Posts tagged: twitter

Meet The iPhone Terminator: The World’s Best Mobile Phone

Photo courtesy of HTC and androidcommunity.com

With apologies to Arnold’s infamous line, all we can say to iPhone enthusiasts of the world is that once you try this Android phone, you won’t ever go back. Google has done for the mobile phone what Apple did with Mac OS X except Google also opened up the hardware platform. Unfortunately, Apple opted for locked and proprietary hardware and software in rolling out its iPhone. Now that the second-generation Android phones are appearing, the difference is palpable.

Update. There’s now a third-generation Android phone that’s even better than this one. You can read all about it in our latest article.

Choosing the World’s Best Cell Phone is obviously fraught with peril. All other things being equal we would have bestowed the honor on Nokia’s E71 which we reviewed recently and have personally used until a month ago. That’s when we jumped into the Android World which we will tell you up front is still a bit of a work in progress. But, all we can say is WOW! The openness, the technology, and the creativity showcased in the new Android phones point to an inescapable conclusion. Google once again has struck the Mother Lode. Seeing is believing as they say. And today we’ll digress from our usual format to bring you a pictorial tour of the HTC Magic. No. You don’t have to carry a white one like Arnold. Heh. A shiny black one is readily available. We actually had planned to walk through the process of rooting the phone, but we’ll leave that for another day primarily because this mobile phone provides sufficient flexibility in its native state to deliver an almost perfect cellphone experience even without root access.

We’ve already covered our objections to the iPhone in a previous article so we won’t repeat them here other than to note that SIP clients can’t run in the background on an iPhone which makes them next to worthless for inbound calls. Yes, there are kludgey workarounds, but these open yet another can of worms. We’ll dispose of the Nokia product line by telling you they’re headed in the wrong direction just like Microsoft with the wrong operating system(s), the wrong product design, and the wrong technology mix. Just when the world is finally looking for a mobile platform that provides flexibility in transitioning between the cellular networks, WiFi, and WiMax, Nokia kills the SIP stack and SIP client on its entire line of new cellphones. So a company that once was THE innovative cell phone manufacturer in the world suddenly is looking a bit like Yahoo, lots of thrashing around but no cigar. Sadly, it’s mostly the result of self-inflicted wounds. But we’re not going to dwell on the past today. We’re going to look at what the future holds in mobile communications. And the one word that best sums up our hopes for future mobile telephony is Google… more precisely, Google’s totally open source Android Platform.

So let’s again go about this by the book… with a requirements analysis! You can match it to your own wish list. We want a cellphone that makes cellular calls from most locations, and we want the ability to decide which cell provider we use depending upon where we are. We want the option to make phone calls through our own SIP provider, or Asterisk® server, or Google Voice whenever we feel like it with or without a Wi-Fi connection. And, of course, we want VoIP Prioritization. This means we want our cell phone to prioritize incoming and outgoing calls by attempting to use VoIP services first, cellphone carrier second. We also want to be able to check our email using gMail, POP3 and IMAP servers at 3G data speeds. For the business community, we also think Microsoft Exchange support is indispensable. When we need to send or receive something on our notebook computer and there’s no WiFi around, we want our cellphone to provide data connectivity. We’re not going to be downloading movies and 1,000-page books all day long. We just want to get an important file attachment from the office so we can read it on a normal screen. If the cellphone provided a PDF viewer, so much the better. And, finally, we’d like a QWERTY keyboard for messaging, and we want to be able to change our own battery, add a memory chip, and swap out SIM cards whenever we’d like. We also want the ability to gain root access should we ever wish to do so. After all, it’s our phone! Bluetooth for phone calls and A2DP for music in the car would be great, and a good camera as well as GPS functionality would be nice to have on the phone as well. For those in the U.S., we’d add one additional requirement: support for AT&T’s 3G network so you’re not stuck with T-Mobile’s dog-slow (and incompatible) wireless data network. Most of the Android phones currently flunk this test leaving you with nothing but EDGE service if you use a provider other than T-Mobile. Of course, with T-Mobile, you get mostly EDGE service in the U.S. as well. :roll:

And the winner is…

Our pick is the unlocked Rogers HTC Magic phone, the only Android phone that we could find which supported rooting and AT&T’s 3G network in the U.S… albeit from a Canadian provider. That’s the price U.S. consumers pay for a government that continually rewards the telephone oligopoly with exclusivity rip-offs. So how does the HTC Magic stack up to our wish list? We’d give it a 94. It does everything on our Wish List… and more. The images which follow incidentally were taken using the screen capture utility that’s part of the Android 1.5 SDK. It is easily installed on either a Windows or Linux PC or your favorite Mac (except Snow Leopard for the moment). There’s a great tutorial on how to install the Android SDK as well as a YouTube video and tutorial on rooting the Rogers HTC Magic phone should you desire further information on those topics.

Getting Started. Before proceeding, set yourself up a Gmail account if you don’t already have one. As with most provider-specific cellphones, this HTC Magic phone is hard-coded to the Rogers network in Canada. Assuming you want to use AT&T’s network in the U.S., step #1 is to enter AT&T APN settings when you first turn on the phone. After inserting the AT&T SIM and booting the phone, press the Menu key before doing anything else. Next click Add APN. Enter the following values leaving the remaining fields blank:

Name: att
APN: wap.cingular
Password: CINGULAR1

Now press the Menu button again and choose Save. For other providers, try this Google Search.

Main Screen. Once you’ve entered your Gmail credentials, the phone will boot and display a Main menu. It actually is three screens wide. You can move to the other screens by swiping your finger to the left or to the right. You’ll notice a thumb tab at the bottom of the display. By dragging this up, you can access all of the other applications on the phone. Move it back out of the way by dragging it back down or pressing the Back button (←) which is the third from the left button just below the screen display.

Applications. Here’s the first page of our Applications. You scroll through the list using the trackball, or you can drag your finger vertically on the screen to reposition the display up or down. Tapping on an entry starts the application. Pressing the Home button on the far left just below the screen display returns you to the Main Screen. Every app is displayed in this listing except for Widgets. Widgets are more like scripts and typically are used to toggle functions on and off. In the left Main screen above are four widgets to toggle WiFi, BlueTooth, GPS, and Ringer/Vibrate/Silent functions of the phone.

Android Market. All of these applications didn’t necessarily come with the phone. Google’s Android Market has been set up for developers to display their wares. You can become a developer, too. And, unlike the iPhone apps, most of the Android apps still are free. Just another advantage to open source technology. To access the Market from your phone, just choose the Market app and follow the intuitive menus. There’s a great Search function. Again, unlike the iPhone, these applications get stored on a MicroSD card. A 2GB card comes with the phone. Do yourself a favor and start with a $50 16GB card.

Messaging. As you might expect from Google, the Android platform excels at messaging of all flavors. Whether it’s text messaging, Gmail, or POP3/IMAP email connectivity, Android has you covered (see above). And the support for Microsoft Exchange is nothing short of brilliant. In the social networking department, there’s full-featured support for Twitter and Facebook, among others. Using the Search function in the Android Market, you can have your phone set up with your favorite tools in just a few minutes.

Android Security. Securing your phone is also nothing short of brilliant on the Android 1.5 platform. Simply draw an unlock code pattern using your finger, and that becomes the signature for future access to your cellphone. Also works pretty well as a sobriety test. :-) If you can’t unlock your phone, don’t unlock your car! You also can lock your SIM card to your phone and set a password if you’re nervous about losing your $500 crown jewel. What the security system really demonstrates is that the open source community has nothing to apologize for. The quality of this software is every bit as good if not better than the software produced by the other cellphone players.

Placing Calls. Yes, we hear you. What about making phone calls? You’ll be pleased to know that the HTC Magic can do that, too. We were just saving the best for last. In fact, this phone can make calls in three different ways: through your cellphone provider, through SIP using your Asterisk server or another provider, and through Google Voice. Once you install the Google Voice application from the Android Market, simply configure it with either your cellphone number or an intermediate provider such as SIPgate or IPkall. You then have a choice of whether to make Google Voice the primary or secondary calling source. Or you can choose to be prompted for each call as shown above. Google Voice calls that go out through your WiFi data network connection incur no charges in the U.S. and Canada.

SIP calls are placed using the SIPdroid application which also is available in the Android Market. Shown to the left is a sample setup for SIPdroid to connect to your Asterisk server on a private home network. In the SIPdroid Call Options, specify whether to use WiFi and/or 3G/EDGE for the SIP calls. And set a preference for how your calls should be placed, i.e. cellphone carrier or SIP. The only tricky part is the Extension Settings on your Asterisk server. Just create an extension in the usual way using FreePBX. But make sure your settings include the following entries: canreinvite=no, nat=yes, and qualify=no.

To route outbound calls through SipDroid instead of your cellphone provider, just append + to the end of the phone number. You can generate a + symbol on your phone keypad with a long press of the 0 button.

Android Backups. No article would be complete without some mention of backups. The Android platform currently supports four options: Android images, MyBackup, and Google and Exchange Synchronization. Android images can only be created if you gain root access to your phone or load a different image on your phone. MyBackup is a $9.95 app from the Android Market that lets you backup your Applications and Data separately onto your MicroSD card. Unless you’re a techie, it’s well worth the money. Google and Exchange Synchronization you will find under Settings, Data Synchronization. With Google Sync, you can back up your Gmail, Calendar, and Contacts data automatically and as a background task. Be sure to activate it. Finally, you’ll see displayed above a browser display from mundy.org/whereib that you may find helpful from time to time. It displays not only a map of your current location based upon your IP address, but also shows your public IP address.

Android 3Gtest. We’ll leave you with a hot tip about one additional application: 3Gtest. Just download and install it from the Android Market and then run it. You’ll be amazed by the results. Not only will it tell you how good your upload and download speeds are, it also will tell you some interesting tidbits about whether your provider is living up to their oft-repeated promise of Net Neutrality. Our download 3G speed in Charleston, South Carolina was actually close to T-1 performance. Interestingly, our upload speed was pitiful… about as fast as a circa 1860′s telegraph machine.

Android System Backup. We said we weren’t going to cover rooting your phone, but we do want to point you in the right direction and also show you how to get a perfect image backup of your phone. If you’re not comfortable entering system commands, stop here! We are Mac snobs so what follows is the Mac way of doing things which is incredibly simple compared to the hassle with Windows in getting the correct USB driver loaded to make things function properly. If you’re determined to use Windows, be sure to install the Android SDK before you connect your phone to your PC. And read up on how to install the appropriate USB driver for Windows. With a Mac, all of this just works… out of the box. As we mentioned previously, we’ve only tested this with Leopard and Snow Leopard, and Snow Leopard does NOT work!

Before proceeding, you must enable USB Debugging on your phone. You’ll find it here: Settings->Applications->Development->USB Debugging

To get your Mac set up with the proper toolkit, do the following. There’s nothing tricky here. Just don’t skip any steps. And you only have to do this once! First, download the Android 1.5 SDK for the Mac from here. Unzip android-sdk-mac_x86-1.5_r3.zip on your Desktop and rename the folder to android-sdk. Now drag that folder into your Applications directory. Next, open a Terminal window and create/edit .bash_profile: nano -w .bash_profile. Add the following entry: export PATH=${PATH}:/Applications/android-sdk/tools. Then save the file: Ctrl-X, Y, Enter. Now run the same command from the CLI prompt to update your PATH now: export PATH=${PATH}:/Applications/android-sdk/tools. Next, download fastboot-mac onto your Desktop from the HTC Support site. Unzip the file and rename the file to fastboot. Then, download recovery-new.img to your Desktop. Drag both fastboot and recovery-new.img into the Applications/android-sdk/tools folder.

Now we’re ready to make your backup. Plug your phone into your Mac using the USB cable that came with the phone. Open a terminal window on your Mac and change to the SDK tools directory: cd /applications/android-sdk/tools. Run the following command and make certain your phone shows up in the listing: adb devices. You should get a display with the serial number of your phone:

List of devices attached
HT95RNK02843 device

Assuming your phone shows up in the list, you’re ready to proceed with a backup. Turn off your phone. Then, while pressing the Volume Down button, turn your phone back on. Hold down both buttons until you see a screen that says <BACK> FastBoot Mode with dancing Androids on skateboards at the bottom of the display. Press the BACK button (←) and the FASTBOOT USB menu will display. In your computer’s Terminal window (NOT on your phone), type: fastboot boot recovery-new.img. Your phone will reboot and display a screen with several options in blue. Use your phone’s trackball to carefully scroll down to the Nandroid Backup 2.1 option. Then depress the Trackball button to begin the backup. You’ll see a yellow display message indicating that the backup is proceeding. When the backup completes, choose the Reboot System Now option to restart your phone normally.

You’ll find the new backup on the SD card. To copy it to a safe place on your Mac, drag down the Message Bar at the top of the display after your phone has rebooted. Tap the USB Connected Select to copy files to/from your computer option. Then tap the Mount button. A new drive NO NAME will appear on your Desktop. Double-click on it and drag the nandroid folder to a safe place for permanent storage of your backup. To unmount the phone, do it on your Mac desktop first. Then reverse the mount process we initially used on the phone to mount it. Simple!

Rooting Your Phone. We have NOT done this so you’re on your own. You’ll probably void the warranty on your phone by proceeding. The best article we could find on the procedure for rooting and restoring your phone is here. But it doesn’t have the correct backup image. If you restore the wrong image, your phone’s radio may no longer work on your provider’s network. The consensus seems to be that the proper image for a rooted Rogers HTC Magic is here. The best tutorial for actually performing the magic appears to be here. But we would stress again that we have not actually tried this, and you really, really are on your own if you proceed past reading this article. It’s your $500 phone… or brick as the case may be. Before doing anything further, we would strongly recommend you make several backup images as outlined above and also spend some time doing a careful review of the postings in this forum until you are very comfortable with all of the wrinkles and procedures. If something goes wrong, post your problems there, not here. :-) We’re handing you the map, but it’s your choice whether to jump off the cliff. Enjoy!

Update: The unlocked Rogers HTC Magic phone used for this review is now available for purchase from Nerd Vittles. It supports 3G networks of both Rogers in Canada and AT&T in the United States. Just make us an offer we can’t refuse. It’s still a terrific phone!



The Future of Android. For a glimpse of what the future holds for Android, see this Giga OM article published on October 7.


Web Site of the Week. For all of your favorite Nerd gifts, don’t miss the new Mashable collection.

Articles of the Week. For another excellent technical review of the HTC Magic, check out TechRadar UK’s review. And be sure to check out Justin West’s Free Homebrew VoIP with Google Voice and Intel Atom.


Enhanced Google Maps. In case you haven’t noticed, we’ve added yet another Google Map to Nerd Vittles. Now, in addition to showing our location with Google Latitude, we also are displaying your location based upon your IP address. We’ll show you how to add something similar to any LAMP-based Linux system in coming weeks. It’s a powerful technology that has enormous potential. If you’re unfamiliar with Google Maps, click on the Hybrid and Satellite buttons and then check out the scaling and navigation options. Double-click to zoom. Incredible!


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.



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


 
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…


It’s TweedleD: Twitter & SMS Alerts with Every Asterisk Call

Twitter Direct Messages and SMS Instant Messages are great ways to send yourself important notes that you want to keep track of... privately. Today, we'll show you how to harness the power of Twitter and SMS to announce every call on your Asterisk® server with the name and number of the caller as well as the DID of the incoming call. Reconfiguring your Asterisk server takes less than 10 minutes. We think you'll find this to be the perfect complement to our free Urang II desktop screenpop utility.

Prerequisites. You'll need one of the Asterisk aggregations to get all of this working quickly. At a minimum, you need Asterisk 1.4 or 1.6, FreePBX, Apache, PHP 5, PHP/AGI, and SendMail or an equivalent. You'll also need a service that provides CallerID name lookups such as CallerID Superfecta. We're assuming you already have all of these components working including outbound email which is necessary to deliver the SMS alerts.

Overview. The design strategy for TweedleD is pretty straight-forward. When a call comes into your server, FreePBX should catch the call in an inbound route that looks for incoming calls on a particular DID. A CallerID Lookup source will be used in the Inbound Route to look up the name of the caller based upon their CallerID number. Then we will use a Custom Destination to route the call to a special Asterisk context which will run the TweedleD AGI script. This script actually sends out the Twitter Direct Messages as well as the SMS messages to your cellphone. Once the script completes its work, the context will send the call along to its final destination, e.g. an extension, a ring group, a day/night control, or an IVR.

NOTE: There is a 100-150 API calls per hour per IP address limit with the Twitter API. If you also are using one or more Twitter clients at your site, this is something worth keeping in mind if you have a busy phone system.

1. FreePBX Custom Context. The trick with designing FreePBX dialplans is to build them in reverse. So we'll start with the custom context and work our way back to the inbound route. First, log into your server as root and edit extensions_custom.conf in /etc/asterisk. At the end of the file, we want to create a new context that looks like this. We've provided several sample destinations at s,5 to show you the syntax. The first routes a call to an extension or ring group number. The second routes the call to Day/Night Control #1. And the third routes the call to an IVR. To find the correct IVR number or day/night control for what you want to do, review the IVR and app-daynight contexts in extensions_additional.conf to find the one you need. Obviously, you only use one s,5 line. Comment out the remaining ones as shown below. For Asterisk 1.6, replace the vertical bars in line s,3 with commas.

[custom-twitter]
exten=>s,1,Answer
exten=>s,2,Wait(1)
exten=>s,3,AGI(nv-twitter.php|${CALLERID(name)}|${CALLERID(num)})
exten=>s,4,NoOp(${CUSTOMDATA})
exten=>s,5,Dial(local/701@from-internal)
;exten=>s,5,Goto(app-daynight,1,1)
;exten=>s,5,Goto(ivr-6,s,1)
exten=>s,6,Hangup

2. Installing PHP/AGI Scripts. Next we need to install the script that actually generates the messages for Twitter and SMS. In addition, we'll install Justin Poliey's terrific twitter.lib.php which is a PHP implementation of the Twitter API that lets you do just about anything with Twitter that you could do with the Twitter API itself. For a good writeup on the capabilities of twitter.lib.php, see Antonio Lupetti's article. To install the necessary code, issue the following commands while still logged in as root:

cd /
wget http://bestof.nerdvittles.com/applications/TweedleD.tgz
tar zxvf TweedleD.tgz
rm TweedleD.tgz
cd /var/lib/asterisk/agi-bin

3. Configuring TweedleD. Now we need to configure the PHP script with your Twitter and SMS credentials so that TweedleD knows where to send the messages. Edit nv-twitter.php in the /var/lib/asterisk/agi-bin directory on your server: nano -w nv-twitter.php. You'll see a section of code near the top of the application that looks like this:

//-------- DON'T CHANGE ANYTHING ABOVE THIS LINE ----------------

$tweet = 0;
$username = "your-twitter-name";
$password = "your-twitter-password";
$user4msg = "recipients-twitter-name";

$sms = 0;
// $smsaddress = "1234567890@txt.att.net" ; // AT&T
// $smsaddress = "1234567890@message.alltel.com" ; // AllTel
// $smsaddress = "1234567890@messaging.nextel.com" ; // Nextel
// $smsaddress = "1234567890@messaging.sprintpcs.com" ; // Sprint
// $smsaddress = "1234567890@tmomail.net" ; // T-Mobile
// $smsaddress = "1234567890@vtext.com" ; // Verizon

$debug = 0;
$newlogeachdebug = 1;

$emaildebuglog = 0;
$email = "yourname@yourdomain" ;

//-------- DON'T CHANGE ANYTHING BELOW THIS LINE ----------------

There are four things you can enable and, depending upon what choices you make, you need to add your credentials for the various options. Let's go through them in the order they appear.

To enable Twitter Direct Messages, change $tweet=0 to $tweet=1. $username and $password are used to set your Twitter login credentials for your Twitter account. You must have one! $user4msg is the Twitter account name where the DMs should be delivered. They do not necessarily have to be delivered to your Twitter account although they can be. Be sure to preserve the quotes! And, remember, you can only send direct messages to people on Twitter that you are following, and they must be following you as well. If in doubt, attempt to send a direct message in Twitter to the desired recipient. Then you'll know for sure. TweedleD provides no error messages if things don't work. :-(

To enable delivery of SMS messages to your cellphone, set $sms=1. TweedleD actually delivers SMS messages using email. Virtually all of the carriers provide an SMS-Email Gateway for this purpose. The trick is knowing the email domain for your desired carrier. The full list is available here. And here is an even newer Email to SMS Gateway list. In the script, we've provided samples for the major U.S. carriers so, if yours is in the list, just uncomment the appropriate line by removing the leading // on the line and replace 1234567890 with your 10-digit cellphone number.

If you want a debug log generated for each call, set $debug=1. The default is to overwrite the previous log (/var/log/asterisk/nv-twitter.txt) with each new call. If you'd prefer an ever-growing log, set $newlogeachdebug=0.

The debug log also can be emailed to you. Set $emaildebuglog=1 and enter your email address in $email.

When you've completed the configuration, save the file (Ctrl-X, Y, Enter) and reload the Asterisk dialplan: asterisk -rx "dialplan reload".

4. FreePBX Setup. Finally, we need to configure FreePBX to support TweedleD. We'll add a Custom Destination and then adjust our inbound route(s) to support the custom context we added in Step 1. Open FreePBX with a web browser and choose Admin, Tools, Custom Destinations, Add Custom Destination. For the Description, call it TweedleD. For the Custom Destination, enter the following: custom-twitter,s,1. Then click Submit. Now edit your Inbound Routes for the DIDs for which you wish to activate TweedleD. For each inbound route, make sure you have activated a CallerID lookup source and then set the destination to: Custom Destination: TweedleD. Save your changes and reload the dialplan.

Trying Out TweedleD. Now you're ready to place a test call. Just call into your system on one of the DIDs that has been configured for TweedleD. On the Asterisk CLI, you should see an entry that identifies the CallerID name and number of the caller. And, if you've activated delivery of notifications to Twitter and/or SMS, the messages will magically appear within seconds. Enjoy!


Tips of the Week. If you hurry, you can get 25GB of free, password-protected online storage with the new Micro$oft SkyDrive offering. Or, for a free incoming call number for your Skype account, check this service out. A new precompiled version of Asterisk 1.6 for Mac OS X Leopard has been released. You can download it here. Finally, Sprint is offering a Netbook for 99¢ with any 2-year EVDO contract at Best Buy stores this week. Regular price for the Compaq Mini is $389.99. Add your cell phone or Asterisk DID to the DO NOT CALL Registry. Just call 888-382-1222 using the CallerID of the number to wish to block.


Sign of the Times. Before you get too comfortable with all your free Google apps, you might want to read this article. Despite assurances to the contrary from Google's President of Enterprise, it seems that the free version of Google Apps has quietly disappeared.

Update: Google Apps team invokes Brain Fart defense saying they momentarily forgot about "free" but it won't happen again. Heh, heh. Official Blog Posting.


VoIP Users Conference. Come join the fun. The VoIP Users Conference is held every Friday at noon, Eastern time. ISN: 8647*1061 (Hint: 8647 spells VOIP on your phone).


The World According to Twitter. Be on the lookout for David Pogue's new book, The World According to Twitter. It goes to press today! Incidentally, Pogue's books are just about the only reasonably priced tech books available for the Kindle, and they're all excellent.

Tomorrow's the Big Day. The last time this happened, it was a pretty quiet year. Just after noon tomorrow comes your once-in-a-lifetime moment when the time will officially be 12:34:56 7/8/9. The last time we had this much fun in our lifetime was... uh, about a year ago: 01:23:45 6/7/8. Can't wait for next year's thriller: 23:45:67 8/9/10. Ooops! That won't work on most clocks. Will it? Amazing what you can learn on Twitter. Isn't it? Thanks, @ejovi and @ev.




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...

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!



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