Posts tagged: music

The Music Frontier: Taming Streaming Music on Hold with Asterisk 11

It’s been over 7 years since we first wrote about streaming music on hold with Asterisk®. While we’re energized with Back to School Fever, we decided it was about time for a refresher. And, in honor of TWOfer Tuesday, we also have a terrific new SIP discovery to share. It won’t cost you a dime.

For long time readers of Nerd Vittles, you will note that all of the MOH syntax has changed since the early Asterisk days. So today we wanted to document how to integrate streaming music on hold into Asterisk 11 with or without FreePBX®.

Prerequisites: With the PIAF-Green platform, all of the Linux tools you’ll need are already in place. On other Asterisk platforms, you may need to install MPG123 before any of this will work. Before streaming audio can be used for Music on Hold (MOH) with Asterisk, there are three essential pieces. First, you must have a source of streaming audio that works. Second, you need a streaming audio player on your Asterisk/Linux server that can “talk” to Asterisk. And, finally, Asterisk has to be properly configured to support streaming audio as the source for your music on hold.

Legal Disclaimer. There are all sorts of licensing restrictions on streaming of commercial music. With commercial radio broadcasts, the short answer is you can’t do it without paying a fee. However, things get murky where your music on hold stream originates with an Internet provider who already has paid a fee for your use of the streaming content. Nevertheless, you should consult with an attorney before beginning your broadcasting career. It would be an understatement to suggest that the RIAA, ASCAP, and their friends in Congress and the White House, have made “music mooching” an expensive hobby. In addition, there is a move afoot by the White House to make streaming of copyrighted music a felony. Not surprisingly, the White House Copyright Czar just jumped ship to take a cushy job heading up the industry’s anti-piracy lobbying group. For those that are criminally inclined, it probably would be less expensive to return to the glory days of shoplifting music and playing it in the comfort of your home or dorm room… not that we would ever encourage criminal behavior, of course.

Choosing a Streaming Audio Source. An almost infinite variety of streaming audio exists on the net. If you’re just getting into streaming audio, head over to SHOUTcast.com for over 50,000 FREE sources to get you started. If you’d prefer to set up your own SHOUTcast server, Nerd Vittles has previously covered solutions for both the Windows (WinAMP) and Mac (NiceCast) platforms. This is one area where the Mac platform really shines. NiceCast works flawlessly. Insofar as Asterisk is concerned, here’s the bottom line. If the streaming audio source you’ve chosen sounds like crap when you play it on your PC or Mac, it will sound the same way (or worse) as your MOH source. So start your project by picking a source that sounds good and be sure it plays reliably on your desktop PC or Mac before proceeding further. Keep in mind that anything above a 24K mono stream is wasted on a telephone call so there’s no need to choose a 128K stereo audio stream unless you just want to eat up your bandwidth. Also keep in mind that, unless you’re using your own stream on your private LAN, the streaming audio will be using the same bandwidth that you need to support incoming and outgoing phone calls over your broadband connection. So less is more!

Configuring Asterisk for MOH Streaming Audio. Here are the three steps to get things working today. First, you’ll need the web link to your music source. Second, you’ll need to configure a MUSICCLASS Channel to support that stream using Asterisk. And third, you’ll need to set up a test extension to try out your music stream.

In the case of SHOUTcast.com, the procedure to obtain the necessary link for your streaming audio source is straight-forward. Find the station desired and Ctrl-Click or Right-Click on the station and copy the link to your clipboard. This is NOT the link you’ll need for Asterisk! Instead, open the link in a new browser window. It will download a .pls file to your desktop. Open this file using a text editor, and copy out one of the File* entries (if there are several). Choose the one that looks something like this: http://160.79.128.61:5016. If you’re using Nicecast on a Mac, start up the app, choose your music source, and then click the Share button. Nicecast will display two entries as shown below:

Using our example, the required Nicecast link for Asterisk running on the same LAN is http://192.168.0.105:8002.

Now set up a music on hold channel for your streaming audio: nano -w /etc/asterisk/musiconhold_custom.conf. If you’re using your own streaming audio server, then use the Nicecast entry from the procedure above. Otherwise, use the SHOUTcast entry following the procedure we outlined. Here are some examples:

[Reggae]
mode=custom
application=/usr/bin/mpg123 -q -r 8000 -f 8192 -b 2048 --mono -s http://160.79.128.61:5016

[Top40]
mode=custom
application=/usr/bin/mpg123 -q -r 8000 -f 8192 -b 2048 --mono -s http://95.141.24.98:80

[NewAge]
mode=custom
application=/usr/bin/mpg123 -q -r 8000 -f 8192 -b 2048 --mono -s http://sfstream1.somafm.com:8032

;[nicecast]
;mode=custom
;application=/usr/bin/mpg123 -q -r 8000 -f 8192 -b 2048 --mono -s http://192.168.0.105:8002/

There’s a reason we’ve commented out the [nicecast] entry. If Asterisk doesn’t find it running, you’ll get an endless stream of “Interrupted system call” errors, not exactly the sort of stream we had in mind. And a cautionary note about bandwidth: a streaming audio source, once configured, continues streaming until you disable it in musiconhold_custom.conf and restart Asterisk. So choose your sources, the number of sources, and the amount of bandwidth each consumes carefully. Finally, here’s a tip about the volume of your audio stream. With MPG123, the -f setting is the closest thing there is to a volume setting. The values range from 1 to 32768. If some of your callers will be using cellphones, it has been reported that the 8192 setting is too high. Give 1192 a try and adjust as necessary to meet your own requirements.

Once you’ve specified your audio stream(s), save the updated musiconhold custom file: Ctrl-X, Y, then Enter.

Testing Your MOH Stream with Asterisk. With everything now properly configured, let’s set up an extension just to be sure it’s working correctly. Edit your extensions_custom.conf file in /etc/asterisk and insert the following snippet in the [from-internal-custom] context:

exten => 466,1,Answer
exten => 466,2,Playback(pls-hold-while-try)
exten => 466,3,Set(CHANNEL(MUSICCLASS)=nicecast)
exten => 466,4,MusicOnHold()
exten => 466,5,Hangup

exten => 467,1,Answer
exten => 467,2,Playback(pls-hold-while-try)
exten => 467,3,Set(CHANNEL(MUSICCLASS)=Reggae)
;exten => 467,3,Set(CHANNEL(MUSICCLASS)=Top40)
;exten => 467,3,Set(CHANNEL(MUSICCLASS)=NewAge)
exten => 467,4,MusicOnHold()
exten => 467,5,Hangup

Once you’ve added this extension code, save the updated file: Ctrl-X, Y, then Enter. Then restart Asterisk: amportal restart. Pick up a phone on your Asterisk system and dial 467. After you’re connected, it may take up to 2 minutes for the streaming audio to begin, but this delay only occurs after Asterisk is restarted. Once you’ve heard your audio stream playing, hang up and call back just to make sure. Remember, each stream you activate continues streaming! It’s your bandwidth.

Configuring FreePBX 2.11 for MOH Streaming Audio. Once you have everything working, let’s switch to FreePBX 2.11 and show you the quick-and-dirty way to accomplish the same thing with a single line of code. Just use the same Application string that was used in the musiconhold_custom.conf setup above. The only caution here is be sure to use different labels than the ones used above. For example, to use the same source as NewAge, just change the label to NewAge2 in FreePBX.

Now open FreePBX and click Settings -> Music on Hold -> Add Streaming Category. Then fill in the blanks like this:

Once you have one or more streaming categories defined, you can select your favorite when you create a new Inbound Route, Ring Group, or Conference.


Introducing Anveo

SIP Nirvana. We have another terrific SIP discovery for you this week. Previously, we’ve raved about Sip2Sip’s free SIP URIs and AnveoDirect’s terrific SIP bargains for those that like wholesale prices. And last week we introduced SIP.US which finally hits the $20/trunk price point for unlimited inbound and outbound calling in US48. It also works hand-in-glove with FreePBX 2.11. Today we want to introduce Anveo’s commercial offering which includes residential, business, and free SIP services. Anveo is the hands-down winner of our “Best Free VoIP Resource on the Net” award. We’ll get to why, but there’s so much more…

Let’s begin with a quick summary of their DID offerings:

Anveo has one of the most robust VoIP offerings you’ll find in terms of feature set. Here’s a quick overview:

  • SMS Messaging (1¢ per message)
  • Fax and Fax-to-Email Integration
  • Voicemail to Text
  • Salesforce.com CRM
  • ZOHO CRM
  • G.729 and G.722 (HD Voice)
  • Destination-based Outbound CallerID
  • Text-to-Speech (41 voices in 17 languages)
  • Google Contacts
  • Google Analytics
  • Web Calling
  • Call Recording with Amazon S3 Integration
  • Outbound Call Campaigns
  • Conference Calls with Recording
  • Worldwide DIDs and Number Porting
  • Disposable Phone Numbers
  • IVR Call Flow Builder
  • Anveo Phone API
  • Reseller Toolkit

For today, let’s focus on FREE. What a free Anveo account gets you is AMAZING. In addition to another SIP URI with fax support for your server, you also get access to Anveo’s Call Flow Builder to create templates with up to 10 items. None of it costs you a dime! Just sign up for a new account at anveo.com using the Nerd Vittles referral code: 9625450. That gets us a few shekels to keep the lights burning if you ever start spending real money with Anveo.

The shining star of Anveo is its drag-and-drop Call Flow Builder. The icing on the cake is Anveo’s Phone API which we will leave for exploration on another occasion. For Asterisk aficionados, think of Call Flow Builder as a drag-and-drop interface that actually creates Asterisk dialplan code on the fly. While you can create your own, there also is an impressive collection of sample templates from which to choose. Each takes less than 30 seconds to set up, and every template that you create gets its own dedicated SIP URI. For example, one click gets you a Fax-to-Email delivery service using any DID or SIP URI in your account. Another click gets you a Stealth AutoAttendant including automatic fax detection with email fax delivery plus SIP URI call forwarding, all for free. Very impressive! Here’s what it looks like when configured to send fax calls to email and non-fax inbound calls to Lenny. As we noted, this took less than 30 seconds to set up using a default template with any free Anveo account. All that we added was a SIP URI in the SIP Call Control by clicking on the Pencil icon to edit. Then we clicked SAVE in the blue title bar and, presto, Lenny worked!

First things first. Once you’ve signed up for a new account at anveo.com using the Nerd Vittles referral code: 9625450, Anveo will email your credentials. Sign in and activate a new SIP account. In order to register the Anveo SIP trunk with your Asterisk server, you’ll need two pieces of information which you will find under PBX -> Users/sub-accounts -> action.Preferences -> SIP Device Registration: Username and Password.

Once you have your username and password, open up FreePBX and add a new SIP Trunk with your credentials. You can create a custom DID for your trunk by tacking something like /12345 onto the end of the Registration String below.

Next, add an Inbound Route using the Custom DID you created above. Point it to an extension or other resource on your system. Then check to make sure your SIP registration was successful: Reports -> Asterisk Info -> SIP Info.

No exposure of your server to the Internet through your hardware-based firewall is required. However, for those using IPtables WhiteLists or Travelin’ Man for enhanced security, you will need to manually add a SIP entry for sip.anveo.com to /etc/sysconfig/iptables and restart IPtables. The appropriate entry should look like this:

-A INPUT -p udp -m udp -s sip.anveo.com --dport 5010 -j ACCEPT

Here’s what free gets you in addition to 15 megs of online storage for voicemails and faxes:

And Finally… The Magic. You now can receive free inbound SIP URI calls at zero cost from anywhere in the world using SIP/1555ACCOUNTNUMBER@sip.anveo.com:5010. And, if you prefer a more user-friendly SIP URI, take a look at last week’s Nerd Vittles cloaking service offering which is also free. Enjoy!

SIP URI Pricing Clarification. Inbound calls to your account’s SIP URI are always free. That means you can register an Asterisk trunk to your Anveo account, and all incoming SIP calls from your Anveo SIP URI will be free. If you sign up for a free IPKall DID as explained in our previous article, you’ll have a near perfect (and free) VoIP platform for your home or office. Give Lenny a try using our Anveo/IPKall/RentPBX combo:

On the Anveo Value Plans (see the DID screenshot above), be aware that calls using Call Flow templates that rely upon an additional Anveo SIP URI count against your daily bucket of “platform minutes.” Free accounts get 40 free minutes a day. Business accounts get 150 minutes a day. Additional calls are billed at 1.5¢ per minute.1

A Word of Caution. For those considering commercial or home use of Anveo for “real calling,” be advised that Anveo recently changed their pricing model on calls terminated in the United States. Some of these calls now are $.005 per minute while others reportedly were as high as $.25 per minute! Pricing has changed every day this week. We would encourage you to find a different termination provider if costs are a consideration. After four attempts to implement a tiered pricing model for U.S. terminations, Anveo rolled back to flat rate pricing on Thursday evening. See the DSL Reports message thread for details.


Deals of the Week. There’s still an amazing deal on the street, but you’d better hurry. A new company called Copy.com is offering 20GB of free cloud storage with no restrictions on file size uploads (which are all too common with other free offers). Copy.com has free sync apps for Windows, Macs, and Linux systems. To take advantage of the offer, just click on our referral link here. We get 5GB of extra storage which will help avoid another PIAF Forum disaster.

Originally published: Tuesday, September 3, 2013 Last updated: Thursday, September 5, 2013




Need help with Asterisk? Visit the PBX in a Flash Forum.


 

We are pleased to once again be able to offer Nerd Vittles’ readers a 20% discount on registration to attend this year’s 10th Anniversary AstriCon in Atlanta. Here’s the Nerd Vittles Discount Code: AC13NERD.


 
New Vitelity Special. Vitelity has generously offered a new discount for PBX in a Flash users. 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. And, when you use our special link to sign up, the Nerd Vittles and PBX in a Flash projects get a few shekels down the road 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 PBX in a Flash 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 for just $3.99 a month. To check availability of local numbers and tiers of service from Vitelity, click here. Do not use this 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 and any balance is fully refundable if you decide to discontinue service with Vitelity.
 


Some Recent Nerd Vittles Articles of Interest…

  1. We inquired about the SIP URI pricing with Anveo tech support. Their response is included in this section. The remainder of the article already had been written before contacting Anveo. In responding to the support request (in less than 10 minutes), Anveo generously offered us the use of additional platform minutes and a $5 “slush fund” for future testing and purchases of Call Flow PRO items (4¢ each). While we all may have our price for slanting reviews, we want to assure everyone that Anveo’s generosity in no way affected the contents or views expressed in this article. The FTC and NSA now can resume their naps. []

Android 3 Deal of the Year: Acer Tab for Under $300

We’ve never done back-to-back reviews of similar devices, but this week’s Target ad changes all of that. As you might expect, Acer has covered all of the bases with their entry into the dual-core Android 3 tablet sweepstakes. You may recall that we weren’t huge fans of the Motorola Xoom which promised a lot and delivered a boatload of vaporware. The Acer Iconia Tab A500 is not the Xoom. You not only get a microSD slot and Flash that actually work, but Acer has thrown in an HDMI port that can output 1080p video as well as a USB port that lets you connect your favorite USB devices including external hard disks. It performs this magic with an 8-10 hour battery life. And this week (only at Target) you can pick up this WiFi-only device for half the cost of the Motorola Xoom. In fact, after the gift card, it’s only a dollar more than the single-core Vizio Tablet that we reviewed last week.

Update: See the comments for equivalent deals just announced at NewEgg and CompUSA.

It’s difficult to describe the feel of the Acer Tab. Suffice it to say, it’s dimensions coupled with its sleek and sculpted design put it in the league with the iPad2 unlike the Xoom which felt chunky and clunky despite being an ounce lighter than the Acer.

As we mentioned last week, we don’t dive too deeply into the technical weeds in our reviews. If you want the technical assessment, check out this PC World review. What we prefer to evaluate is real-world usage of these devices. The Acer Tab has stunning performance. 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. And, yes, we also like Flash video support which works perfectly on the Acer tablet.

In addition to running Android 3, the Acer Tab boasts impressive hardware specs running a 1GHz Nvidia Tegra 250 dual-core processor with 1GB of RAM and 16GB of ROM. Add another 32GB easily with the microSD slot. The 10.1-inch tablet has a 1280-by-800 pixel display with a 16:10 aspect ratio that’s perfect for HD video content. We always prefer testing devices with real-world video content that we’ve shot so we can compare it to performance on other devices. Our Pawleys Island Parade video didn’t disappoint. It’s performance and color were as good or better on the Acer Tab than on Apple’s top-of-the-line 27″ iMac featuring a quad-core 2.93 GHz Core i7 processor with 8GB of RAM plus L2 and L3 cache. The same can be said with playback of complex Flash video. Netflix unfortunately is still a few weeks off although rooted Acer devices reportedly run it just fine.

On the music front, it doesn’t get much better than the Acer Tab. With Google Music or Spotify, the music world is your oyster. And the silver lining is that the Acer Tab is the one and only device that includes Dolby Mobile audio. Once you adjust the equalizer to match your taste in music, you’ll have sound quality to match that 20-pound boombox gathering dust in your basement.

In the communications department, Skype performed well although video calls are not yet supported. That’s unfortunate given the impressive specs on the Acer Tab’s two cameras. The Iconia Tab has a 5-megapixel rear-facing camera with flash in addition to a 2-megapixel front-facing camera for video conferencing. Finally, making and receiving 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 worked great.

There’s only one word you’ll need to remember to take advantage of this Target deal: H-U-R-R-Y! This is a one-week only special, and Target offers no rainschecks. So call around until you find one. You won’t be sorry. And, as usual, Target offers a 90-day, no questions asked return policy which is second to none.

Google+ Invites Still Available. Need a Google+ invite? Drop us a note and include the word “Google+” and we’ll get one off to you. Come join the fun!

Our Favorite Android Apps. We’ve listed a few of our favorite apps below for those just getting started with Android. Enjoy!


Originally published: Tuesday, August 16, 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.


 
New Vitelity Special. Vitelity has generously offered a new discount for PBX in a Flash users. You now can get an almost half-price DID and 60 free minutes 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. And, when you use our special link to sign up, the Nerd Vittles and PBX in a Flash projects get a few shekels down the road 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 PBX in a Flash 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 for just $3.99 a month and you get a free hour of outbound calling to test out their call quality. To check availability of local numbers and tiers of service from Vitelity, click here. Do not use this link to order your DIDs, or you won’t get the special pricing! After the free hour of outbound calling, 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 and any balance is fully refundable if you decide to discontinue service with Vitelity.
 


Some Recent Nerd Vittles Articles of Interest…

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.


 
New Vitelity Special. Vitelity has generously offered a new discount for PBX in a Flash users. You now can get an almost half-price DID and 60 free minutes 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. And, when you use our special link to sign up, the Nerd Vittles and PBX in a Flash projects get a few shekels down the road 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 PBX in a Flash 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 for just $3.99 a month and you get a free hour of outbound calling to test out their call quality. To check availability of local numbers and tiers of service from Vitelity, click here. Do not use this link to order your DIDs, or you won’t get the special pricing! After the free hour of outbound calling, 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 and any balance is fully 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. []

Some Summertime Distractions for Asterisk Lovers


In addition to Spoleto and the Bridge Run, Charleston has many great traditions, one of which is a prompt transition from a rainy, cold winter into sweltering summer. We got a very long spring break this year, but now we’re paying for it. After spending a couple weeks on Balsam Mountain, it was nothing short of culture shock driving back into Charleston last night. But we’re glad to be home. And this week, we celebrate summer with a list of some of our favorite vacation discoveries that didn’t involve snakes and bears. Some are related to Asterisk®, and some aren’t. So here goes.

Streaming Video with Roku. If you haven’t figured out why Time Warner and Comcast have been pushing for Internet bandwidth caps, here’s a hint. Streaming video not only is killing their pipes, but more importantly (to them) it’s killing their pay-per-view and HBO/Showtime monopolies. If you enjoy (or can even remember) great television and movies without thousands of commercials, then we’ve got two discoveries that will make your summer! The first one is Roku, a little $100 device about the size and weight of a couple packs of cigarettes. You plug it into your TV and the Internet, pop the popcorn, and you’re ready for some fun. With an $8.95 Netflix subscription (which buys you one-at-a-time DVD rentals by mail), you also get unlimited movies streamed to your Roku device. It’s not their entire catalog, but it’s a substantial subset including most of the Starz catalog. The Roku player supports composite, S-video, component, and HDMI video connections as well as stereo and optical audio. A new addition allows the rental or purchase of first-run movies from Amazon (at Blockbuster prices). More offerings are promised for later this summer. Can Hulu be far behind? If you’ve been holding off purchasing a Blu-Ray player, then here’s another option. LG’s new $200 BD370 Blu-Ray Disc Player incorporates this same technology in addition to YouTube access. We haven’t used the BD370 yet, but we sure do want one.

Cellphones for Preteens. We laughed at our friends from Naples, Florida last summer when they were lamenting the fact that every child in their daughter’s second grade class had a cellphone except for theirs. They swore that they wouldn’t give in. That lasted until Christmas when the shiny new LG Xenon appeared. Chuckling all the way to spring, we recently met the same fate with the Samsung A767 Propel after our 9-year-old raised over $300 selling all of her old toys at the neighborhood yard sale. Bottom line: All the kids are going to have them by the time they turn 10. And with the family plans available from a number of providers, the costs are no longer prohibitive for most of us. You might as well get them trained to use cellphones responsibly while they’re young. Trust me. It’s a lot more difficult once they hit high school or college and know everything. There is a difference between adult and kid usage of cellphones. They rarely make a call. But you’ll want an unlimited texting plan. And none of the kids want an iPhone. They much prefer one the newer phones that includes a full keyboard for texting. Apple, are you listening?

If you go down this road with the rest of us that swore we wouldn’t do it, demand two things: (1) that your kids not use cellphones while driving and (2) that they not hold cellphones up to their ears while making calls. The jury is still out on whether cellphone usage leads to brain tumors. But it seems pretty obvious when you review the research provided by organizations not funded by the cellphone industry. Remember the tobacco companies swore that cigarettes were safe for decades, and they paid good money for authoritative-sounding research to back them up. Read this. And watch this. Then decide whether you want to gamble with the lives of your children. Better safe than sorry.

Deals, Deals, and More Deals. If you always shop for technology purchases at the same few stores, then send us a check for all the money we’re about to save you. There’s a green eBates coupon in the right pane just below that will usually save you 1-5% on all your technology and clothing purchases and just about anything else. It costs nothing to use it, and you’ll get $5 just for signing up. So do we. :-) To go with those savings, there are some bargain web sites that you won’t want to miss. Our old favorite is TechBargains, but there’s also a new kid on the block, DealNews. Check ‘em out. You’ll find something you just can’t live without… at bargain basement prices.

SMS Messaging with Asterisk. We’ve always lamented the fact that Asterisk had no built in SMS messaging capability. This is primarily because the cellphone providers keep a fairly tight lock on the SMS business since it’s their Cash Cow. There is a simple solution actually.

Virtually all of the cellphone providers have an Email-to-SMS gateway that can be used for sending SMS messages to their customers. For example, to send a message to a cellphone subscriber on the AT&T network, you just send an email message to 6781234567@txt.att.net. Click here for a complete list of the email gateway addresses.

That got us to thinking how simple it really would be to create a bash script that delivered the same message to every provider used by your friends. Who cares if all but one of the messages goes in the bit bucket. Your SMS message still will get delivered. For example, in the United States, if you’ve covered AT&T, Verizon, Alltel, Sprint, T-Mobile, US Cellular, Cricket, and Nextel, that pretty much gets 99% of the cellphones. If there’s a service that we’ve left out that you really need, just add another line to the bash script with the domain of that carrier.

So, log into your server as root and create a bash script named sms.sh that looks like the following: nano -w sms.sh

#!/bin/bash

# Script for sending SMS messages
# For additional cell carriers, see:
# http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_carriers_providing_Email_or_Web_to_SMS

msg=”Just testing the new SMS batch script.”
subj=”SMS Message”
num2call=”8431234567″

echo “$msg” | mail -s “$subj” $num2call@message.alltel.com
echo “$msg” | mail -s “$subj” $num2call@txt.att.net
echo “$msg” | mail -s “$subj” $num2call@sms.mycricket.com
echo “$msg” | mail -s “$subj” $num2call@messaging.nextel.com
echo “$msg” | mail -s “$subj” $num2call@messaging.sprintpcs.com
echo “$msg” | mail -s “$subj” $num2call@tmomail.net
echo “$msg” | mail -s “$subj” $num2call@email.uscc.net
echo “$msg” | mail -s “$subj” $num2call@vtext.com

Fill in the msg, subj, and num2call fields. Press Ctl-X, Y, then Enter to save your file. Then make it executable: chmod +x sms.sh. Now give it a try: ./sms.sh

You can alter the sender address for your emails from the default of root by inserting an entry like the following in /etc/mail/genericstable: root    joeschmo@gmail.com. Then restart SendMail: service sendmail restart.

Micro$oft Bing. I have to admit that I’ve always had a soft spot for Microsoft. They came from humble beginnings and outsmarted almost everybody during the 80’s and 90’s… until Google entered the picture and did much the same thing to them. You’ve also got to hand it to Microsoft. They may not get it right the first, or second, or third time. But they don’t give up. And their reincarnated search engine, Bing, is worth a look. It includes an Explorer Pane that categorizes search results in a left panel that is customized to your search query. There’s also a Quick Preview providing website popups. The theory is to give you a sneak peak at a particular site to see if it’s what you’re looking for. As with many Microsoft creations, it’s just too slow at the moment to be of much value. Good idea. Not so good implementation.

A good bit already has been written about Bing’s picture and video search capabilities. Suffice it to say, once they tamed the content, it’s worth a look. Actually, it was worth a look even before they tamed the content. :-) But give Microsoft credit, they quickly recognized that there needs to be a way to make the web accessible to younger children and students without exposing them to an endless stream of pornography. What happened to the good old days of reading National Geographic to find all that stuff?

Microsoft’s Farecast technology also is interesting. It brings new, smart tools to the process of purchasing airline and hotel accommodations. Much of this toolkit was acquired by Microsoft, but it’s pretty slick. The downside of Bing, when compared to Google, is that there seems to be a tilt toward Microsoft content in results. And there still is a lot of drill-down (aka Windows) to find exactly what you’re looking for. Both are deeply rooted in the Microsoft psyche so I doubt it’ll ever go away. But have a look anyway. It’s an interesting, new product to at least have in your search toolkit.

Let There Be Music. All-you-can-eat streaming music plans have been around for a while. But there’s never been anything quite like the new Napster service from Best Buy. $5 a month for access to 7 million songs on either your PC or a Sonos sound system is just too good to pass up. We’ve previously written about this so we won’t repeat it all here. Have a look at the article if you’re a music addict. And, if streaming DRM’d music isn’t your thing, check out this PC Mag article on Virgin Media’s new offering. It will let you download an unlimited number of MP3’s from Universal’s entire music catalog for about $20 a month. Unbelievable!

People Tracking. If you glance over to the right margin, you’ll get a good sample of Google’s Latitude offering that pinpoints your location on a Google map using GPS data from your cellphone. AT&T offers something similar for “only” $10-$15 a month. This data can be either the location of the nearest cellphone tower or, if your phone is GPS-enabled, it can be the actual GPS coordinates of your phone. There are obviously privacy issues that need to be weighed, and Google has carefully addressed most of those issues. You can restrict access to select friends, or just family, or no one at all. In coming months, we’re going to build something similar with Google Maps to display a map with the default location of incoming calls on certain color SIP phones. Stay tuned. In the meantime, feel free to monitor our summer vacation as we move from Charleston, to the beach, and back to the mountains. Not too exciting, but it may give you some ideas for future uses of this technology. For those of you with young daughters, think of it as LoJack for Parents!

Footnote: Uh, oh. Google.everything just died. 8:30 a.m., June 16. Bad way to start your day. Good time to check out Bing. :-)

Hurricane Tracking. If hurricanes are a part of your everyday life and you haven’t visited Stormpulse.com yet, you’re missing the ultimate storm tracking site on the net. Not only do they provide up-to-the-minute predictions from all of the world’s best sources, but you also get map overlays showing virtually anything you’d ever want to know that’s weather-related. Unbelievably good! And, for a ringside seat, visit our own Pawleys Island WebCam. We’ll wave to you later this week.

Promising New Asterisk Appliance. Every now and then we read an article about a new Asterisk appliance that really shows some promise. So it is with Michael Graves’ recent writeup of Jazinga, a $1095 Asterisk appliance that does just about anything and everything a small business would ever need in a phone system using a simple but intuitive web interface. Have a look. We think you’ll agree. Very slick, indeed. Only wish it were $595 instead of $1095.

Some Great Blogs. And, speaking of blogs, there are some other telephony blogs in addition to Graves on SOHO VoIP that are worth a look from time to time. Here’s another Baker’s Dozen of our favorites in no particular order:

FreeNum Dialing System. Another new project worth a careful look is FreeNum. Taking a page from Nextel, FreeNum lets you make SIP calls from ordinary telephones after registering your organization. The format of a FreeNum dial string looks like 1234*567 where your extension is 1234 and your ITAD (Internet Telephony Administrative Domain) number is 567. FreeNUM relies upon DNS and, as such, is perfectly suited for transparent use over the Internet. In coming weeks, we’ll have more to say about FreeNUM including a methodology for letting all PBX in a Flash systems register with a shared ITAD for transparent communications worldwide. Here’s the article.

Twitter. The entire planet is aflutter with Twitter. We finally bit the bullet, and we’d be the first to admit that Twitter fills an important gap in today’s Internet-centric 21st century world. Not only does it provide instantaneous searches of very current content, it’s also quite useful as a micro-blogging tool if you like to keep current on technology happenings without always waiting for full-blown articles to appear. Many of the topics in this article were first introduced to Twitter users over the last few weeks. So there’s much more to Twitter than periodic reports of individuals’ bathroom and sleeping habits. You can get a sampling by reviewing our Twitter entries in the right pane of this blog. And there are literally hundreds of Twitter clients to meet your every need. Here’s a link to a great Twitter FAQ. Then give Twitter a try if you haven’t already. NerdUno is looking forward to hearing from you.

Wordle.net. We’ve mentioned Wordle before, but no article on Internet fun would be complete without at least a passing reference. The way Wordle works is that you pass it some text. It then rearranges the words in a hierarchical order that exposes the word usage count of the various words in the text it examined. You can see an example below which took the subject matter from the PBX in a Flash Help Forum and passed it through Wordle. You’ll note that “Resolved” is just about the same size as “problem” and “question.” That actually speaks volumes about the quality of our forum. Give it a try. We think you’ll agree. We’ve done some other samples to give you some ideas: the Gettysburg Address, the Declaration of Independence, and MLK’s I Have A Dream speech. Try a few of your own. It’s a summertime blast. Enjoy!



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.


 
New Vitelity Special. Vitelity has generously offered a new discount for PBX in a Flash users. You now can get an almost half-price DID and 60 free minutes 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. And, when you use our special link to sign up, the Nerd Vittles and PBX in a Flash projects get a few shekels down the road 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 PBX in a Flash 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 for just $3.99 a month and you get a free hour of outbound calling to test out their call quality. To check availability of local numbers and tiers of service from Vitelity, click here. Do not use this link to order your DIDs, or you won’t get the special pricing! After the free hour of outbound calling, 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 and any balance is fully refundable if you decide to discontinue service with Vitelity.
 


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Whole House iPod + $5/mo. Gets You Every Song on the Planet

We’ve previously written about the incredible Sonos whole-house audio system that is priced (literally) tens of thousands of dollars below the cost of a comparable “turnkey” system that you typically would purchase from a home audio consultant. Another revolutionary development occurred yesterday so it was a good time for an update.

Yesterday’s development was an announcement from Napster, which was recently acquired by Best Buy, that lets you download 5 DRM-free songs per month from Napster’s entire catalog for $5 a month. Nothing very exciting there. The kicker is that, for no additional fee, you now get unlimited (but DRM’d) streaming of all 7 million songs in Napster’s vast music collection to any PC you happen to own. And $60 buys you a full year plus 70 DRM-free songs!

We hear you mumbling. Why would anyone want to only listen to music on their PC? Well, this is where your Sonos music system comes into play. Instead of buying a cheap PC (such as this $199 Acer netbook from CompUSA) and subscribing to Napster to play the music on your PC, U.S. customers now have instant access on your Sonos system to over 7 million music tracks in the Napster library any time you like. And this isn’t canned playlists although Napster has plenty of those. With today’s new offer, you can stream songs of your choice in your own playlists to one or many rooms in your house depending upon how many Sonos ZonePlayers you’ve configured. Or use your Sonos controller to search the entire Napster catalog by artist, album, or song title. And the total cost: just $5 a month.

Sonos Background. For those that are new to Sonos, you basically buy a little $500 Wi-Fi box for each room in your home or office where you want to play music. There are special system bundles at this link if you hurry. You plug in a pair of speakers and connect to your NAS-savvy music library. We recommend dLink’s DNS-323 which provides RAID1 mirrored SATA drives in any size you desire (about $180 delivered from NewEgg plus SATA drives). Be sure the drives you pick are on dLink’s compatibility list! If you happen to use Comcast for your broadband service, you also receive a free Rhapsody subscription which can be played on every Sonos system in your house for free, but you’ll have to connect a Windows PC to your Sonos system through the line in jack to take advantage of this. With the new Napster offering, you can skip the hassle for $5 a month. The Sonos system also supports streaming audio from more than 300 Internet radio stations, also free.

Some other reviews of the Sonos system are worth a look. Check out the Home Theater View, Audioholics, Playlist Magazine, and PC Magazine. You’ll find dozens more here.

There are few companies in the world (much less the United States) that provide flawless hardware and software, free software updates (that always work), and regular updates that consistently add value to your initial purchase. Sonos is at the top of that very, very short list. Run, don’t walk, to add this system to your home or office. You’ll thank us for years to come. We installed eight systems with four remotes in just over two hours. We haven’t quit listening since. Today’s Napster announcement is simply icing on the cake. Enjoy!

Update. We don’t often revise our articles but a Tweet from @Sonos last night sent us back to the drawing board. While we knew that Napster already was available in Sonos music players, the price point was substantially higher. Since Napster’s announcement had clearly stated that the $5 a month special only applied to use of the library on a PC, we had assumed that it wouldn’t work directly in the Sonos system. Wrong! It works perfectly on the Sonos players with the functional simplicity that is the hallmark of Sonos software. Napster should take a lesson! Lo and behold, it appears that Napster views the Sonos system as just another Linux PC so the entire Napster music library is available in any Sonos music system without resorting to any external PC. Seven million songs for $5 a month strikes us as a deal you’d be crazy to pass up. Better hurry while it lasts.


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