should be obvious. No, thanks. There are very real risks that the bad guys can and have poisoned existing blacklists with safe IP addresses, and the number of Windows zombies grows geometrically making it all but impossible to have or maintain a blacklist that affords any real protection.

These results with black lists led us to the conclusion that the only real security mechanism that could protect many VoIP servers today was a VoIP WhiteList for IPtables. As the name implies, we want to identify the IP addresses of every SIP and IAX trunk and extension on your server and then feed those addresses into IPtables so that the only access to VoIP resources on your server is from these addresses. Today’s VoIP WhiteList for IPtables consists of two bash scripts: one queries the MySQL database in which FreePBX stores all of the trunk and extension information for your server and the other populates IPtables with the results of the queries. We would hasten to add that a similar white list is equally important for SSH access to your server although we think it is better to implement an SSH WhiteList on your hardware-based firewall. In this way, you can adjust the SSH white list via web browser while traveling without locking yourself out of your Asterisk server.

Prerequisites. To use today’s VoIP WhiteList for IPtables, you’ll need either a current version of PBX in a Flash or Incredible PBX. Other aggregations will also work provided your system is FreePBX-based (version 2.6 or later), has IPtables already installed and functioning properly, and has an /etc/sysconfig/iptables configuration file that closely matches the stock PBX in a Flash design. We’ll leave it to you to make that call after reviewing the scripts.

VoIP WhiteList Design. We’ve designed the VoIP WhiteList for IPtables to be modular. There’s a firewall-whitelist-gen.sh script which extracts from MySQL the list of IP addresses used by your trunks and extensions. This text-based list is stored in /etc/firewall.whitelist. You can manually add and delete entries from the list once it is populated.You also can rerun the script at any time to generate a fresh catalog of WhiteList IP addresses based upon your current trunk and extension settings. This script also enables access to your server from the public IP address of your server as well as all non-routable IP addresses. Finally, it modifies /etc/sudoers slightly so that Travelin’ Man can be used to add dynamic IP addresses on the fly. We’ll cover that below.

The second script is firewall-whitelist.sh, and it is used to actually implement your new VoIP WhiteList in IPtables. The changes take effect immediately. It also can be run again to update these entries if you manually add or delete IP addresses in /etc/firewall.whitelist. This script always creates a backup copy of your previous /etc/sysconfig/iptables file and names it iptables.timestamp where the timestamp is the date and time of your last update, e.g. iptables.12012010-083841 was created on Dec. 1, 2010 at 08:38:41. If you should ever shoot yourself in the foot, simply copy one of the iptables backup files to /etc/sysconfig/iptables and then restart IPtables: service iptables restart.

WARNINGS: In order to implement the WhiteList, the script removes the existing IPtables entries which permit SIP and IAX access from anywhere using UDP ports 4569 and 5000 to 5082. If you have edited these entries in any way, you’ll need to remove them and restart IPtables before running firewall-whitelist.sh. Otherwise, your more general firewall entries will leave your system vulnerable to access from IP addresses not in your VoIP WhiteList.

If your system is running on a hosted server, you’ll need to make a couple of additions to /etc/sysconfig/iptables and restart IPtables (service iptables restart) before running firewall-whitelist.sh, or you may lock yourself out of your own server. Be sure to add the public IP address of your server, and also add the IP address from which you are making changes to your server. Each entry should look like the following example using your actual IP addresses. And the entries should be added above the COMMIT line in the same section of the iptables file as the existing UDP 10000:20000 ACCEPT entry:

-A INPUT -s 222.222.222.222 -j ACCEPT

Installing the VoIP WhiteList for IPtables. Installation is easy. Just log into your server as root and issue the following commands:

cd /root
wget http://incrediblepbx.com/firewall-whitelist.tar.gz
tar zxvf firewall-whitelist.tar.gz
./firewall-whitelist-gen.sh
./firewall-whitelist.sh

If you installed one of the beta versions of the VoIP WhiteList from the PIAF Forums, then you’ll need to do a little housecleaning before actually running either of the scripts. Just edit /etc/sysconfig/iptables and clean out all of the entries that contain 5000:5082 as well as any entries nearby that include the non-routable IP addresses, e.g. 192.168.0.0. Finally, if there are entries beginning with -A WHITELIST, delete those as well. Then restart IPtables: service iptables restart. Thank you for your testing and feedback!

Deploying Remote SIP Phones. What remains is some method for connecting remote SIP phones with dynamic IP addresses. Our Travelin’ Man application was specifically designed to provide this support although the initial version only opened the necessary IP address for Asterisk access. The latest release also provides the necessary IPtables support. You have two options: either remove the old version and supporting directories under /var/www/travelman or edit the index.php file in each subdirectory you’ve created and make the change shown in this post on the PIAF Forums. Enjoy!




Need help with Asterisk? Visit the PBX in a Flash Forum.
Or Try the New, Free PBX in a Flash Conference Bridge.


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Some Recent Nerd Vittles Articles of Interest…

  1. We gratefully acknowledge the contributions of rentpbx.com to the PBX in a Flash Development Team. In addition to hosted accounts to test PBX in a Flash in the hosted environment, rentpbx.com also has contributed technical assistance particularly as it relates to our Google Voice-Asterisk integration efforts. []