Bye Vonage… I’m going to Ooma

Ooma-Telo_FrontA few days ago I got an e-mail from Vonage telling me they were increasing my bill another $1. This is now the third time they have done this. When I first bought this “light” plan, it was 300 minutes and $9.99 a month (not including taxes). This past increase they decided to throw in an extra 100 minutes.

I don’t really use my home phone that much… the reason why I got it was back in 2007, my girlfriend was living with me (now my wife) and she did not get reliable cell reception in the house. I did not want her to be at home and not be able to contact people.

Today, we’re used to having a home phone, though the only time it is used is for local business reminders to call us about appointments and our family. Additionally, I think it’s important to have the home phone since I have a young child and would like anyone in our house to easily pick up a phone and call 911 in an emergency.

I had been looking around for alternatives for a while… I just didn’t feel like I was getting my money’s worth. Also, I have had the following problems/criticisms with Vonage since day one:

  • The caller ID sometimes fails to identify the caller.
  • The Vonage router just randomly disconnects from their service, prompting me to have to reset it.
  • The lack of a feature to individually call block some numbers.

The last thing I listed has been a hugely requested feature by Vonage customers since 2007… and nothing has been done about it.

One of the big alternatives I started looking into was Ooma. On the surface, they’re just another VOIP provider, but they have some compelling features that Vonage does not have. One of the biggest enticements of Ooma is that if you choose to, you can just pay the taxes of having a VOIP line entails per month and that’s it… the service is essentially free. Or you can choose to subscribe to their Premier service for $10 a month. There are no minutes to keep track of for either the free or premier plan.

So when I got that e-mail that said they were raising their price again, I immediately purchased an Ooma router on Amazon. It’s scheduled to arrive on Tuesday. I plan on subscribing to the Premier service and having them port my number from Vonage to Ooma.

I will report back once I receive it and am going to update this with my progress and satisfaction level of the whole procedure. Stay tuned!

*** UPDATE: 11/2/2013 ***

So I received my device on Monday from Amazon. I purchased a refurbished unit for about $106. The Ooma router will be in my cellar, so I’m not worried if it had any scuffs or scratches. When it came, it didn’t have any.

The Ooma is cool because it’s set up like an answering machine. This makes it easy for the more senior folks out there who are still used to having one in their home and not using their phone company voicemail service.

The way you’re supposed to set up the Ooma is right after your cable modem… you plug in the Ooma, and then from there you plug in the rest of your network (or one computer). I prefer to keep my Ooma behind my firewall because I am using dynamic DNS services and other things where I want to keep my router first in line. If this sounds too technical for you, don’t worry… you can just put the Ooma after your cable modem and all will work fine.

For me, I just needed to find the right set up to keep it behind the router but keep call quality high. There are a lot of old posts out there on how to do this, but as of 2013, I would say it’s much more easier. Just plug your Ooma device into one of the available router ports for your network. Then plug a laptop into the Ooma to go to the web set up. Turn off QOS (just set it to 0 for both upstream and downstream) and enable the web interface from the Internet port.

Then depending upon your router config, set QOS to give the Ooma device highest priority in your network. Now you can also access your Ooma from your network since we enabled the web interface.

So far things are great… I logged into Vonage, turned off voicemail and set forwarding after 0 seconds to the new temporary number I have with Ooma. I have just submitted the porting process. Ooma says it can take three to four weeks, but in the meantime people can still call us as I’m forwarding everything.

The last part once the porting is complete is I need to call Vonage and cancel my service with them. Would be nice if they just cancelled it automatically once the port is done, but obviously Vonage hopes you drag your feet and they want to keep collecting money from you.

So my bill with Vonage is currently $11.99 a month (not including taxes and fees), but is going to $12.99 a month as of next month. Vonage is also charging me $6.08 in fees and taxes for a total of $18.07. I signed up for Ooma Premier and am going to pay $9.99 a month (I paid the annual option) and somehow my fees and taxes are only going to cost $3.72 a month.  I also find it quite sneaky how Vonage does not detail your taxes and fees on every bill you get… you need to dig around in their web site to find out what they’re charging you.

Anyway… I hope to update down the line once I’m all ported over and we’ve had some time to use the service.

*** UPDATE: 11/17/2013 ***

I did a live chat session with Ooma yesterday to inquire about my porting status. Ooma offered a Porting Status page to check in on where it is in the process, but every time I checked mine, it came up blank. After the person on the other side of the chat looked into it, he said it was still in process and that he would check into the porting status page being blank. Later on that afternoon, I got an e-mail from Ooma saying my scheduled completion date would be December 11th. I can now log in to the Ooma web site and the porting status page shows up. Not sure why it wasn’t before… I’m assuming they fixed something on their side.

Now while the porting process takes a while, which stinks, it’s not necessarily Ooma’s fault. Half of the port process needs to occur over at your previous carrier, and I’m sure they’re not too thrilled to just go through all of them. In the meantime, I’m just forwarding all my Vonage calls to our Ooma temporary number, so life goes on with barely a hitch. I have already started to use my Personal Blacklist feature to block the same telemarketers from calling and driving me nuts.

*** UPDATE: 12/8/2013 ***

So my Vonage number finally ported over on December 6th. I received a voicemail and e-mail from Ooma letting me know and that I may not have phone service while it was transferring. Both my wife and I were at work, so this did not impact us at all. Once porting was completed, I received another e-mail from Ooma letting me know and that I may need to reboot my Ooma device in order for it to register the ported number. I did not need to do that and everything worked as it should when I made a call to the phone number. Ooma lastly told me in the e-mail to wait one business day before cancelling my service with my previous provider.

The next day, I got an e-mail from Vonage saying that my number had been ported and that my service was now cancelled. This is nice as now I didn’t need to do anything and my Vonage is automatically cancelled. This is honestly the way I expected a number port to occur… why would I need to call and cancel if my one phone number with them is now gone?

So I’m all ported over now! So far, so good. Ooma is a good alternative for people looking for something “not Vonage”. I liked Vonage at the time, but they were falling behind on offering features that the other guys were already including.

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GoDaddy and Private Domain Registration (DomainsByProxy.com)

I am in the process of transferring away the last of my business with GoDaddy. It’s been a long time coming, and I am leaving for a multitude of reasons which I won’t get into here, but as far as my technical requirements:

  • I no longer need a dedicated e-mail server. Ad sponsored e-mail (such as Gmail) is more than adequate.
  • I no longer run my own web sites. I switched to WordPress.com and it provides all the features I need for my personal and professional blogging.
  • I no longer resell web hosting. It was worth trying, but I do not have the time to invest all my energy into promoting it. At most, I generally broke even with it.
  • I only still need to own my own domain names and I can do that much more economically with other domain companies.

In order to move over these domain names, I need to turn off my private registration with GoDaddy and unlock my domains before any transfer takes effect. GoDaddy handles private registrations using their own domainsbyproxy.com address. They make it seem like it’s a totally separate company, but it is not.

In order to turn off your private registration, you need to log in at domainsbyproxy.com (henceforth known as DBP in this article) and use their own customer name or ID number and password. What is that information? Good question… long standing GoDaddy users never received an e-mail like new subscribers letting them know what that information was.

If you don’t know what your customer ID or password is, there is a three day manual verification process where you need to give them some photo ID (such as a drivers license). This makes sense to protect your account if you’re trying to pretend you’re someone else… but I know that I own these domains, and this is a roadblock for me.

I searched all over for these DBP e-mails, but I do not have one. I save ALL my e-mail. I know I would not delete these. I just think my account is so old, I never received these e-mails, and they never bothered e-mailing this information out when it was changed.

GoDaddy now has me by the proverbial jewels because I cannot transfer my domains out from under GoDaddy until I turn off private registration. Also, I cannot remove private registration from GoDaddy’s control panel when it comes time to renew, because they do not give you a choice to remove it from your shopping cart.

I decided to hit the Internet and see who else was griping about this… turns out there were a lot of people. Along with the gripes, I also came across this blog post with a very handy solution. You can find out what your user ID is from GoDaddy provided you go through the motions of pretending to buy a new domain.

Once you get to the point where it asks you if you want to buy private registration, you may click it and it opens up a new area and shows you the private registration account number to use. This is your DBP user ID.

Now you can head over to DBP’s web site and type in that account number as your user ID and your GoDaddy password. Please keep in mind, if you change your GoDaddy password, it does not automatically change your DBP password. It will use the password that was in use when you first registered a GoDaddy private domain. For me, I had changed my GoDaddy password, but my DBP account was still using the one before my password change.

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Sharepoint 2010: Moving lists with lookups to another site or site collection

My company recently implemented Sharepoint 2010 and we have been building it out to get ready for production. Initially for testing, I created an internal IT site to get the hang of Sharepoint as well as to use its capabilities. During this time, I created a new custom list with some lookups to some other lists. Everything was working great until I realized I now needed to move this list into our production IT site. Turns out there is no built in way to export a list and retain its lookup information.

When I just exported the list, it renders as blank fields for the lookup columns. I can’t just lose this data… it’s nearly 1,000 entries of hand entered information. There needed to be some other way. So I went to searching the Internet and came across several other people scratching their heads with this same dilemma. The reason why it doesn’t retain the information is that each and every list (and other Sharepoint objects) are referenced behind the scenes by their unique GUID. This GUID gets changed when importing an identical list into a new site to prevent any unique constraint violations.

So at this point I’m thinking that I just need to change the GUID that is referencing the old list to the new GUID. Trick is… how do you do that?

Well, I came across this excellent post that describes doing exactly that… by using Sharepoint Manager 2010. I followed along with the post to make the changes, but I had one crucial issue… I could not save from SPM2010 at all. SPM2010 is a free tool and not supported by Microsoft. I did look around to understand why I cannot save, but was unsuccessful. So, I needed to find another way to modify that GUID information.

One of the other ways I became aware of dealing with exporting lists with lookup information was to export the list as a template… this blog post describes it wonderfully, but when I followed the instructions for exporting my list, it did not work. To verify that it was working for me at all, I followed his exact instruction, and it did work. What was unique about my situation? Well, I was moving my list from a site within my site collection to the root of that collection rather than to a different site collection.

The first blog post using SPM2010 illustrates that to move lists within a site collection, you need to modify the LookupList ID as well as the LookupWebId which is the parent site where the lookup list is located. So when I exported my list as a template and edited the Manifest.xml file, I changed both of the ID’s and had success.

I wanted to write about this experience because it caused me many hours of frustration and I hope that it will assist someone else out there if moving lists around from within a single site collection.

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“July 9th Virus” and media sensationalism

As a computer professional, the media harping over the “July 9th Virus”, or it’s actual name the DNSChanger malware has really been grinding my gears. News media loves to prey on people’s fears about anything, and this is no different.

They have been warning us for months that you will “lose access to the Internet”. I have had quite a few people ask me if this is something they need to worry about. Provided that you take proper care of your PC and run up to date virus scanners, there is nothing to worry about.

Also, let’s look at the statistics of this virus… according to this CBS news story, the FBI reports that 277,000 computers worldwide are still infected, and of that, they believe 64,000 of them are in the United States. In 2012, there are over 1 billion computers in operation all over the world. This means that 0.03% are infected. You have a much greater chance of winning Powerball than having this virus infecting your computer.

This malware was created in 2007. The premise behind the malware is that once your computer is infected, it changes the DNS settings on your computer to point them to their own servers that will serve up pop up ads and other things to try and get you to buy stuff. It’s the way most malware works these days… it deceives you into purchasing products (most of them fraudulent) and piggy backing it from other web sites to make it look like legitimate web sites.

Since these servers have been shut down by international authorities, the FBI has since set up it’s own servers that redirect requests that are passed to the servers. This will be shut off as of midnight (Eastern Daylight Time) tonight on July 9th, 2012.

The other thing that I really dislike about the media’s portrayal of this is that they say you will “lose the Internet”. They make it sound like it will be gone forever, never to return. Why bother paying your Internet bill?

All that you need to do to get the Internet back is to clean your computer of the malware.

If you are legitimately concerned that you have this virus, please visit this web site called DCWG, which is a web site set up by the security partner of the FBI to first check if you are infected. This does not involve installing any software.

If you have somehow beat all the odds and your computer is actually infected, simply follow the instructions on the web site on how to remove it.

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Fitbit

The Fitbit is a pedometer on steroids. It can count your steps, record  your physical activities, and even gauge how well you sleep at night.

It has been a long journey for Fitbit admirers, since it’s announcement at TechCrunch50 in 2008. Shortly after the announcement, they began taking pre-orders and it wasn’t until late 2009 that the product began shipping.

The Fitbit features technology that is similar to the Nintendo Wii’s Wii Remote, in which it contains an accelerometer and can accurately count steps in your pocket, clipped to your belt, or anywhere you might put it (on your person).

It comes with a wireless base station which also doubles as a charger for the Fitbit, in which once you install the software on your computer, it will wirelessly transmit your data to the Fitbit servers in which you can immediately see. The web site has no monthly charge.

It also comes with a belt clip and a wrist strap. The Fitbit is  actually designed in such a way that you can clip it onto thin belts and clothes without the belt clip, but if you have a large belt like I do, you will need the clip. It slides in and out of the clip easily without having to remove the entire clip for easy viewing.

The wrist strap is used for night use as the Fitbit tracks your sleep. Simply press and hold the button on the Fitbit until it reads “Start” and it has entered a type of trip odometer mode, which will then automatically determine if you are sleeping and categorize it as such automatically. When you wake up in the morning, you simply press and hold the button again until it reads “Stop”, ending your sleep activity.

The trip odometer function can be used for many activities which are all selectable on the web site. You simply choose from the extensive list, such as running, playing music, car repair to name a few, and the system categorizes your activities and sets basic caloric burn from these activities. This better estimates your overall activity levels even though the pedometer may not be increasing.

The battery life is quite good. The web site estimates you can use the device for 10 days before charging it again. I generally can go one to two weeks before worrying about charging it. The only thing I wish it had was a replaceable battery, so I could swap in a fresh one. Fitbit is meant to be with you all day and night, so there really is  no downtime for it to be charged.

A good compromise to this is to put the Fitbit onto the charger when you are using the computer, as you are sitting down and it does not need to track steps, and you can log your “using computer” activity. Another possibility is to charge it in small portions when taking a shower, as the Fitbit is not water friendly.

Since I have been using Fitbit, I have had a couple issues… firstly, the belt clip I used began to become too stretched and eventually broke. I e-mailed support, and they very quickly said they would ship me a new belt clip at no additional charge. Most recently, my original Fitbit stopped working… I once again contacted support and they very graciously offered to replace my Fitbit at no charge. I can’t say enough good things about the people at Fitbit. I am sure most people are leery to spend a fair amount of money on these devices… they are small, and they can break… but the people at Fitbit stand behind their product and believe that a happy customer is a return customer. I always spread the good word to my friends and family about the Fitbit and a number of them have purchased them too.

Since it’s initial inception, Fitbit continues to make changes. They now have a Fitbit Ultra, which counts stairs automatically and has two different color choices (useful for some customization and households with more than one Fitbit). Fitbit is also going to release a scale which is currently scheduled for a May release. The scale wirelessly transmits your vitals such as weight, body fat and BMI to the Fitbit web site. They are also saying that the scale known as Aria, will automatically detect who is using it and upload the data to the appropriate person’s web site for tracking and history. I am sure this information is then also automatically used with your Fitbit to keep your weight current to get more accurate readings of calorie burns.

The one criticism of Fitbit has been it’s lackluster food repository logging on it’s web site. Though they have recently changed the web site around, most people find they get better mileage of food tracking using MyFitnessPal and have it auto link to their Fitbit account.

If you are a data geek and love stats and graphs and are also concerned about your physical activity levels, you should take a look at Fitbit. It can be quite addicting.

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Jabra Freeway

For my previous post on Bluetooth speakerphones, please click here.

I received my Jabra Freeway right on schedule from Amazon and have had some time to check it out while driving. First, I was quite impressed by the sound quality. It is quite a step up from the BlueAnt S4. Volume is quite loud and not tinny. I love that you can keep the Freeway in standby mode and when it detects vehicle movement, such as the drivers side door opening, it automatically attempts to connect to my phone. While it was a minor inconvenience to turn on and shut off the S4, the Freeway makes this one less hands on device.

The buttons are well placed, but I did find the fact that they did not light up a bit of a disadvantage, especially at night. I’m sure with time I will become familiar with the location of all the buttons and this will become a non issue, but perhaps some selective lighting would be a welcome addition when requesting it from the device.

Music sounds great from the Freeway. It doesn’t sound the same as a great in car sound system, but it makes voices and music pleasing to listen to and has a little punch to them. The FM transmitter is a nice function, but I am concerned with privacy. Since it broadcasts whatever is going to the speakerphone to your radio using a small FM transmitter, it is possible that people within close proximity to you can listen in on one side of your phone conversations and anything else you are playing through to it. I found the default station of 88.1 unsuitable for my location, as I had a nearby station bleeding over and competing on my radio making listening difficult. You can choose any range of frequencies by pressing the Vol+ or Vol- buttons when in FM transmitter mode. I have not had a chance to find a suitable frequency yet. People who travel large distances often may also receive interference in one part of their commute, but not in others. It’s a nice to have feature, but I would not want to rely on it for both security and quality.

All in all, this is a nice upgrade for me. Is it worth over $100? Perhaps not, but I do not think you’ll be disappointed with the purchase. I bought mine from Amazon during a daily deal special at $75.

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Bluetooth Speakerphones for Vehicles

I constantly use my Bluetooth for my smartphone in my car. It’s just easier and safer. My first foray into a Bluetooth speakerphone was a small visor mounted device from Motorola. Honestly, the model name/number escapes me right now, but it was great for what it did. Except the battery life wasn’t all that great. I did not end up using that device all that often, as it was just for phone calls and did not support AD2P.

I finally decided to get another speakerphone when Leo Laporte recommended the BlueAnt Supertooth 3. The battery life was excellent and turning it on and off was just a matter of pressing the microphone in or out. But it was still just a basic speakerphone… I was looking for a little more hands-free. I purchased the BlueAnt S4. Totally hands free… you just speak and it will dial a number for you using the built in voice recognition in most smartphones nowadays.

However, I have grown disgruntled with my BlueAnt S4 over time… the voice does not always seem to pick me up when I say “BlueAnt, speak to me”. I tried resetting the entire device to no avail.

I also have become very frustrated with BlueAnt support. They specifically touted a feature of the S4 headset to be firmware update-able, but then with no mention of why, they just removed the firmware and associated updater from their web site.

I was patiently waiting for a 64 bit version of their updater to become available so that I can bring my S4 from 1.5 to 1.6. It would allow me to fix some of the problems I was experiencing. I signed up for the mailing to let me know when it became available. They promised it would be soon.

Now you can’t even download the 32 bit version updater or the firmware. If you e-mail support, they just say that all of their devices now shipping are version 1.6, so there is no reason for them to offer it. They failed to think of their existing customers.

Enter the Jabra Freeway. While this Bluetooth speakerphone for the vehicle is not 100% hands-free (you need to press the button and then it will ask what you want), some of the features this device touts seem to be a step up from BlueAnt. One of the main features of the Jabra Freeway is it’s large speakers. I has a virtual surround option, as well as an FM transmitter that lets you set a radio station on your vehicle, so any music, voice, or anything your phone makes a sound with will go through your speaker system in the vehicle.

I like this idea as now I can use my Pandora music app on my phone to play my stations directly to my vehicle speakers. I can also run my navigation app and listen to the navigation through that as well. I can break out of using just my radio or CD player in my car for my audible enjoyment when driving.

As for pressing the button for an action…well, it’s no different than my BlueAnt S4 now. The thing never picks up when I say the magic words, so I have to hit the button to have it recognize I am speaking to it.

I will post a follow up regarding my experience with the Jabra Freeway once I receive it and have some time to get to understand all the features better. Stay tuned.

For my follow up post, please click here.

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