Vonage (2nd time around) is a charm

Even though I’d be perfectly happy just using our cell phones. Michelle is still not super comfortable with not having a landline (or at least something that approximates one). So, when AT&T was no longer able to support decent broadband to my house, I moved to Comcast’s broadband offering and then signed up with Vonage.

I’ve always liked Vonage (router fun notwithstanding), I only stopped using it before because I was obligated at the time to take AT&T’s POTS (Plain Ol’ Telephone System) line along with my DSL connection and it didn’t make sense to keep both landline options.

The current Vonage offering is much friendlier for non-tech users and, with greater broadband speeds available, QOS doesn’t seem to be an issue. Basically, you get a little appliance with a friendly orange screen that tells you the current date and alerts you to any issues and prompts you with instructions for those issues should they occur. i.e. your Internet connection is not available, check your modem, etc.

The recommended way (from Vonage) to set up your system is to put the Vonage router between your modem and your internal router (if you have one). I don’t like the idea of Vonage being a potential choke-point for my system (although it would probably be fine) so I ended up plugging it into my router and then assigning priority QOS to the Vonage router/appliance’s MAC address. Again, you probably don’t need to do this, but since I can, and it’s easy, why not?

You can also set things up so that your entire house is wired for Vonage. Just disconnect Ma Bell entirely. I have one of the more modern interface boxes outside so all I need to do is disconnect a the incoming telephone plug (RJ11 I believe is what it’s called) and I can completely isolate my home from the telco. Then, using a male-to-male connector such as you get with any modem, plug your Vonage router/appliance into one of your phone jacks and every wired phone in your house is hooked up to Vonage.

We don’t need anything fancy for our home setup so I just picked up an AT&T (I know, I know… the irony) cordless phone set to replace the aging ones we already had and just plugged those into the Vonage router/appliance.

Now we have caller id, local, free long distance throughout Canada and the U.S. and a raft of other features that we may or may not ever use. We could have ported our phone number as well, but with Google voice that’s not really necessary.

BTW, ping me if you want a Google Voice invite. I’ve still got two left as of this posting.

Posted under Tech Stuff

This post was written by Marc
on October 30, 2009 at 6:09 am

Now *that’s* a big spider

Big SpiderMichelle opened our patio door to let out the cats and this guy came bounding in.

The body alone is over an inch long, include the legs and this sucker’s just a smidge over two inches!

I think she needs to change her underwear.

Posted under Very Cool

This post was written by Marc
on October 13, 2009 at 10:03 pm

Bose CineMate Digital Home Theater Speaker System

I was in Sams Club a couple of weeks ago and saw this home theater system was on sale so I noted it down and came home to check it out. While reading about it on Amazon I saw that it was pretty highly rated and nearly $100 less expensive. So I went ahead and ordered one.

I already have a Samsung LN52A650 TV through which I want to view my Samsung BD-P2500 1080p Blu-ray Disc Player, my DirecTV HR-23 DVR my legacy DirecTV TIVO player and my ancient VHS tape player (yeah, still have some stuff that I haven’t replaced on VHS tape).

When I first purchased my TV I had also picked up a Sony HTCT100 Sound Bar with which I was  unimpressed. But, on its own, the Samsung TV sound turned out to be less satisfactory than I had originally thought. There have been times I even needed to resort to turning on subtitles for ENGLISH movies because the vocal output was simply unable to overcome the other sounds and effects being offered.

Also, complexity is a big deal. Where the Sony soundbar had me hooking up all of my media sources to it and then using IT to control what played through the TV set, the Bose CineMate takes the results of whatever I elect to pump through the TV and then enhances the output.  So I don’t have to worry about compatibility with the sound system (HDMI in or whatever), nor do I have to tweak the home theater system for particular inputs.

The improvement in sound quality is absolute and immediate. There are no adjustments to make, it’s either going to work or it isn’t. In my case it worked magnificently. I used the remake of “The Day the Earth Stood Still” for my testing and I am astonished how well the Bose system enhanced and separated out the sounds. The bass is deep and booming and the voices are crystal clear.

Also, any specialized mating (the Samsung TV and Blu-Ray player talk with each other and negotiate the video input settings) are retained because the Blu-Ray still gets to talk directly to the TV.

The widely touted universal remote control is both the icing on the cake and the one item I will ding Bose for on this offering. First, the remote is of a reasonable size, very clear how to operate and well thought out. My wife finally has a clear view of what she’s supposed to press in order to get the Satellite receiver, TV and sound all functioning so she can watch her shows.

The universal controls all of my devices with one, very weird, exception: The pause button doesn’t work for the Samsung BD-P2500 1080p Blu-ray Disc Player. There is only one code available to program Samsung Blu-Ray players into the remote, so it’s not like I got it wrong. Contacting Bose’s customer support yielded the lame response:

*****To reply to this message, please select the reply button. To help us expedite your inquiry, please be sure to include our original response.******

Mr Bourassa,

The remote does not control all functions of all systems. A universal learning remote such as the Phillips Pronto would be able to learn all functions of any component, but these remotes are significantly more expensive.

Thank you for contacting Bose Corporation.
Richard Card
Product and Technical Support Team
————————————————-
Bose Corporation
US Telephone: (800)367-4008
International Tel: (508)766-1900
Email: http://www.bose.com/ContactUs
Fax: (508)766-1919
Telephone Hours: Mon-Fri 8:30AM-9:00PM, Sat 9:00AM-5:00PM (EST)
————————————————-
[massive footer pushing 3.2.1 system removed]——————————
Technical Support Information:

[Email Id:blah]
[Email Agent Id:blah]
[Queue Id:blah]

—–Original Message—–

Thank you for your response.

Do you know if this flaw has been corrected in the universal remotes offered
with the later Cinemate systems.

I can understand some of the more specialized features not being represented
in a universal remote, but “Pause” is a pretty basic DVD function to be
lacking.

Thanks,

Marc

On Sat, Oct 3, 2009 at 4:29 PM, <support@bose.com> wrote:

> *****To reply to this message, please select the reply button. To help us
> expedite your inquiry, please be sure to include our original
> response.******
>
> Mr Bourassa,
>
> Thank you for your inquiry. The remote code 21099 is the correct code for
> te Sausung BD-P2500.  We are aware that this does not allow control of all
> remote functions, but there is no alternative code or workaround (other than
> to use the remote that came with the Samsung). Sorry we could not assist you
> with this.
>
> Thank you for contacting Bose Corporation.
> Richard Card
> Product and Technical Support Team
> ——————————

——————-
> Bose Corporation
> US Telephone: (800)367-4008
> International Tel: (508)766-1900
> Email: http://www.bose.com/ContactUs
> Fax: (508)766-1919
> Telephone Hours: Mon-Fri 8:30AM-9:00PM, Sat 9:00AM-5:00PM (EST)
> ————————————————-
[massive footer pushing 3.2.1 system removed]
> ——————————
> Technical Support Information:
> [Email Id:blah]
> [Email Agent Id:blah]
> [Queue Id:blah]
>
>
>
> —–Original Message—–
>
> Request Type: Setup and System Install
>
>
> Request Message: I have a Samsung Blu-Ray DVD player (model BD-P2500) for
> which the only code available (20199) for the Cinemate remote control does
> not allow pause to work.
>
> My TV and DirecTV Satellite/DVR player work properly(pause works for the
> DVR just fine). So I am confident that it is not a hardware problem with the
> pause button. Do you have an alternate code suggestion or a workaround that
> can be used so the Universal remote can fully control my system?
>
> Thanks,
>
> Marc

Apparently it was unclear to the rep that there are only 5 things that most of us want our DVD remote controls to do: Play, Stop, Fast Forward, Rewind and Pause. Anybody who watches TV with a spouse or kid knows that pause is essential.

This wasn’t a deal breaker for *me* but I wanted to mention it in case it was for others.

Some of the other Amazon.com reviews for this device whined about it being inferior because it does not accept digital input. But I think, for the average Joe who just wants really nice sound for a reasonable price AND an uncomplicated setup, this is definitely the system to get. It is absolutely simple to set up, there are NO adjustments or tweaks that are even possible to make and the sound is wonderful.

Posted under Opinions, Tech Stuff

This post was written by Marc
on October 11, 2009 at 11:37 am

Nobel Peace Prize for President Obama?

http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/2009/press.html

I think that this is premature. Some of the science awards take decades and are awarded only after the discovery or application has shown its value. I should think a peace prize should be awarded once the results of the efforts have been vindicated.

To do otherwise rather dilutes the reputation and meaning of the award?

Posted under Opinions

This post was written by Marc
on October 9, 2009 at 11:36 am

Need to work with, not against human nature

The below article brought an interesting response from one of my friends:

I’m all for it but it reminds me of the reverse logic gun advocates use when they suggest that giving everyone guns will make sure that no one gets shot.

To which I responded:

Nah, the gun advocates logic is a) theoretical and b) not that nobody will get shot, just that criminals are cowards and will be less likely to do their bad things if *everybody* is armed. Doesn’t really speak to crimes of passion and just plain idiot folk.

The below story seems to be verging on anecdotal (not sure if “road rage” has a clear definition for consistent reporting) but I thought it interesting since it goes with my philosophy of not fighting human nature but rather trying to come up with systems and rules that work with how folks function naturally….

Just like that building (I forget where now) that didn’t bother putting sidewalks and paths around for about a year and then just paved and landscaped around where all the wear marks were. The didn’t waste all their efforts trying to put up fences and signs trying to make people conform to some foreign idea of how people “should” use the space.

What do you think?

(Detroit News) Interesting “When the speed limit was raised from 55 mph to 70 mph, incidents of aggressive driving dropped to zero.” (detnews.com)

Posted under Opinions

This post was written by Marc
on October 9, 2009 at 11:00 am

MagicJack – adipiscor, experior, remitto

Also loosely (and probably poorly) translated – To Acquire, To Try, To Return.

I had heard about MagicJack from our local consumer advisor “Clark Howard“. The idea is that you get this USB dongle-like piece of hardware that you plug into your computer, it runs a bit of software that allows your computer to work with it and control a soft phone, and you plug any normal phone into the other end of the MagicJack appliance and you can make calls through your computer and broadband connection for next to nothing.

I had recently switched from AT&T to Comcast and Michelle wanted to have a landline (or equivalent) as she’s got a real bee in her bonnet about using a cell phone when she’s at home.

The MagicJack proposition is pretty simple, you pay $20 (Plus $6.95 s&h) for the dongle-device and then you pay $19.95 a year thereafter for unlimited local and long distance calling thereafter. At least long distance to Canada and within the United States. I didn’t pay too much attention long distance rates to other locales as I seldom call those.

The website is pretty sparse, I suppose that’s a good thing, but it didn’t give me a great sense of permanence. And the video of the kid talking to the MagicJack guy on the main page is just plain creepy.

I have to say the upsell when you’re trying to make the purchase is pretty annoying, it’s on a par with GoDaddy.com. There are about a half dozen screens you need to click through offering you a second MagicJack for X dollars, upgrade NOW for 5 Years at a reduced cost and on and on. But after wading through all that crap you finally can click to have the MagicJack sent to you.

I tried out my unit for about 10 days before I got an RMA off of the website and returned it. The first thing I noticed was that the unit really doesn’t play nice with Google Voice, which I’ve been using for years now and rather like. When you want to add a new phone number to your Google Voice account you get a confirmation number which you are supposed to punch into your phone when the Google Voice system calls you. Through MagicJack I couldn’t hear the Google Voice prompts so I had to just guess at when to type in the confirmation code. This happened for both mine and Michelle’s Google Voice lines as I was setting them up on separate days.

I also had that weird happening where iTunes would only play through my telephone until I rebooted the computer after I had first set up the MagicJack on my system.

If that were the end of it I suppose I would have been OK with it. After all $20 a year for phone service is pretty darned good. But I kind of wanted it to be reliable too.

I found that, about half to a third of the time, I could not pick up my Google Voice calls through the MagicJack phone line. If you’re not familiar with Google Voice, it defaults to a “presentation mode” where, when you pick up the phone, it will announce the caller and give you the option to pick it up, send to voicemail, record or ignore the call. I’d pick up the phone, the call would be announced and then none of my keypresses would be passed through to Google Voice. So I’d quickly need to pick up my cell phone to answer the call.

More frustrating, about one in five calls would end up being just crap. Either I or the other person on the line could not understand the other (it seemed to be one way failing at a time).

Finally, a couple of times during my testing, the MagicJack software simply stopped. No crash, no warning dialog, it just wasn’t running anymore. The first time I was at home and I just unplugged and re-plugged in the dongle-device. But the second time Michelle was home alone and, as far as she was concerned, the phone system just wasn’t working. My computer is always locked by default and it’s not really her forte, nor her desire, to troubleshoot the phone system when she wants to use it.

So I’d say that MagicJack is probably worthwhile for a modestly tech-savvy person living alone who leaves their computer on all the time and who hasn’t just simply moved to a cell-phone only existence.

For me, I’ve now re-upped with Vonage and things have been very smooth. Having the dedicated router for the phone (rather than relying on a computer being on) is a big plus. Also, the Vonage connection is rock-solid and I’ve had no problems at all with it working with Google Voice. I don’t install my Vonage router in the prescribed method (cable modem — Vonage Router — Linksys router) because I prefer to keep control over my system directly, so I have my Vonage router plugged into my Linksys WRT54G with DD-WRT firmware and have assigned it a permanent IP AND set the Quality of Service so that the Vonage router gets priority. Haven’t had ANY issues so far…

But, since nobody is perfect, I’ll keep an eye on it for a while 🙂

Posted under Retail Experiences, Tech Stuff

This post was written by Marc
on October 3, 2009 at 8:38 am