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Posts from January 2007

Mark Spencer changes roles at Digium/Asterisk... new CEO

Wow!  Some big changes down in Alabama... per the news release yesterday (hat tip to Alec Saunders), Mark Spencer is changing roles within Digium and stepping aside as CEO to bring in ADTRAN's Danny Windham as the new CEO.  Mark will remain as Chairman and CTO of Digium.  They also announced a new worldwide VP of Sales.  Tom Keating has a good writeup of the announcement and also has a link to a podcast of the conference call announcing the changes.  It makes for good listening.

As noted, ADTRAN has had a long relationship with Digium... if I recall correctly, Mark started out as an intern there at ADTRAN and when he went on to launch Linux Support Services and needed a phone system, it was his background at ADTRAN that made him think that if he could just get telephony onto a PC, he could manipulate it.  Thus was born Asterisk.  (And then later Digium, the company, to support Asterisk.)

I'm glad for Mark to see the change.  I've come to know him a bit over the years through conferences/trade shows and the interviews we've done with him for Blue Box...  and he's definitely a hard-core techie and developer... he's done the CEO role because it's needed to be done, but his talents really are in the technology and I'm sure this role change will let him get more back into the technical stuff that is his passion.  Congrats, Mark!  You've certainly deserved it and I do wish you all the best.

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Richard Zhao's new blog URL - sbin.con/blog - telecom and voip with a Chinese view...

I've long enjoyed Richard Zhao's posts at "Telecom, Security and P2P" because, living in Beijing and working for Lenovo, he brings a distinctly different view into the global conversation.  For instance, earlier this year he posted about Chinese security standards, something that few of us outside the country would probably have noticed or commented on.  However, as he mentions over on his Chinese language blog (in English), access to, where he previously had the blog, is apparently being blocked or degraded in China.  So he has now moved his blog to:

As the title states, he covers primarily telecom and security.  Do check him out...

Giving old VoIP equipment new life in developing countries?

Over on one of Google's blogs, there is a post "New life for network equipment" about how the Network Startup Resource Center helps take networking equipment that is "old" by Western standards and give it new life in other parts of the world where equipment such as routers and switches may be too expensive to easily purchase.  First off, kudos to Google for supporting such an organization with their own donations.  As they say in the blog entry, it's very easy for those of us in the always-on part of the world to take that connectivity for granted.  And yet for a very large portion of the world, there is no such guarantee for connectivity.

This post, though, did make me think... what happens to all the "old" VoIP gear when it is replaced?  We are at the stage now in the evolution of VoIP where people are replacing IP-PBXs with newer models (from the same or different vendors).  SIP phones have been out long enough that they, too, are being swapped out for newer models.

Where are they going?  Landfills?  Probably. 

But yet some of those pieces of equipment may work perfectly fine in other parts of the world where people can't afford newer systems (keeping in mind that PSTN gateways might not, of course, because of the sheer number of different telecom standards).  Is the NSRC already dealing with VoIP systems?  Are they interested?  Are they even the appropriate organization?  I don't know... and obviously I can contact them... and perhaps I will when I have a chance at some point.  But it's an interesting question to me.

Where does old VoIP equipment go when it's been replaced?

A satirical take on the history of AT&T and the mergers that brought it almost full-circle

Dean over at sent me this video link and I did have to laugh at the chart showing the various mergers that have created the new AT&T.  It has, indeed, been a strange trip for that company name.                

Friday afternoon video #2 was to be... "Alec Saunders intros iotum's Talk-Now"

Well, I had intended that video #2 was going to be Alec Saunders demonstrating iotum's new Talk-Now application.  However, as he explains, Alec took the video down! Bummer, as it was a fun demo of what that technology iotum has can offer.  Ah, well, you'll just have to read about "Talk-Now" or even sign up to give it a spin (if you have the right Blackberry).  Of course, you can read MobileCrunch, Jon Arnold or ZDNet first.  It's definitely an interesting take on how to extend presence out to mobile devices. 

And Alec, do come back with a video again - I liked the first one!

Friday afternoon video #1: Mark Spencer introduces AsteriskNow

It's a Friday afternoon... and so I thought I'd end the week with two videos I've been meaning to write about.  First up, Mark Spencer shows off their new AsteriskNow distribution:

So if you've never seen Mark Spencer, there he is.  AsteriskNow seems to be Digium's answer to Trixbox, now that Fonality purchased Trixbox and has been very actively promoting it.  (Trixbox, you may recall, was originally called "Asterisk@home".)  The idea is similar... package Asterisk and all other necessary components with a Linux distribution and provide a very simple GUI with wizards to install the whole thing.  Looks simple from the video... I'll have to try it out once I get vmware or something else running on one of my systems again.

Will sex and secret liaisons sell VoIP?

I have to admit that I laughed a good bit when reading Om Malik's post about "ShadowNumber" last week, which actually turns out to be an alter-ego for VoIP startup TalkPlus.   The point appears to be that you can preserve a degree of anonymity through giving out essentially a disposable phone number.  It's just interesting to see what companies will do to differentiate themselves.  And I completely agree with Om's statement:

Many new technologies — like VHS and DVDs, and more recently Video over the Internet — owe no small part of their early success to adult entertainment, which spurred people to jump through technological hoops they might not have otherwise.

Adult "entertainment" and gaming are two areas that have pushed technology in many areas and yet have not always been credited with doing so.

As to ShadowNumber, their pitch doesn't appeal to me at all (I'm with Om in finding it a bit distasteful), but it's at least something a bit novel.  It will be interesting to see if it works out for them.

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Skype's persistent group chats as a technical support vehicle

Forget email, post your support questions to a group chat! Continuing my experimentation with Skype 3.0, I have to say that the persistent group chats are an intriguing aspect of the product.  Back when the 3.0 beta was announced last fall, I joined the "Skype English Blog Chat" and the interesting fact is... I'm still in there a couple of months later.   Now, the reason that I am still in there is because I never went to the top of the chat window (pictured on the right - click for a larger view) and clicked the "Leave" button.  Because I haven't pressed "Leave", I will stay in this group chat indefinitely (or until a Host kicks me out, as Jaanus has indicated he is now doing to inactive members).  This group chat membership survives through shutting down Skype, power cycling your computer, etc.  In fact, it becomes part of your Skype configuration, so even if you login to Skype on a different PC, the group chat is available to you. 

Two other interesting aspects.  First, when you return to the group chat, the history of the chat is available to you. So you might be gone from it for several days, but when you return you can browse through the history to catch up on what occurred.  When you request the history, it gives it to you in batches, i.e. you see the first X amount of time and then you can get more of the history. 

Second, if you don't want to receive an alert every time a message is posted, you can type "/alertson <text>" as in "/alertson dan" and you'll only get an alert when that text is typed in a message.

So what does this have to do with product support?  Well, the folks at Skype have been using this particular group chat as a vehicle for people to communicate issues with first the Skype 3.0 beta and now the released Skype 3.0.  Several of their developers and/or support people lurk in the forum and answer people's questions.  It's been interesting because I've learned a good bit about Skype simply by reading the Q&A that go by.  If you read the image in this post, you'll see that I posted there about an issue where Skype was advertising it's Unlimited Calling for $14.95 but when you went to buy it, they were going to charge you the full price of $29.95. I sent an email in to Skype support and was told I would get a response in 72 hours. I also posted to the group chat and received an answer back there about 12 hours later (I still haven't received an email back As I hit Publish I flipped to check my email and there was a response).

Now obviously Skype can't use this for all their product support.  It's not scalable and besides the group chat feature only supports 100 users.  But it's an interesting use for the tool.  It also has to be interesting for the Skype developers and product managers to see how people are actually using their product.  FYI, if you have Skype 3.0, you can join the chat still.

(And yes, using a group chat for technical support is hardly unique or new... people have been doing that IRC, Jabber and more for years... yes, I know that.  But it's interesting to me to see Skype now offer that.)

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"SecondTalk" allows Skype usage within SecondLife

Checking out SkypeJournal before starting work this morning, I noticed their post "SecondTalk: Skype in a Virtual World" about a new tool to allow people to "easily" use Skype in SecondLife.  Intrigued, I read the blog announcement, press release (back on Jan 16th) and FAQ and decided to try it out.  I'll suppress the standard rant about SecondLife technical issues and say that when I was finally able to get in to SL and to the right place, I was able to obtain a "headset" that I could "wear" to theoretically communicate with others via Skype.

Now I will say that the process of obtaining and configuring the headset was not exactly intuitive.  I had to:

  1. Touch the appropriate sign to be given a headset and then accept it into my inventory.
  2. Drag it from my inventory to the ground near me.
  3. Right-click on the headset on the ground (which I initially couldn't find) and edit the properties to put my Skype ID in the "Description" field.
  4. Click on the headset again and "Take" it back into my Inventory.
  5. Click on the headset in my Inventory and "Wear" it.
  6. Turn it "on" by typing "/1 on" in the Chat bar (which meant opening the Chat bar up)

 After all of that, I wound up with this headset on my virtual ear and received a message from a "scan" that there was someone else in my vicinity who was able to talk (i.e. was also wearing a SecondTalk headset) and asking if I wanted to talk.  (I didn't right then.) My understanding is that as long as I have the thing "on", I will will receive these type of messages and be able to talk to others.  (It is apparently connecting out to some external server run by Centric that is connecting SecondTalk-wearing users. In the spirit of experimentation I'll try hard not to get hung up on the security ramifications of that.)

You can see the headset on my avatar in the pic to the right (click to enlarge - taken when I later returned to sit in the Crayon diner).  Now, given that I didn't really have time to spend in SL and there didn't seem to be any other SecondTalk-equipped folks around when I was there, I never actually got to try it out.  But I did see this one incredibly fundamental problem with the whole setup:

IF MY CPU IS ALREADY JACKED TO 100% BY THE SECOND LIFE CLIENT, how in the world is Skype or any other VoIP application going to be able to work with any kind of quality?

Just to test my real-world headset, I tried making a Skype call while SL was running, just using regular Skype and not the SecondTalk thing... and couldn't get Skype to work because, as I mentioned, SL was jacking my CPU to 100%.  Now, maybe it is just my PC and its CPU, memory, video card, etc., but everytime I run SL my CPU goes to 100%.  Actually, this is true on my other PC as well.  Now I understand why... there's a lot of rendering going on within SL.  But to me it does beg the question of whether or not something like this could actually work.  It's an interesting idea because SL definitely could use voice communication... but at least on my systems I'm skeptical of how it could work.

I don't know... I'll have to try it out again sometime when I have some time to do so.  Anyone else try it out?

No iPhone in Vermont, Alaska, Maine or other areas outside of cities...

In the "P.S." to my recent post about the iPhone, I mentioned that Cingular doesn't provide service to Vermont, and so I'll not have the opportunity to try out an iPhone anytime soon.  In fact, it turns out that Cingular/AT&T won't be available here at least through 2009.  On the front page of yesterday's Burlington Free Press there was an article aptly titled "In Vermont, Apple's iPhone is The i(can't)Phone".  As Ken has ranted, this is what comes of having the product locked into an exclusive agreement with a single provider.

It also turns out that Vermont is of course not alone.  Pretty much any state with rural areas is out of luck:

That means the iPhone will be unavailable in, among other locations, all or large portions of Alaska, Colorado, the Dakotas, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, upstate New York, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming.

As you'll note, the article goes on to point the irony of the January 9th announcement by Steve Jobs when Vermont Governor Douglas had just stated in his inaugural address on January 4th that his administration will be committed to making Vermont the first "e-state".  As you'll further note, the Governor was holding up a Blackberry.

And yes, if I were so-inclined, I could probably do what the owner of the local Apple reseller said he is going to do, which is drive down to Lebanon, N.H. to get one (about an hour away for him)... but I'm not that interested.  :-)

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