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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


# 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"

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.

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