Tech – for Everyone

Tech Tips and Tricks & Advice – written in plain English.

Free Long-distance*

Phew, what a morning! I have been troubleshooting practically since I got out of my nice, warm bed. But, I don’t mind: it’s what I do for a living.

This morning, as I was thinking about what to write today (and helping people with their technical troubles), it occurred to me what a tremendous boon two particular technologies are — namely, Remote Assistance, and VoIP/teleconferencing. I simply could not run my business (shameless plug: my online repair shop, Aplus Computer Aid) without them.

Remote Assistance allows me to view my client’s computer screen (and if they permit it, issue mouse and keyboard commands) just as if I were sitting in front of it… basically “transporting” me, across any number of miles, to their computer via the magic of the Internet. This is truly amazing stuff, if you think on it some and.. it saves me quite a bit on gas.

Instead of saying into the telephone, “Okay, what do you see now?” and then trying to decipher the client’s response.. I see on my screen exactly what they see. This saves so much time (and, my client’s money) and miscommunication that a repair that might take an hour can be accomplished in fifteen minutes. Yes, amazing stuff.

But to get to the title of today’s article and the other “distance-eliminating” technology, let’s switch gears to IP telephony (aka “VoIP“). Regular readers of this series know that I am out here on the Lefty Coast, and that I have a young niece and nephew on the other coast — roughly 3,000 miles away.
Loyal Friends and True also know that I do not like to fly.

In the golden olden days, this East Coast/Lefty Coast situation would lead to  large long-distance phone bills and occasional cross-country drives. But thanks to VoIP, and webcams, I can not only talk with (and see) my niece and nephew, but I can do so for free.
Yes, amazing stuff.

What makes this so neat/cool/awesome is (in my mind, anyway) the “webcam”. These cameras (that often look like a plastic tennis ball) can be had for as little as $15 retail, and they make all the difference. Most new notebook computers come with cameras built-in.

These little video devices do a good job at letting you see and be seen, and even the cheap ones have pretty good resolution. No.. you cannot get a hug over a webcam, but you can see a smile.

So if you have a computer, and you have the Internet (how else would you be reading this article?), and you have loved ones who live farther away than next door.. and you don’t have VoIP and a webcam.. what are you waiting for? Get on the bus!
Buy a webcam, insert (and run) the Install CD, and then plug the camera into a USB port. It is basically that simple. Buy one for your loved one’s house — if they don’t already have one — too.

Then, you’ll need some way to contact them (“call” them) and start your Internet visit. If you are already using an Instant Messenger (IM) to “chat” with them, then you already have the method. Most, if not all IMs have video capability as well as “phone” (or “voice”). [Click View >Options if you have difficulty finding these features.] Typically, you have to pay a fee (“subscribe”) to use the phone/voice.

Today’s free link(s): To avoid those fees, both you and your loved ones can download a VoIP client — such as Skype or SightSpeed. You will then set up an account, in very much a similar manner as you do opening a free email account (Hotmail, GMail, Yahoo Mail, etc.).. you set up a User Name/password. Then you add Contacts, or “Search For” contacts, again in a manner very similar to email.
Once configured — and it really isn’t hard — a visit with a distant friend is only a click away. Thanks for listening, and have a great weekend.

[update: a reader wanted to know how the make the video window larger in Skype; right-click on the video image and from the choice select either “Windowed Mode” (my reco) or “Full screen”.]

*Original posting 12/27/07

Copyright 2007-8 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.jaanix post to jaanix

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September 19, 2008 Posted by | add device, advice, computers, digital Video, gadgets, hardware, how to, IM, Internet, kids and the Internet, PC, tech, VoIP, webcams | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

E-mail is dead.

Loyal Friends and True know that Tech–for Everyone is always on the cutting edge of technical innovation, and that I am a World Renown Tech Journalist whose fame springs from bringing you the latest in breaking IT news. (Ignore the man behind the curtain.)

It is my skill and extensive research (ahem) that allows me to be the first to inform you, Dear Reader, that e-mail, as we know it today, is utterly passe — completely old hat– and, like, so yesterday that it ‘gags me with a spoon’.

Yes my friends, e-mail is dead.
(And you heard it here first.)

Some of you are surely saying, “Why, Tech Paul! E-mail is the single greatest contribution to society that the IT Geek’s ever made! It enables commerce, and has facilitated ‘Globalization’! A couple billion e-mail messages are sent everyday! Dead? Surely you are mistaken!”
Right? You did say that?

It is true… it is very hard to picture a world without e-mail (I can envision a world without spam e-mail just fine, thank you very much) and it is impossible to deny that the ability to send electronic messages has radically altered the way we communicate with friends and family, conduct business, and.. share jokes. Yes, e-mail has had an incalculable impact on our lives.
Keywords: “has had”.

My extensive (ahem) research, and whetted-finger-held-aloft-to-the-Winds-of-Change , tells me (and now I’m telling you) that a New Thing has come along which is going to replace e-mail entirely.. and that is a little thing I have named “v-mail”. (With a little “v”. To those of you old enough to remember Victory Mail, I salute you.) The little “v” stands for “video”.

My Award-Winning* Nose for News has led me to uncover a service (which I am revealing as Today’s free link:) that allows us to send 30-second video clips of ourselves instead of boring -old letters and words and punctuations and stuff. No longer will we need emoticons and “smileys”. Avatars are doomed too. Video, my friends, trumps them all!

Why type “wink”, when you can just.. well.. wink?!

Bonus: Typos and outright misspellings will no longer embarrass us, and ruin careers! (Bad hair days are another story..)

As I mentioned in my recent article , at this stage in the game you really should have a webcam, and the odds are pretty good that, by now, you have added a microphone and used Skype or SightSpeed  to make calls or video conference (aka “video chat”).
* With v-mail, you don’t have to worry about if your “buddies” are available at the moment.. you just create your message and send it.
* With v-mail, you don’t have to download any special software, or manage a “Contacts” list.. it is entirely browser-based (it uses Flash).
* With v-mail, you don’t have to pay any subscription fee.
* It is one-click simple. (And you don’t have to learn that “texting” lingo used in Instant Messaging/Chat.)
* It is not some new “beta” thing. It has actually been around for a while now, and it works like it should.

Now.. when you add all that up, doesn’t it spell the end of e-mail to you too?
Today’s free link: Get your v-mail at EyeJot (or, go there and take a look at their “how it works” examples). All you need to do is provide your first name and a valid e-mail account (doesn’t have to be one of your real accounts). This creates your eyejot account. Your microphone and webcam are automatically detected, and you can start recording your v-mail right away.
Folks.. don’t you want to be an early-adopter, nay, trendsetter, for once? Blow your kids away and be the first to send a v-mail.

* The prestigious Annie Award. (An award that I just made up, and named after a beloved family pet.)

Copyright 2007-8 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.jaanix post to jaanix

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May 5, 2008 Posted by | advice, computers, e-mail, how to, Internet, PC, tech, VoIP, webcams | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments