Getting started with Google Voice

For a long time, a cell phone was the way to make long distance calls for "free".  Well, free as in I've bought a bunch of minutes that are not tied to a particular destination, and I've paid in advance, so it's cheaper than my Costco long distance plan on the land line.  Now, however, I'm running out of those minutes and am looking to my landline for some of my calling needs.  Google Voice has come to my rescue.

Here's how it works:  I created a Google Voice (GV) account with my cell phone as the primary phone, and only phone enabled for incoming calls.  The landline was added as another phone.  When I want to call someone, I use the GV website to call them.  The calling process is that GV first calls a phone I specify (i.e., the landline) then connects it to the called party.  As far as both ends are concerned, it's an incoming call.  Cell phones may eat minutes for incoming calls but landlines (at least, as far as I know about my own billing plan) don't.  

I signed up for GV to have a "business" phone number I could use that's independent of the numbers I'm otherwise assigned (cell phone, landlines, etc.) and for the useful features. Google Voice has lots of useful features — call screening, assignable voice mail messages, voice mail transcription, ring to more than one phone — but this one will save me real money. 

How does Google make money with this?  My wife says Google is selling information about who I know — mapping my networks by monitoring who I call and who I email.  Probably. Is that worth something to someone?

Dropbox: Application of the Year

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box_reasonably_smallDropbox is cloud storage made easy.  Dropbox synchronizes a folder on your computer with a secure site on the Internet.  Any file you put there is immediately copied off site, safely away from your computer.  That’s good, but it gets better.  If you join any of your other computers to your Dropbox account, that folder is then synchronized to that computer, too.  The computers can run Mac OS/X, Windows, and Linux.  Files move back and forth effortlessly.  It just works.

There are mobile apps, too, so you can access files from your phone.  As you travel, snapping pictures, you can use Dropbox to transfer them to your computer — they’ll be home before you are.  If you’re not at your computer, you can still access your files via any web browser.

Dropbox also enables sharing. You can pick one or more folders and make them public, or share them with one or more individuals.  That means you don’t have to mail files back and forth. The latest copy is always on your computer, kept up to date by Dropbox. This is a great tool when you’re working in teams.  Everyone in the team has the files available locally, and the files are automagically kept in synchroniztion. Network traffic is minimal:  If the computers are on the same network segment, the files are shared locally, so only one of the computers has to talk to Dropbox’s servers.

Dropbox also supports versioning, so you can get back to an earlier version of a file or recover a file accidentally deleted.

Is Dropbox viable?  I don’t know.  The business model may be a variant of the underpants gnomes.  They seem to have decent funding, get good press, and show good customer growth based on viral marketing.


Shameless Plug:  If you sign up for Dropbox via this link, you get the usual 2GB of storage, plus an extra 250 MB in your free Dropbox, as do I.  Following that, if you tweet about Dropbox, you’ll get some more free space. Post something on Facebook for yet more space.  Free accounts can be expanded to 8GB!

Linux Dropbox hint:  If you’re sharing files with other computers on your LAN, open port 17500 for both TCP and UDP connections.